So here it is, 2017, and as promised, I am building my knowledge of diabetes from a farmer’s perspective and from a friend’s perspective, so that I can grow produce to help folks facing this chronic disease. What I knew before starting to research was that, like cancer, your doctor was likely to tell you to improve your diet and eat more fresh and whole foods and that eating to manage diabetes always sounded like deprivation. And I have known people who would sneak a big chunk of white cake in spite of the danger. My goal is for it to be an upgrade: more color, more flavor, more enjoyment, more quick and easy recipes, and of course, more nutritional value.
How does that sound so far?
First, I want to look at objectives and guidelines that are generally agreed upon. I am not ever going to tell you to reject everything your doctor says and throw away your meds, but let’s look at what is in your power to manage through eating well:
Goal 1. Help yourself stabilize glucose levels by limiting or avoiding sugar-sweetened food and beverages. Eat more fiber from plant-based foods like whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. You won’t thrive without some carbs, but get them from fresh, whole foods rather than sugary, processed sources. The simple, unprocessed sugars like fructose (in whole fruit) is less likely mess up your glycemic control than sucrose or starches, even if you shouldn’t swallow a pound of grapes at a sitting. Just a botanical note – any fleshy encasing around seeds is a fruit, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, etc. and has some natural sugars. Our bodies want some carbs and some sweetness, for energy and to run our brains, but hopefully we can get those from delicious fresh produce, whole grains, etc. and pair them with good proteins and fats for delicious, satisfying, and healthy dishes that don’t mess up the glycemic balance.
Goal 2. Eat healthy fats and avoid trans fats and sodium in order to maintain good circulation, blood pressure and heart health. Fatty fish and their oils are generally recommended, but I don’t grow fish. I do have lots of plant-based recipes that call for healthy oils. Fortunately, fresh foods require very little salt and fat to make them taste great – unlike processed foods, where the salt and fats make up for the general lack of real food flavor. Herbs and spices can add both nutrition – for example hot chilies, cinnamon, garlic and ginger are all great for circulation – and bold flavor. Same goes for protein. Healthy protein and healthy fats ought to accompany your veggies and fruit, so you aren’t getting a sugar bomb in your bloodstream all at once. I will find some great recipes to accomplish this.
Goal 3. Support vision health, a healthy pancreas, liver, kidney, and digestive systems and mitigate/prevent nerve damage. Lots of fruits and veggies have specific benefits. For example, berries are great for your eyes. Artichokes are cleaners for the liver. Asparagus is helpful for kidneys. I keep up a library of these benefits at http://produce-with-a-purpose.silk.co/
Goal 4. Keep up enjoyment, culture, energy, overall health and a good weight for you. You have to find food delicious and easy if you are going to keep it up, and recipes also need to fit your culture and social life in order to be YOURS. My goal, between what I grow and the information and recipes I share is for you to TREAT YOURSELF! Make this a gift to yourself and your family. Also give yourself more bragging rights and sharing, more shortcuts, more confidence, and more vibrant health!
Are we in agreement? Am I on the right track here? My friends who have had diabetes for years, you know more about it than I do, so please jump in!
This is a learning experience for me, and that’s some of what I’ve gathered so far. I need to know what challenges you face when trying to meet your goals. Can you help me make myself useful and my produce tailor-made to support diabetics? I would appreciate comments, questions, suggestions…