Are your patients having trouble sticking to their diet? Do they struggle to make sense of all of the nutrition information they see on TV, in magazines, books and from friends? There is so much nutrition information around us that it is a challenge to stay on top of the latest recommendations. It is understandable that many patients feel overwhelmed with it all and give up.
My philosophy regarding nutrition is to keep it simple. I don’t believe that eating needs to be confusing and a constant challenge. If something comes from the ground, a tree or an animal and is not processed or minimally processed it is good for you. The idea that a banana might be bad for you or a potato is just confusing and not based on science. All whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, meats are inherently healthy for you. They have natural vitamins and minerals and are full of nutrients important for your body. Of course the portion size of any food is still important and something almost everyone can work on.
When I work with people who have diabetes, I start with finding out what their current eating patterns are like, and then we move towards some areas they are willing to work on. Typically, people think that I am going to tell them that they must eliminate all of their favorite foods and never eat things like bread, pasta, potatoes and sweets again. This is definitely not the case, and so it is exciting to see them brighten up as they learn all foods can fit into a healthy diet. I emphasize instead the importance of portion size, balance and variety. I also encourage patients to try and incorporate some healthy carbohydrates that maybe they haven’t tried before such as quinoa, faro, barley, beans, lentils, and Greek yogurt to name a few. I also drive home the value of vegetables as a low carbohydrate, high fiber and nutrient dense food group. When they see a portion of pasta compared to the equivalent vegetable portion they are usually amazed. With the patient, we collaboratively discuss ways they can include more whole grains and vegetables into their diet and plan ahead for meals and snacks so they have healthy and tasty foods available.
Recently, a patient told me she had never been able to stick to the “diabetic diet” after having diabetes for many years. She had given up on the diet because she didn’t understand it and wasn’t sure what a “carb choice” was. We reviewed carbohydrate foods and their effect on blood sugar as compared to fats and protein. We then discussed her current eating habits and she suggested that she could work on eating a few more vegetables and less crackers and pasta. At her next visit she was able to say with confidence that she had been able to follow what we discussed much of the time and was noticing a change in her blood sugars.
I really believe that no matter your diagnosis, eating should be fun and enjoyable and doesn’t have to be confusing. Eating plans can be flexible and should be something that makes sense for your lifestyle most of the time. Our patients will have much better success sticking with lifestyle changes if we can keep the messages related to nutrition simple and practical. I’d love to hear how you are able to keep nutrition simple as an educator or a patient.