When I tried to lose weight as a young adult, fat-free diets were the rage. That was the 1970s, but have things changed much since then? The other day I picked up a bag of candy with the words “fat free” on the label.
It made me laugh. It’s hard to believe some still think fat free automatically means something is good for you.
There are fats that we should avoid, especially the hydrogenated oils so popular in processed foods. But there are also fats that are good for us, even helpful to those of us with diabetes. Fats are essential to keep our cardiac and neurological systems healthy.
When I started looking for healthful fats, I found many in the Mediterranean diet. It was interesting to learn that this way of eating improves heart health and decreases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A Mediterranean diet also happens to be rich in good fats like olive oil, fatty fish, and nuts.
Are you looking for the best fats? Olive oil is a great place to start. Extra-virgin olive oil, which comes from the first room temperature pressing of the olives, is loaded with a variety of antioxidants, including vitamin E.
Another of the substances in olive oil, oleic acid, decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and may increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It lowers blood pressure by strengthening your cardiovascular system. It also improves fasting blood glucose levels according to recent studies. The best sources of oleic acid are olives, olive oil, and avocados.
Relying on fatty fish for protein is another reason that the Mediterranean lifestyle is so healthy. Those fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, something we could all use more of. Some of the best sources of these essential oils are cold-water fish like wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and fresh tuna.
Some of us do not like fish, but we can also find omega-3s in walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and soybeans. Tofu is one example of a soybean product you can add to your diet without much effort.
When we are trying to limit calories, high-calorie nuts may be one of the first items to go, but they are an important source of healthful fats in the Mediterranean diet. Avoiding high-fat foods like nuts may seem calorie wise, but it turns out to be health foolish.
Walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and almonds have lots of calories in a small serving, but those calories include fiber and fats that are good for diabetes.
In addition to the omega-3 content of walnuts, eating two ounces of these nuts a day has been found to improve blood flow for people with Type 2 diabetes. Nuts have also helped dieters keep weight off by curbing hunger. Some nutritionists suggest that eating, for example, 8–10 almonds 20 minutes before meals can help keep pounds off by controlling appetite.
Almonds have calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and phytochemicals (chemical compounds found in plants that may be beneficial to human health). They also have the most fiber of all the nuts.
Pecans have gamma tocopherol, a special form of vitamin E that prevents LDL cholesterol from being damaged by oxidation. They are among the highest-calorie nuts because of their fat content, but it is the good kind of fat. That simply means we eat less of them. (If we can. I love pecans.)
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, cashews have iron and zinc, and pistachios are full of vitamins E and B6. All of the nuts contain good fats and fiber, both of which slow down the digestion of carbohydrate and lower insulin needs.
One selection from the Mediterranean diet that I had never heard of before was hummus. This is a spreadable bean dip made from chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), typically along with ground sesame seeds (tahini), olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.
Hummus can be made spicy or salty or sweet according to your taste. The essential fatty acids and protein in this food makes this a versatile addition to our new way of eating if we are ready to try it.
Chia seeds were another food unfamiliar to me. They were popular centuries ago in South America and were recently “rediscovered” by modern healthy eaters. They are high in protein and full of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Try replacing some of the wheat flour in recipes with chia seeds as an easy way to incorporate this food into your diet.
It takes effort to change to a new way of eating, so make it as easy for yourself as you can. Find the things you like and stick with them. Remember this: The olive oil, fish, and nuts that are a large part of the Mediterranean lifestyle lead to a lower risk of heart and artery disease as well as Alzheimer disease and Type 2 diabetes.
We need to move away from our inflammatory Western diet with its processed grains and empty-calorie snacks. Learn to like the good fats that slow down digestion of carbohydrate. You will have better blood sugar control and more easily control your weight, no matter what the old fat-free diets said.
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