Your grandma told you to eat your vegetables and clean your plate. Your diabetes educator told you to count your carbohydrates. Your coworker told you to avoid dairy products. The spokesperson on the late-night TV infomercial told you to drink a special protein shake three times a day.
From friends and family to members of your health-care team to complete strangers, it may seem like everyone is giving you nutrition advice. Some of these people may know you have diabetes; others likely do not. With so many different and often conflicting recommendations, how can you know which claims have a basis in science and which are pure hokum?
One of your most reliable sources of guidance through the maze of nutrition advice is Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Released jointly by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Americans has long been a cornerstone of national nutrition policy and education. First published in 1980, these guidelines are carefully reviewed by a panel of experts and updated every five years as needed, based on the current science of nutrition. The 2010 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in early 2011, emphasizes that making healthy food choices is now crucially important as the United States is experiencing rising rates of chronic disease, disability, and death related to poor diet and lack of physical activity.
The Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — which outlines the scientific basis for the government’s dietary recommendations — has been transformed into a user-friendly booklet filled with helpful nutrition advice. (You can download a copy from www.choosemyplate.gov.) Each recommendation is supported by specific tips and ideas for putting it into practice. Many of the nutrition recommendations have special relevance to people with diabetes or prediabetes (blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes). This article summarizes Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 and describes how you can turn its recommendations into diabetes-friendly food choices that taste great and are good for you, too.
Inside the guidelines
While researching the current science of nutrition in preparation for Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that diet-related chronic diseases are taking a heavy toll on the health of Americans. In addition to having high rates of cancer and osteoporosis, 37% of Americans have cardiovascular disease, 34% have high blood pressure, 11% have diabetes, and 35% have prediabetes. These numbers lend an urgency to the report’s special emphasis on two themes, both of which apply especially to people with diabetes or prediabetes: maintaining calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight, and focusing on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.
Maintaining calorie balance. Overweight and obesity are linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes, so successfully curbing the obesity epidemic in the United States would be expected to also have a positive effect on the diabetes epidemic. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 defines the term calorie balance as “the balance between calories consumed in foods and beverages and calories expended through physical activity and metabolic processes.” In other words, calories in must equal calories out to remain in calorie balance. Calorie balance over time is the key to weight management. If you are overweight or obese, your calorie balance has been skewed; you’ve been consuming more calories than you’ve expended. To lose weight, you must either consume fewer calories or increase your physical activity — or, for the greatest effect, both.