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American Heart Month – Let’s Remember to Honor the Heart with Healthy Food

Feb 25, 2019

In the world of type 1 diabetes, I find I focus on numbers a lot. Blood glucose, sensor glucose, A1C and time in range are all very important for the reduction and hopefully prevention of acute and chronic complications. When it comes to reducing risk factors for heart disease, providers may focus on medications — an ACE or ARB, statins, aspirin and others. Numbers and medication are important to the care of persons with diabetes, but by focusing too much on them providers can lose sight of another valuable piece of the puzzle; the nutrition that helps to reduce risk factors for heart disease in all persons, including those with diabetes. It is a topic of special importance for adults with diabetes, who are 2-4 times more likely to die of heart disease and at a younger age than those without diabetes.

But what are the dietary recommendations for reducing the risk for heart disease? Is it a low carbohydrate diet? Is elimination of dairy fat or eggs recommended? Do we embrace chocolate? While there are some conflicting recommendations, the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have some common recommendations. Here are the research-based recommendations which you can confidently encourage individuals to embrace for the prevention of heart disease.

  • Use olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds for fat intake
  • Eat fatty fish, flax, walnuts, and soy to include n-3 fatty acids two times weekly
  • Enjoy whole grains daily
  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables (berries, kale, carrots, spinach, etc.) daily – consider a fruit or vegetable at each meal
  • Limit saturated fats such as that found in butter, palm oil and red meat
  • Attempt to eliminate all trans fats (potentially found in sweet breads, store purchased cookies, pies, etc.)
  • Limit alcohol per day to no more than 1 beverage for women and 2 beverages for men

The Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) food plans are consistently identified as heart healthy. They include the tips listed above, along with a word of caution about total salt intake and the inclusion of low-fat dairy products for the DASH diet, which focuses on the reduction of hypertension, a strong risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Exercise for all and weight loss in those who are overweight are also heart healthy tips. Vitamin and mineral supplements have not consistently demonstrated a benefit for heart disease prevention. 

These recommendations may be a struggle for some persons – but by being consistent about the message, providing menu ideas based on the individual’s preferences, being a strong advocate of heart healthy eating – we may help individuals reduce their risk for heart disease.

Happy heart healthy eating – this month and all the rest!

For additional resources on heart health, check out AADE's Heart Disease & Diabetes page with English and Spanish language resources to help people with diabetes understand the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease


About the Author:

Carla CoxCox is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She has been a certified diabetes educator for over 25 years and served as an assistant adjunct professor for 14 years, teaching in areas of sports nutrition and exercise physiology. Currently she works for Mountain Visa Medicine and Providence Medical Group in Missoula, Montana and consults on diabetes technology nationally.

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