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Sweet Potatoes & Diabetes

3 Jan

Here is a question that I received from

I was recently diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes and I’m trying to follow a low fat diet.  I have a question I hope that you can answer.  Are sweet potatoes considered a vegetable and are they ok to eat in my diet?

Sweet potatoes are considered starchy vegetables. According to the Mayo Clinic, 4 ounces or ½ of a sweet potato is approximately one starchy vegetable on the exchange list.  Sweet potatoes are definitely okay to include in your diet.

Reasons to Eat Sweet Potatoes:

  • Fat free, which will make following a low fat diet easier
  • Great source of fiber, which will help keep you fully satisfied and may also help lower your blood cholesterol
  • Great source of potassium, and vitamin B6, which helps with improvement of  energy metabolism to  improving cognitive performance
  • Great source of beta carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A and helps the immune system’s response to sickness and disease
  • Great source of vitamin C, which is a great antioxidant that protects tissues from oxidative stress

Sweet potatoes are definitely my favorite complex carbohydrate.  You can include them as your pre-workout snack, a side dish to your favorite protein and veggies, or as a dessert.  Desserts tend to be the hardest thing for me to avoid when I start a low-fat diet.  I have found that trading in cheesecake for sweet potatoes is a great way to satisfy my sweet tooth with much fewer calories.

A slice of cheesecake can be filled with 500-600 calories and up to 40 grams of fat.  One half of a sweet potato is filled with approximately 125 calories and is non-fat.  A great dessert idea for sweet potatoes is to peel them, dice them up, throw them in a Ziploc steamer bag or boil them, and then mash them up.  Add a few sprinkles of cinnamon, because it will help stabilize your blood sugar levels.  Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of crushed walnuts or pecans, because they are filled with just enough healthy fats. Top it off with one tablespoon of Fat-Free or Sugar-Free Cool Whip, because it’s a delicious topping.  Voila, you have a guilt-free delicious sweet dessert that fills you up and helps you lose weight!


Don’t Let a Sweet Indulgence be a Delicious Disaster

20 Dec

Here is a question that I received from

I have diabetes and this time of year is the toughest for me.  It seems holiday treats/sweets are everywhere tempting me!  Is it ok to indulge a little?  If not, how can I build up enough will power to avoid holiday sweets?

The sweet candied smell of the holidays is difficult to avoid around the holiday season. Those tempting treats don’t have to be avoided, but you must be careful to keep your carbohydrate count stable and under control.  Here are a few tips to help you over the holiday season.

1.      Know how to count carbs!  The more grams of carbohydrate ingested, the greater the glycemic response in your body.  Food labels will always provide you with an accurate count of carbohydrate grams, but remember to always check that serving size.  If you know that you are bound to eat a cookie or two, substitute sweets into your meal plan for other carbohydrate. Try not to do this too often though because a sweet indulgence may become a sweet disaster.

2.       Do not forget that holiday sweets like cookies, ice cream, cakes, and candy often count as ‘empty calorie’ carbohydrate foods.  There is no nutritional value to these sugary, carbohydrate filled villains.  Instead of reaching for a cookie, try making yourself a delicious dessert with fruit.  One of my favorite desserts is ‘Sweet Poached Pear Dessert’.  Google is a no fail search engine when you are looking for ways to eat healthier sweets during the holidays.

3.      Include exercise in your daily routine.  Studies show that integrating 20 minutes of moderate exercise will increase your endorphin levels and make you feel happier. The happier you feel, the healthier you feel.  In my experience, the healthier I feel, the less likely I am to reach for an ‘empty calorie’ carbohydrate food.  Another great benefit of exercise is that it keeps your blood glucose levels steady and improves insulin sensitivity.  Exercise in itself is a great building block to that thing inside all of us that we call ‘Willpower’.  If you tend to overindulge in sweets, get on your running shoes and do a few laps around the neighborhood.

So, when those alluring holiday sweets are calling your name and you start to feel yourself inch toward that starchy, sugary-coated treat, shake your head and ask yourself this question, “Is it a nice day for a run?”


A Vegetable Adventure

25 Oct

Here is a question I received from

I was just diagnosed with pre-diabetes.  The nurse told me to eat lots of vegetables.  Could you tell me what “lots of vegetables” means and what type of vegetables to consume?  Also, how should I prepare them?

Receiving a pre-diabetes diagnosis sounds alarms and whistles for your future health. Pre-diabetes means that your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnoses. Implementing a healthier diet and starting an exercise regimen will help decrease blood glucose levels and may prevent the real diagnoses of diabetes.

The statement ‘eat lots of vegetables’ is much too vague.  A registered dietitian would be a better source for dietary recommendations.  The amounts of vegetable servings in your diet are dependent on your calorie needs. Calorie needs are based on an individual’s age, sex, size, and activity level.  In general, a healthy daily vegetable intake includes at least 2 to 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables, and 6 servings of grains, beans, and starchy vegetables.  A single non-starchy vegetable choice is equal to 1 cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice.  A single starchy vegetable choice is equal to 1 ounce by weight.

Vegetable type falls into two categories; non-starchy and starchy. Non-starchy vegetables contain 5 grams of carbohydrate and 25 calories per serving. Starchy vegetables contain 15 grams of carbohydrate and 80 calories per serving.  Non-starchy vegetables contain less sugar than starchy vegetables; hence portion size must be kept in check when consuming starchy vegetables.  The table below contains some examples of these two types of vegetables.

Preparation techniques are important to keep in mind when consuming vegetables.  Absorption of nutrients, into the body tissues, from vegetables is dependent on the way the vegetable is prepared.

Raw, cooked, frozen, or canned vegetables may affect the nutritional value of your produce. Non-starchy vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.  If you prefer to cook your vegetables, the best way to retain water-soluble nutrients is to steam them.  Starchy vegetables are best consumed cooked because of the process of gelatinization of the starches from the food.   Cooking starchy vegetables improves the digestibility and percentage of nutrients and energy available to your body tissues. There is a variety of frozen vegetables and they can be blanched in hot water or steamed. When consuming canned vegetables, be wary of the sodium content, avoid dented or swollen cans, and always check for expiration dates. Keep in mind that canned vegetables lose several nutrients in the process of preservation.   Nevertheless, all vegetables are nutritious and healthy and should be incorporated into your daily diet.

Diabetes and Bread

9 Oct

Here is a question I received from

My husband has diabetes and we always eat whole wheat bread but wanted something different for a change. Is rye bread or sourdough bread as good of an option as whole wheat?

Answer: Whole wheat bread is a great source of carbohydrates for an individual with diabetes. But, it can get boring eating the same type of bread day in and day out. Rye and sourdough breads are great alternatives to whole wheat breads because they both help keep glucose levels stable and offer several nutrients.

Rye bread imparts a sweet flavor with a dark-colored crumb due to the continuous steam that cooks it. The denser quality of the bread is due to the smaller number of pores and greater concentration of starch particles. When eaten, the rate of digestion from starch into sugar is slow because of the bread’s firmer matrix. Sourdough bread is known to have a distinctive, tangy flavor and chewy texture, which is due to the lactic acid bacteria and lower pH levels. The lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid and increases the dough acidity, which prevents reproduction of unwanted micro-organisms and increases the nutritional value. When eaten, the acid slows the emptying of the stomach, thereby slowing the delivery of glucose to the bloodstream.

Wrapping it up, no pun intended, remember to always pay attention to your carbohydrate count for starches and keep it within the recommended range of your calorie needs. Incorporating a variety of these breads in the diet is important. Stave away from the mundane and mix it up to keep your taste buds blissful. A reminder of one starch serving is: 15 grams of Carbohydrates, 0-3 grams of Protein, 0-1 grams of Fat, and 80 calories.


19 Sep

I am a Nutrition Editor at Foodpicker – a website designed
to help people with diabetes.