Colorful produce in season
Number of serious diseases affected by poor eating habits
By Valerie Dimond
Good health begins with good food.
Health experts agree that including more fruits and vegetables in the daily diet is critical for maintaining good health, especially among people with diabetes and those at high risk for developing the disease.
The American Diabetes Association recently announced that metabolic syndrome — having several disorders at the same time, such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — is increasing steadily among children and adults.
If the trends continue, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity will become the leading cause of death by 2005, surpassing smoking.
“The way we eat as Americans has a big impact on that,” said Maryanne Kesting, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie. “We really need to bring more fiber into the diet with more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. With diabetes, a high-fiber diet can be really beneficial.”
Unfortunately, Kesting said fruits and vegetables are often secondary to the fatty, refined and sugary foods that have become such a dominant part of the American diet.
“Our lifestyle, eating habits and activity certainly has an effect on the more prevalent diagnosis of diabetes today, especially among younger people,” Kesting said. “We’re diagnosing type 2 diabetes in younger people more than we did several years ago. That’s alarming.”
In type 2, either the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin effectively. Insulin is needed for the body to be able to properly use sugar. Type 1 diabetes means the body cannot produce insulin.
Hopefully, the trend is beginning to change. A new study conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine shows that more than half the food shoppers surveyed claim health concerns greatly influence their purchasing decisions.
The research states, “Shoppers see healthy eating as better than medication as the way to manage their health issues,” with nearly 60 percent making healthier choices in an effort to avoid health problems.
Wappingers Falls resident Nick Bailos said years of poor dietary choices and no exercise caused his cholesterol to skyrocket.
“My cholesterol was at 270,” the 44-year-old said. “I would eat chicken parmesan, french fries, London broil and Romanian steaks at least four or five days a week and vegetables only once in a while — mostly iceberg lettuce.”
Today, he walks up to 10 miles two to three says a week with his dogs, eats a variety of vegetables and has cut way back on the fat.
“I started to eat more vegetables because my cholesterol was so high. I had no choice. Now my cholesterol is at 190,” Bailos said.
The American Diabetes Association suggests people aim for at least three to four fruit servings and three to five servings of vegetables daily.
This season there’s plenty of fresh, juicy, colorful winter produce to choose from at grocery stores, farm markets and health food outlets.
Here is a look at what’s out there right now and why these foods are so good for our health.
All kinds of local varieties are now available, including acorn, butternut, buttercup, delicata, spaghetti, hubbard and pumpkin.
According to the American Dietetic Association, winter squash provides nearly six grams of fiber in one serving and is a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, iron and calcium.
“Winter squash actually offers more nutrition than in most summer squash,” states the literature from the Dietetic Association.
“High fiber actually lowers the effect of the carbohydrate on your blood sugar level,” Kesting said.
But be careful of how you prepare these vegetables.
“It’s the amount that one eats and how it’s prepared that makes the difference for a person with diabetes,” she said. “If you’re baking an acorn squash and butternut squash, traditionally, I know people use a lot of brown sugar or maple syrup when they prepare it.”
Instead, Kesting suggests using garlic, olive oil or a few chopped walnuts or cranberries to flavor winter squash.
Also, “If people like chestnuts or onions, that has a natural sweetness, too.
When it’s roasted, it caramelizes the natural sugars and brings out the flavor,” she said.
Look for dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, collards, spinach and Swiss chard.
All these greens are available well into winter months and supply lots of vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid, fiber and antioxidants.
“The greens provide so many nutrients and actually help the body absorb and digest the other foods that you are eating,” said Holly Anne Shelowitz, a certified nutrition counselor, cookbook author and whole foods chef in Ulster County. “Kale and collards are mineral rich, high in calcium, iron and fiber. All you have to do is sauté it with some onions or garlic, add some soy sauce or sea salt and that’s all you need. Use olive oil, of course.”
“Spinach and beet greens and Swiss chard are greens, but they are high in something called oxalic acid, which is a natural occurring element that pulls calcium from that body,” Shelowitz said. “That’s why you get that funny feeling on the teeth when you eat it. But if you add sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, that will replenish the minerals that your body might lose.”
Potatoes are always plentiful in the wintertime, including the red, white and yellow varieties, as well as the traditional holiday favorites — sweet potatoes and yams.
The American Dietetic Association said one potato offers 21 percent of the daily value for potassium, which helps the body retain calcium. Potatoes also contain some vitamin C and fiber.
Keep portions small if you have diabetes or need to shed pounds.
“Someone who is diabetic or who needs to lose weight wants to watch the white potatoes because they are very starchy and turn to sugar very quickly in the body, which can lead to sweet cravings,” Shelowitz said.
Try sweet potatoes, which are orange in color and provide an excellent source of beta-carotene, folic acid and other B vitamins. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
Kesting said people with diabetes can still eat potatoes but, again, keep portions small, including sweet potatoes. She said weigh individual potatoes on a produce scale before you buy them; about four ounces per serving is ideal.
Popular winter varieties include apples, pears, grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, Clementines and cranberries.
Apples offer a good amount of fiber, some vitamin C and potassium. Anjou and Bartlett pears, popular varieties during the winter months, are also a good source of fiber.
Well known for its vitamin C content, oranges are also rich in folic acid, potassium and thiamin, as well as some calcium and magnesium. Pink grapefruit also supplies a generous amount of beta-carotene and lycopene and cranberries contain ellagic acid, a cancer-fighting phytochemical.
If you have diabetes, Kesting said go ahead and enjoy these fruits but spread the fruit you eat throughout the day to avoid sudden increases in blood glucose. Portion control is also important. For example, she said one apple should be about the size of a tennis ball.
“For someone with diabetes, it’s important,” she said. “You don’t want the blood sugar to go too high when eating a lot of carbohydrates. With fruit, it’s the same principle.”