Healthful meal planning is one of the main priorities for diabetes control. You need to understand the basics of a diabetes food plan since there is no one specific “diabetes diet.” No health professional will give you a “tear off diet sheet” for eating with diabetes. If they do, find another reputable source for diabetes nutritional information.
Eating properly with diabetes can give you lots of great choices, especially if you keep it simple. Remember to always include lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fresh vegetables/fruits and plenty of plain water for proper hydration. After learning the basics, start adding foods that contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. This becomes even more helpful in avoiding blood sugar spikes which should become a high priority. Constant spikes in blood sugar from poor food choices, eating processed foods and consuming enormous portions will increase your 3-month A1C readings. Eventually, high uncontrolled blood sugars can lead to a multitude of diabetes complications, which no one really wants.
Spring is a great time to adjust your eating plan since there are now fresh flavors, bright colors and lovely aromas of newly available foods. Most of us are looking forward to more outdoor living, using the grill and eating fresh, light meals. Everyone would like to boost their energy levels, immunity, mood and memory capacities with the change of seasons.
Let’s look at fresh and tasty options to include in your spring menu planning. Most of you can buy these foods year-round from places outside our country, available in cans or in the freezer section but realize they will surely taste more fresh and flavorful in the spring. Look for the latest offerings at specialty grocers, local farmers markets, farm stands and home gardens. Enjoy these spring food choices at their peak of freshness. Nothing listed is extremely expensive or difficult to locate, so enjoy these superb food choices!
Heart Healthy Pineapples
Available year-round, pineapples are sweeter during the warmer months as they are a tropical fruit. Golden pineapples are especially sweet. The best growing season for pineapples is March – June. Avoid the canned or packaged variety which are usually bathed in sugary syrup. You should really avoid the canned versions during the spring, since fresh pineapples are plentiful. If you do choose to use canned pineapple, buy “no sugar added” preparations.
Pineapples are a good source of Vitamin C for boosted immunity since Vitamin C fights cell damage. Vitamin C produces collagen, which can assist in healing wounds which could be a big benefit for those with diabetes. Pineapples contain folate, thiamin, and B vitamins that are involved in energy production. They have copper, calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese which can aid in healthy skin, bones and cartilage. Pineapples also contain bromelain, an enzyme which aids in digestion by dissolving proteins and decreases inflammation. The bromelain may also help reduce blood clot formation and decrease symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Some people are highly sensitive to pineapple and develop mouth tenderness and oral sores, so be careful if you have an allergy. 1/2 cup of pineapple serving has only 11 grams of carbohydrate (less than 1 serving of a carbohydrate) and about 40 calories. Pineapples are fat-free and cholesterol free, which is perfect for blood sugar and diabetes control. They are refreshing, tangy and easy to eat either plain or roasted on the grill. Thread pineapple cubes on shish-kabob skewers with cherry tomatoes, chicken chunks and yellow peppers for an easy springtime dinner!
Fresh pineapple can help tenderize meat and chicken when added to stews due to their bromelain content. They are high in soluble fiber which can help lower blood LDL cholesterol. Pineapple can easily be added to fruit salads for a perfect low-calorie dessert or eaten plain in chunks or rings. Do remember, pineapple is a fruit which is a carbohydrate, so portion size is critical!
Red, Orange, Yellow and Green Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are available year-round. In the spring, they are even more plentiful and more reasonably priced. Bell peppers can be eaten raw or cooked. They can also easily be added to many recipes and dishes.
The various bell pepper colors indicate the degree of ripeness. Once picked off the vine they will not change colors. The red peppers stay on the vine the longest and are the sweetest; the orange and yellow peppers are in the middle and the green are the most bitter since they are picked the quickest.
The deeper the pepper color, the more bioflavonoids they contain, which helps lower cancer risk. The red peppers contain lycopene which offers multiple health benefits. They have plenty of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin K, folate and beta-carotene. The folic acid in bell peppers can decrease the amount of homocysteine (inflammation marker) which damages the inside of blood vessels. Bell peppers may reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone) which can lead to increased insulin sensitivity, decreased blood sugars, decreased CRP (C-reactive protein) levels and reduced visceral fat. Peppers also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which, when taken, is linked to fewer cases of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. They are easy to steam, stir-fry, roast, bake, sauté or grill, all of which are good springtime food preparation techniques, when you have diabetes.
Asparagus is another delicious vegetable with bursting spring flavors. They are a non-starchy vegetable, which is a diabetes friendly food, with lots of fiber. Asparagus is an excellent source of folate (a B vitamin) as well as zinc, selenium and beta carotene. Asparagus can also help decrease inflammation.
Asparagus is rich in fiber which can lower the heart disease risk and may be able to help regulate blood sugars. They contain glutathione, an antioxidant, which has a key role in diabetes and heart health. The British Journal of Nutrition, 2012 states, “Asparagus can keep blood sugar levels in check and increase insulin production.”
1/2 cup of Asparagus contains 3.5 grams of a carbohydrate which makes them low in carbohydrates. Asparagus can be eaten raw in salads or steamed with lemon juice. They can be added to a shrimp or chicken stir fry and casseroles or they can be roasted or grilled with a teaspoon of olive oil, garlic and lemon.
Artichokes are readily available in the spring. Artichokes are an excellent choice if they are not dripping in butter, cheese or heavy, rich dips. They are high in magnesium, which over 50% of Americans are deficient in, and benefit people who take high blood pressure medications, diuretics, pain killers, prednisone and antibiotics. People who take any of these medications should focus on getting enough magnesium and potassium. People who take medications for gastric reflux may also be depleted of magnesium.
Low magnesium can result in body tics, muscle cramps, muscle spasms, anxiety and an irregular heart rhythm. Magnesium may also increase energy levels. Beans, spinach, brown rice and whole grains are also excellent sources of magnesium. Artichokes also contain potassium, folate and vitamin C.
Artichokes are high in fiber and low in calories which make them a good choice when you have diabetes. They are easy to prepare on the grill or in the oven. Keep the dipping sauces light and try to baste artichokes with mustard, Balsamic vinegar, olive oil or a calorie-free based dip. If stuffing with bread crumbs, try Panko bread crumbs for a lighter taste.
Sweet corn is a starchy vegetable and counted as a carbohydrate. Fresh sweet corn in the spring and summer are super yummy. They are a pure, simple pleasure and often part of the outdoor BBQ. An ear of sweet corn has the same number of calories as an apple but with less sugar. Eaten in proper portion size, there is no reason why you should skip corn at your next meal.
Sweet corn is different than field corn. Field corn is usually grown – GMO (genetically modified organism) and used to make high fructose corn syrup. A medium ear of sweet corn has 26 grams of carbohydrate which counts as roughly two servings of a carbohydrate (30 grams). When added to a protein like chicken, turkey, fish, lamb or pork with a green salad, it can count as a complete, balanced meal.
Corn contains many nutrients. Sweet corn is rich in insoluble fiber, vitamin B-thiamin, niacin, magnesium and potassium. Sweet corn also contains pantothenic acid, a B vitamin, which helps with metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It has high amounts of phyto-chemicals such as lutein and zeaxanthin which helps with optimal vision. Sweet corn has ferulic -acid which is known as an anti-carcinogenic. The anti-oxidant activity increases after corn is cooked. Just remember, do not soak corn with butter and then add a ton of salt! Store the sweet corn in the husk until cooking for the freshest taste.
Peaches, Plums and Nectarines
Stone (pit) fruits are higher in sugar than some other fruits, but can certainly be eaten when considering portion sizes. Stone fruits are wonderfully sweet in the spring and summer and eaten in moderation are a perfect treat with many fresh, fruit benefits. Depending upon where you live, they can be found at roadside stands or local farmer’s markets in abundance.
A medium size stone fruit is low in calories and carbohydrates. Do not look for the biggest one in the display. All these fruits are high in fiber and pectin which helps lower blood LDL cholesterol. The skins of these fruits contain bioflavonoids and the flesh contains beta carotene and vitamin C. They have calcium, potassium, Vitamin K and Vitamin A. They can be eaten raw, baked or grilled but be careful if you are allergic to aspirin, since stone fruits contain salicylates and may cause a reaction in aspirin sensitive people.
Green Leafy Vegetables
If kale is not your thing, since it is often too bitter, there are many other green leafy vegetables to choose from in the spring. Green leafy vegetables are the “powerhouses” of phytonutrients. Greens are rich in chlorophyll which alkalizes blood. The darker and richer the greens, the more benefits provided.
Baby spinach leaves are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have a sweet and mild taste. Spinach is high in iron, Vitamin A, C, K and fiber. It is a non-starchy vegetable, perfect for those with diabetes, since it is low in calories and carbohydrates. Spinach is high in beta-carotenes which can protect cells from free radical damage.
The ADA (American Diabetes Association) has repeated, “people who want to lower their chances of diabetes should consider eating more green, leafy vegetables.” Consider the many kinds available, including Romaine, kale, watercress, swiss chard, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce and arugula. The most common lettuce eaten in the US is iceberg lettuce but take note that iceberg misses out in the nutrition department due to its pale color. The benefit of iceberg lettuce is it has a high-water content, so it does help with hydration and it is cheap.
Radishes are often the forgotten vegetable since many people suffer from gastric distress after eating them. If you can tolerate them, try to include them in your diet and enjoy their peppery taste and crunchy texture. Radishes are low in calories and carbohydrates. They are non-starchy, high in fiber, potassium and folic acid. They work as a natural diuretic and reduce inflammation. Radishes contain sulforaphane, an inhibitor of cancer. Slice them raw into salads or add to hot vegetable casseroles.
Berries – Especially Blueberries
Blueberries are on everyone’s list for one of the best foods around. According to Tufts University, it was ranked at the top of the list over 50 other fruits and vegetables. They are high in flavonoids and encourage heart health. Blueberries are high in fiber and have anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the antioxidant that gives the blue color to the berries. Blueberries help keep memory sharp and increase cognitive awareness. Fresh blueberries are plentiful during the spring, so take advantage! They can be eaten plain, or mixed into cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese or salads. All berries including Goji, Acai, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are high in fiber and have other specific health benefits.
In the springtime, instead of using dried basil flakes, treat yourself to a fresh basil plant that can easily be found at any grocery store and kept fresh in your kitchen with minimal care. There are 35 different kinds of basil but the most common one used in the US is Italian basil. Basil is an herb in the mint family. Fresh basil has more flavor and aroma with richer taste. Fresh basil is a good source of Vitamin K, beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin C. All of these nutrients contribute to heart health, a priority with diabetes. It also has anti-bacterial properties and anti-microbial properties. It can help fight yeast, mold and viral infections. Basil is considered an “adaptogen” which helps the body respond to daily stress. Basil can lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Add fresh basil to salads and place in cooked dishes, like soups and casseroles, at the end of cooking to maintain the fresh flavor, color and nutrients.
These are just a handful of fresh springtime super food’s that are abundant this time of year. Experiment with new seasonal varieties and open your world to additional fresh fruits and vegetables. Explore your market. Prepare different recipes and use various cooking techniques when eating these delicious springtime foods. These treats are sure to please your entire family and give everyone a healthful boost!
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NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.