Eating well is an important part of living with diabetes — and including heart-healthy foods can help further boost your health.
Although diabetes is known for affecting your blood sugar, the condition actually affects your whole body — including your heart. In fact, people with diabetes are almost twice as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke as people who don’t have diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “High blood sugars damage nerves and blood vessels throughout the body,” says Megan Porter, RD, CDE, a dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Portland, Oregon. “When these become damaged, they are unable to perform their normal functions.” This can lead to heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
The good news is that because diabetes and heart health are so closely linked, there are many steps you can take to help improve both health conditions. In addition to monitoring your diabetes, taking any prescribed medications for diabetes and heart issues, and getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet can help you manage your diabetes and your heart health.
While there’s no specific diet for people with diabetes, an overall balanced diet similar to the Mediterranean diet can help you keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.
In fact, in a study published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that when people at high risk for heart disease — including some with diabetes — followed a Mediterranean diet, their risk of stroke or cardiovascular death was cut by 30 percent compared with that of a similar group that followed a low-fat diet. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet included olive oil and nuts, while those who followed the low-fat diet did not. Results showed that the Mediterranean diet had a favorable effect on blood pressure, weight, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, and inflammation.
Porter recommends that you keep the following dietary guidelines in mind when managing diabetes and heart health:
When it comes to getting the most benefit for both diabetes and heart health, foods high in fiber and healthy fats are the winners. Foods that are particularly beneficial include:
Filling up on these healthy foods and following healthy-eating guidelines, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, can help you feel more satisfied — all while improving your health. “Heart-healthy foods can help reduce overall blood sugars,” says Porter, “and a diet rich in plant-based foods can also assist in keeping blood pressure under control.”
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