What Do I Order for Diabetes AND Heart Health?

By Mary Parsons, MS, RD

Question: Just had a recent heart attack and I am a diabetic, so what do I eat now?

It can be a challenge to change the way you eat – especially when you have more than one set of dietary restrictions to take into account. But the good news is that many of our healthy eating recommendations work hand in hand to benefit both heart health and blood sugar control for diabetes.

First, let’s talk about the carbohydrates in your diet. It’s a common misconception that diabetics should avoid carbs altogether; really, it’s best to aim for your intake of carbs to be moderate and consistent. Every meal should include an appropriately sized serving of carbohydrates from healthy sources like whole grains, beans and vegetables. It’s best to consult with a dietitian for personalized goals to meet your specific needs, but in general, look for a range of about 30-45 grams of carbohydrates when checking nutrition information for a restaurant meal. In addition to helping control blood sugar, paying attention to portion size and choosing fewer refined carbs (like white bread and white rice) can contribute to improved cholesterol levels for heart health.

Next, let’s focus on a couple of other key nutrients involved in building a heart-healthy diet. Start by considering the sources of fat on your plate. Set a goal to limit saturated fats like those in red meats, cheese and butter; instead, make an effort to include more unsaturated fats like those from nuts, olive oil, avocados and fish. Choosing more “good fats” helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and they also have the added benefit of having an anti-inflammatory effect, preventing damage that leads to hardening of arteries and formation of clots. You can boost your inflammation-fighting power even more by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits (which are not off limits due to diabetes – just work them into your carb control plan) and limiting added sugar and fried foods.

Finally, remember that healthy eating doesn’t have to be a chore, and that health food doesn’t have to be boring. Think about the foods you already love that meet the above guidelines; build your diet around those staples, and keep an open mind as you look for new favorites. It can be immensely rewarding to start feeling the effects of nourishing foods on your body. By keeping these priorities in mind, you can set yourself up for success to make a healthier choice at any meal.

Dietitian-recommended menu choices are rich in whole grains, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats!