Following a healthy eating plan is key to managing diabetes. You're probably confronted with many diet options suggesting how to eat to keep your blood sugar in check.
Unlike fad diets that are often hard to maintain, the DASH diet — long touted for its benefits in lowering high blood pressure — is also a top choice in diabetes care and one that's easy to start. Let's look at what sets it apart.
DASH and Diabetes
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Its primary aim is to lower blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure tend to go hand-in-hand: More than half of all adults with diabetes have hypertension, according to research in Diabetes Spectrum. The journal also reports that the DASH diet may improve insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia (an abnormally high concentration of fats in the blood) and obesity in addition to lowering blood pressure.
Because of the diet's effect on weight, insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, it works well for people with prediabetes and type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Spectrum research suggests the diet may decrease your future risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 percent.
Further research in Diabetes Management and The FASEB Journal also found this diet helped lessen episodes of hyperglycemia (excess glucose in the blood) and control blood glucose levels in children with Type 1 diabetes. As you know, moderating blood glucose levels is important to prevent damage from diabetes and to protect your heart.
DASH Diet in Review
DASH adopts healthy eating habits, with more whole food and less processed foods. The focus is on fruits, vegetables, lean meat, low-fat dairy, whole grains, beans and nuts. The diet limits sodium, red meat and sugary foods and drinks.
One of its stricter points is cutting back on salt. The American Heart Association's recommendation is to stay under 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That's about a half of a teaspoon of salt. For even greater blood pressure reduction, move that intake down to 1,500 mg, or about 1/3 of a teaspoon of salt.
The traditional DASH diet can be low in fat and too high in carbohydrates for those with diabetes. Lowering your carb intake and adding in more unsaturated fats through foods such as oils, nuts, seeds and avocado can help you control your blood sugar levels and give you more energy.
Small Steps to Start
DASH isn't an eating plan you follow for a short time. It's designed to be a lifelong part of diabetes care.
Because of this, you can ease into it. Start by cutting out sodas or adding in fruits and vegetables to every meal. Bring spices to the table and leave the saltshaker in the cabinet — or throw it out! The diet gives you the flexibility to choose how you want to begin and what steps to take and when.
If you're unsure where to begin, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a database of DASH-friendly recipes to give you ideas.
You can love what you eat while still managing your diabetes and protecting your heart. With the DASH diet, it's all about moderation and balance.