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Diet for Diabetes: Cabrohydrates in Moderation

by  David Mendosa
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The food choices on my diet are easy. What I eat must taste great and provide great nutrition. Great taste is subjective and certainly varies from person to person. But great nutrition is objective.

All of us are still learning about nutrition. But we do know the foods that are good for us and those that we should avoid.

So why is the diabetes diet the most controversial part of controlling it? The controversy rages over just one issue – whether we should be eating a low or high carb diet.

The most appropriate level of carbohydrates is the only controversial part of the American Diabetes Association’s new nutrition recommendations. But my diet is a moderate one, and you can tweak it to include the amount of carbohydrates that you decide to eat.

What I eat keeps evolving. In the dozen or so years since I got my diabetes diagnosis my diet has changed dozens of times. Nutrition has become one of my biggest interests, and I think about what to eat more than I think about sex. Not many men can say that!

Judging from the questions I get from my correspondents, women think about diet a lot more than men do. I guess that this is because they generally shop and cook for their families.

Several recent questions, in fact, prompted me to weigh in here with my diet recommendations. For example, Kelly would like to retrain her husband, her son, and herself to eat better. Mary Lee wants to know the easiest eating plan to follow. Kabir wonders if I could make a list of foods that boost our health, conform to the glycemic index, and are full of antioxidants.

I don’t have to make a list of the best foods. George Mateljan, the founder and original owner of Health Valley Foods, has thought about food even more than I have. His site has a superb list of the world’s healthiest foods.

I generally agree with George’s food choices. But I am more concerned with the glycemic values of foods than he is, because he writes for a more general audience than for those of us with diabetes.

My pantry is pretty bare compared with what most people have. I like to keep it as simple as possible.

I keep my recipes simple too. When there are more than six ingredients – including two or three spices – there are too many for me. My diet would make Linus in the Peanuts comic strip happy. He decided not to drink something when he saw what it said on the side of the package. “It’s full of ingredients!” he exclaimed.

My diet includes almost all the fruits and vegetables. Generally, I prefer to steam my vegetables, although the microwave is great for winter squash and boiling is best for greens, like chard. I go easy on some of those so-called root vegetables – the ones that grow underground – especially potatoes and beets. I also go easy on dried fruit, like raisins, dates, and prunes. They are certainly great in low doses, but eating a lot of them spikes my blood glucose.

Legumes are a wonder food. Chana dal, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, soybeans, lentils, and others (all except broad beans) are low glycemic and high in protein.

The only grains I eat are barley and corn. The other grains, especially most varieties of rice and anything made from wheat flour – including almost all bread, crackers, cookies, and other pastries – are too high glycemic.

Nuts and seeds are also important in my diet. Almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are especially nutritious. Flax seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds also offer a lot of the nutrients we need. Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium that we have, so good in fact that the “UC Berkeley Wellness Letter,” to which I subscribe, recommends eating no more that five a day. Walnuts and flax seeds are a good source of the essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc. And I remember to choose unsalted nuts when I shop.

I like to add a little fresh fruit or a few nuts to the yogurt that I often choose to lunch on. I make sure to shop only for plain, nonfat, organic yogurt. I sweeten it with a non-caloric sweetener.

My other favorite lunch is a salad of vegetables and beans. A salad has too many ingredients for me to prepare, so it is the usual meal that I have when I eat out. A large study in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that people who eat salads have higher levels of vitamins C and E, folic acid, and carotenoids.

Eggs are a wonderful food too, especially if truly free range chickens produce them. I buy all my eggs from a local farmer’s market vendor, who I know I can trust. Michael Pollan has reported on the scam that goes by the name “free range”. I love my eggs poached or hard boiled.

I am not a vegetarian. For dinner I eat wild fatty fish – particularly salmon – about twice a week. That’s the recommended level, because no matter how good this fish is in providing Omega-3 fatty acids, it does also contain mercury. Besides salmon, I also eat canned sardines and herring, the two other most readily available fish that are high in Omega-3. I also eat ground bison, which is lower in saturated fat than beef, and boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I cook all of these at low temperature in my oven on a cedar roasting plank. This is an easy, simple, and tasty way to cook.

I don’t fry anything any more. Too many AGEs.

Because I eat so little now that I am using Byetta, I make sure to get enough fiber. It’s generally better to get such nutrients from our food than from supplements, but few of us, myself included, can readily get enough fiber that way. So with each meal I take four psyllium husk caps.

At the time of my diabetes diagnosis the conventional wisdom was still that all fats were bad. Nobody woke me and the rest of the world up as much as Udo Erasmus did with his book, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill.

In addition to the essential Omega-3 fats, for cooking the only oil I use is olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fatty acids. I also eat avocados, which are also among the highest in this good fat. This fatty fruit is the basis of one of the three great appetizers.

My friend Gretchen Becker once complained that there are so few foods that we can safely eat. She was particularly appalled by the AGEs that cooking foods at high temperature produce.

I do find plenty of good tasting foods that are good for me to eat. But I also have a list of what to avoid.

The newest addition to that list of negatives is foods high in AGEs. I have also learned to avoid prepared foods that are high in sodium, and I will soon be writing an article about a great new salt substitute that is coming to market.

I avoid the “fats that kill,” that Udo taught me about. This are primarily the transfats, which we have recently recognized as the worst of all fats. I won’t eat anything that has the words “partially hydrogenated” on the nutrition label.

Saturated fat is almost as bad for us, especially for our cholesterol levels. I try to minimize it, but have not yet learned how to avoid it completely.

My biggest problem is with dairy products, even though I don’t drink milk. But butter works wonders on most vegetables. I also love to melt fresh mozzarella cheese on Morningstar Farms Veggie Breakfast Sausage Patties. I often have this combo for breakfast, choosing mozzarella because it is lower in saturated fat than other cheeses.

I now avoid non-organic food almost completely. And I reject all farmed-raised fish in favor of the wild.

Going easy on starches, especially rice, potatoes, and wheat flour has finally become easy for me. I can do without rice completely, but I do love potatoes, which have a lot of nutrition going for them, even while they are high glycemic. I have switched from the highest glycemic potatoes, baked Burbank russets, to lower glycemic varieties, especially the small new potatoes, and enjoy them steamed or boiled.

One of the hardest dietary lessons for me to learn is something that I don’t remember ever seeing in writing. Maybe it can help others.

This lesson is to avoid those food that I like so much that I can’t stop eating or drinking them. My list of those foods that I like so well includes kefir, stinky cheese, and prunes. I have had to learn to go cold turkey on them.

I’m sure that you will note that David’s Diabetes Diet talks only about foods and does not include a single recipe. That’s because the food choices are the basis of a diet, and the recipes will follow.

Do you have recipes that you can share based on these nutrition principles? If you do, I think all of us would appreciate you comments.

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