Does a Diabetes Diagnosis Mean Foregoing Favorite Foods?

DISCLOSURE: This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., managed by NCBA, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, as part of my role as a member of the Beef Expert Bureau.

When my best friend recently told me she’s been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I worried about her future health. Meanwhile, she was worried about not being able to eat cookies.

My hope for her is that she reverses this trajectory. Diabetes is not an easy condition to live with, but she has an opportunity to adopt more healthful eating habits, increase her physical activity levels, and avoid the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.

My worry about her future health is based on my own experience with diabetes. I have been living with Type I diabetes for nearly 43 years. My eating habits and food preferences have dramatically shifted over the years. I’ve lost my sweet tooth and no longer struggle with the choice to have dessert. Unless it’s a pumpkin dessert. Then all bets are off!

I have made significant changes in the amounts and types of carbohydrates I eat. I eat a lot more vegetables, legumes, and whole grains today compared to even five years ago. The carbohydrate in these foods is absorbed more slowly compared to processed carbohydrates. I also eat more lean meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. These protein-rich foods help manage hunger levels.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I have a keen interest in nutrition research that relates to diabetes and heart health. Diabetes puts people at increased risk for heart disease, so anything I can do to manage my blood sugar levels while also reducing my risk of heart disease is critically important to me. I only have one item on my bucket list, and that’s to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary with my darling husband. To reach that goal I will need to live well with diabetes for more than 80 years.

I was interested in recently published research that supports the role of lean beef as a replacement for refined starches (e.g., processed carbohydrates) in healthful dietary patterns that promote heart health. This study included 33 adults at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. At the start of the study, subjects were randomly assigned to eating one of two diets, either a USDA Healthy Eating Pattern that included 1.2 ounces of red meat every day or a similar pattern that contained an additional 5.3 ounces of lean, unprocessed beef per day in place of refined starches. After four weeks on the initial diets study participants could eat whatever they wanted for two weeks. They were then assigned to the opposite diet for four weeks.

At the end of each four-week cycle, various cardiometabolic risk factors were assessed. Data analysis showed there were no differences between how subjects reacted to each diet when looking at insulin sensitivity, CRP (a measure of inflammation), or blood pressure. The one difference was in the type of cholesterol molecules; subjects on the diet with additional beef had more large, fluffy cholesterol particles, which are better than small dense particles when it comes to reducing risk of heart disease.

So, for me, this is incredibly good news. I can continue to enjoy lean beef as part of my healthful dietary pattern, knowing it will not increase any risk factors for heart disease or diabetes.

I’ve shared this information with my best friend, which she found encouraging. She and the other 88 million people in the United States with pre-diabetes need to hear positive, empowering messages about what they can do and eat versus negative, defeating messages about what they can’t do, eat, or enjoy.

If you’re looking for ways to enjoy lean beef as part of your healthful diet, check out some of my favorite recipes from Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.