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Eat to Beat Diabetes

1 in 4 of us over 65 will get the disease — use diet to prevent it

eat to prevent manage diabetes healthy foods

By combining a balanced diet with regular exercise and weight control, people with diabetes can prolong good health. — Photo by Bon Appetit/Alamy

In each part of the plate, specific food choices will depend on an individual's primary health concern, McLaughlin says. "If I'm a person with Type 2 diabetes, or at risk for Type 2, my primary focus might be on reducing my intake of total calories and saturated fats because fat contributes more calories to the diet than either carbohydrate or protein. For most of us, as long as our intake includes nutrient-dense choices a majority of the time, small amounts of foods that contain a bit more sugar or fat can also be included.

Upon learning they have or are at risk for diabetes, people generally "try to make dietary and other lifestyle changes, but they can get overwhelmed with all the things they have been advised to do," McLaughlin says. In that situation, she advises turning to old stand-bys: the family slow-cooker, and familiar recipes. Loading a slow-cooker with recipe ingredients in roughly the same proportions as on the ADA plate — light on the starch and protein, heavy on the veggies — "is a great way to come home and know you'll have a healthful meal ready when you're hungry or need to eat," McLaughlin says. "And while lots of people still use church cookbooks or old family recipes with ingredients that should be limited, in most of them, there are simple ways to reduce the calories and fat and increase the fiber," she says. "Things like using an artificial sweetener in place of all or part of the sugar; using egg whites instead of whole eggs, and using whole-wheat flour to replace half the white flour." One of McLaughlin's favorite cookbooks — Diabetes Meals on $7 a Day — or Less!, published by the ADA — has the dual benefits of helping diners keep calories in line and live on a budget. (McLaughlin especially recommends the "Eating Out on a Lean Budget" tips on page 67, and the Crunchy Oriental Coleslaw recipe on page 104.)

In McLaughlin's view, "the tough part for any of us, no matter our family or ethnic or cultural background, is that we come to the table with things we've been brought up on and lived with all our lives." But changing eating and physical activity patterns can be key, she says, "to preventing or delaying Type 2 diabetes. It's important to know what we can do to help ourselves maintain good health for a lifetime."

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