10 Changes to Make for Heart Health When You Have Diabetes
Here are ten things you can do to support your heart that can also help you manage your blood sugar.
Having diabetes raises your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), a disease of the heart and blood vessels. But diabetes is just one risk factor, and there are many things you can do to help lower your risk of developing heart disease. Many of the changes you can make revolve around what you eat, and there are plenty of small steps you can take to prepare more heart-healthy (and diabetes-friendly) meals and snacks. Below are 10 shifts you can make that can help keep your heart healthy, while also helping your blood sugar.
1. Eat More Fiber
Fiber is important for heart health because it can help improve blood cholesterol levels. Eating meals with fiber can also help you avoid blood sugar spikes. Fiber can also help you feel full, so you may feel more satisfied after eating meals that are high in fiber. Great sources of fiber include fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; beans, peas, and lentils; and whole grains. Most of the better-for-you carbs—think fruits, vegetables and whole grains—that people with diabetes are encouraged to eat, deliver fiber. Don't know how to get started? Try our 30-Day Fiber Up Challenge.
2. Choose Healthy Fats
Fat isn't bad, but not all fat is created equal. Unsaturated fat, which is found in food from plants, can help lower cholesterol, especially when it replaces saturated fat, which is found mostly in animal foods. Eating unsaturated fats has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Great sources of unsaturated fats include avocado, olive oil, vinaigrette dressings, nuts, seeds, and salmon. Sprinkle two tablespoons of chopped nuts over Greek yogurt or drizzle two tablespoons of vinaigrette over salads. Healthy fats pair wonderfully with carbohydrates because you digest them more slowly, which helps minimize blood sugar spikes.
3. Include Foods High in Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are a specific type of fat that have been shown to support heart health. There are three major types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA comes from plants and is considered an "essential" omega-3 because we need to get this fat from the diet as our bodies cannot make it on their own. ALA is found in seeds like flax and chia, nuts like walnuts, and oils like soybean and canola. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the process is inefficient.
The most common food source of both EPA and DHA are fatty fish. EPA and DHA have been shown to be the most protective of the heart. Evidence also supports the role of EPA and DHA for prenatal, brain and eye health. Both EPA and DHA are found in all cells of the body and also have been shown to have anti-inflammatory functions. Both EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. For inspiration, here's a round-up of our favorite Omega-3-rich recipes.
4. Opt for Low-Fat Dairy and Lean Meat
Dairy and meat can be a part of a diabetes- and heart-friendly diet, but it's important to choose them carefully. Reduce full fat and reduced-fat dairy products, which have higher amounts of saturated fat, as saturated fat has been linked to increased risk of heart disease. Instead, choose low fat and nonfat dairy products more often. The same applies for meat: opt for leaner meat, alongside other lean protein options such as chicken, fish and eggs, which keeps saturated fat intake at a minimum, all the while supplying the body with other necessary nutrients. Lean cuts of pork include tenderloin and boneless chops, and lean cuts of beef include sirloin tip, top round steak, eye of round steak, bottom round steak, top sirloin, and filet mignon.
5. Cook More At Home
Many restaurant and takeout dishes are high in calories, sodium, and saturated fats. Try to limit restaurant and takeout food and instead, opt to cook at home more. Cooking gives you the control and knowledge of which healthy ingredients are going into your meals. To boost flavor healthfully, incorporate herbs and spices, one hundred-percent fruit and vegetable juices, vinegars, low-sodium stocks, rubs and marinades, aromatic vegetables (like onions and garlic), sauces made of pureed fruits and vegetables, and homemade salsas.
6. Cook With Less Oil
Another way to ensure your home cooking is healthier is to reduce recipes that call for deep frying or pan frying, and instead opt for cooking methods that use less oil. Such methods include roasting, broiling, grilling, sautéing, poaching, braising and microwaving. Most recipes that use these methods will rely on just a few tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil for the recipe. It's not that you can't include fat, especially the healthy unsaturated kind, in your diet, but modifying your cooking techniques helps you control the amount of fat you use so you don't go overboard. Try these air-fryer recipes for beginners.
7. Plan Ahead for Your Week
It's much easier to commit to a heart-healthy and diabetes-friendly eating pattern when you can plan ahead. Take some time each week to plan out your meals and snacks, to go grocery shopping, and to chop vegetables or prep ingredients ahead of time. You can meal prep fully for the week by dedicating a few hours on one day to make all your meals, or cook a few days a week with the intention of having leftovers to portion and package for the following days. Meal prepping can help ensure that you always have something healthy to eat when mealtimes arise, which can also help avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar.
8. Limit Alcohol
If you drink alcohol, limiting the amount you drink can help lower your risk of heart disease as well as manage your blood sugar. If you have diabetes and choose to drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about how alcohol can affect your blood sugar and whether it can interfere with any of your medications. Alcohol can interfere with certain diabetes and heart medications, causing side effects. It can also cause sometimes-dangerous drops in blood sugar, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.
If you choose to drink, limit your alcohol to 1 drink a day or less if you are a woman, or 2 drinks a day or less if you are a man. One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof liquor (like rum or vodka). It's always a good idea to consume alcohol with food and choose sugar-free mixers to avoid blood sugar spikes.
9. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is essential for everyone, but it's particularly helpful for people with diabetes, as it can help manage blood sugar and lower the risk of heart disease. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week plus two sessions that build muscle strength per week, such as training with weights or resistance bands. Many types of activity count as moderate-intensity exercise, including walking, cycling, jogging, and swimming. The key is to find a type of exercise you enjoy and that you can stick with. Find some ideas with these at-home workouts for every fitness level.
10. Get Your ABCs Checked
ABCs stands for A1C (a measure of your average blood glucose for the past 2 to 3 months), blood pressure, and cholesterol. Consistently getting your ABCs checked can help you better manage your blood sugar and help you take steps to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target range. Keeping all three of these within your targets can help lower your your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Talk with with your healthcare team about what your target range should be and how often you should be checked for all three.