It’s football season — which means it’s tailgating time. And although this year looks very different compared to last year (hello pandemic!), it doesn’t mean all tailgating fun has to be put on hold.
This fall, your best defense is to stay home and enjoy the season on TV with those in your direct household. (You can even host a faux tailgate in your driveway!) If you do venture out, remember it’s crucial to wear a face mask, avoid crowds and wash your hands. Many stadiums and sports leagues are also limiting how many people can attend the games.
If you’ve opted to stay home, but you’re still determined to enjoy a good tailgate, adding a few healthy dishes to your menu can be a game changer for your health. Dietitian Kate Patton MEd, RD, LD, CSSD, gives us six healthy tips when it comes to tailgate food this season.
Cook up some kabobs. If you’re firing up the grill, try some delicious chicken or shrimp kabobs. Stack the kabobs with your choice of meat, peppers, onions, mushrooms, pineapple or other veggies or fruits you enjoy. Brush them with olive oil and your favorite herbs for a surge of flavor. Kabobs have fewer calories and less saturated and trans fats than other tailgate options. Plus, the peppers contain antioxidants that prevent oxidation of cholesterol during heating.
Skip the chips, keep the potato. If potatoes are a staple for you, try a baked potato bar rather than potato salad or chips, which are traditionally high in fat and calories. Rub the outside of the baked potatoes in olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and set them straight on the grill. Ahead of time, prepare a few bowls of toppings such as salsa, sautéed spinach, black beans and parmesan cheese — all in moderation.
For pasta salad, go 100% whole grain. Transform a traditional pasta salad recipe into a healthier version by cutting out refined grains. When grains are refined, the two outer layers—the bran and germ—are removed in an attempt to enhance the taste and extend the shelf life. But this process also leads to a loss of important nutrients such as vitamin B and fiber. Using 100% whole wheat (or any whole grain) pasta instead will increase your intake of key nutrients associated with improved glycemic control and decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
Snack smartly. Calories can add up quickly, especially if you’re a die-hard snacks fan. Try pairing your healthy entrée choices with nutritious snacks such as air-popped popcorn, grilled corn, multigrain crackers with hummus and guacamole, fresh veggies with a Greek yogurt dip or a fresh fruit salad.
Keep food safety in mind. Don’t let foodborne illness spoil your fun. Safe procedures include cooking meat to an internal temperature of 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before eating), 160°F for ground meats and 165°F for all poultry. Additionally, clean plates and utensils to avoid cross-contamination, wash produce before preparation and refrigerate high protein foods after 1 to 2 hours of sitting out (one hour for hot weather, two hours for colder weather).
Try a Bloody Mary. Compared to beer, a Bloody Mary is a better drink of choice. These drinks provide more nutrients than other alcoholic beverages because the base is potassium-rich tomato juice. Just be sure to go light on the salt and always drink alcohol in moderation — defined as one glass per day for women and two glasses for men. And be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water.
Once again, soft drinks are getting linked with negative effects on your health.
And this time, it’s not just the consequences on your waist line and scale. Instead, one study found that consuming any type of soft drink contributes to early death.
Let’s say that louder for the people in the back.
According to the study – drinking soda shortens your lifespan. Period.
The study looked at data on 451,743 people with an average age of 50. And the results showed that it didn’t matter whether the people were drinking soft drinks with real or artificially added sugar.
“The striking finding was in nearly half a million people, there was an increased risk of death from all causes, including heart disease, with people that consumed sugar-sweetened beverages, sodas and artificial sweeteners,” says Mark Hyman, MD, who did not take part in the study. Results showed that people who consumed two or more glasses a day of soft drinks, sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened beverages had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular or digestive diseases.
Nothing but bad news
Dr. Hyman says that diet soda is not a “free pass” to consume soda without the negatives.
When it comes to artificial sweeteners, other studies have shown they are linked to obesity, diabetes, increased hunger and can impact your metabolism.
“Diet drinks have artificial sweeteners in them that affect your brain chemistry, make you hungry and can slow your metabolism,” says Dr. Hyman. “They affect your gut micro biome in ways that are not good.”
Instead of soda, or sugar-sweetened drinks, Dr. Hyman recommends looking for a sparkling water or a water with a small amount of fresh fruit added to it. “The key message here is – soda, sugar-sweetened beverages and artificial sweeteners are not good for you,” says Dr. Hyman. “They contribute to death from all causes and heart disease, so we should not be consuming them.”
The Short Answer from a functional medicine specialist
Q: How healthy is oatmeal for breakfast?
A: I prefer to start my day with protein and healthy fat. Here’s why.
A colleague at Harvard did an amazing study involving three groups of overweight kids. He gave them three different breakfasts that had the same number of calories: instant oatmeal, steel-cut oats and a veggie omelet with fruit.
Then he put them in a room with video games and said, “When you’re hungry, push the button.”
Those who ate the instant oatmeal ate 81 percent more food during the day, and those who ate the steel cut oats ate 51 percent more, than those who ate the omelet.
What was really interesting was that blood tests found higher levels of insulin, blood sugar and stress hormones (cortisone and adrenaline) in the kids who ate the oatmeal. Their whole biology was different. The calories from the oatmeal behaved very differently than the calories from the omelet.
This is what we pay attention to in functional medicine. We see food not just as energy, but as information and instructions for your hormones, your brain chemistry, your gut flora and your immune system.
And it doesn’t take decades to occur. It happens in real time.
—Mark Hyman, MD, Director, Center for Functional Medicine
Do you scramble each morning to bring a decent lunch to work? Make it easy on yourself by creating a nutritious gourmet salad bar at home. The prep work is your key to success — just follow these steps from Mark Hyman, MD:
1. Get ready!
Reserve one place in your fridge for chopped veggies and herbs, and one shelf in your cupboard for protein, nuts and seeds. Then gather and prep these ingredients:
Greens: Stock your fridge with a small variety of fresh greens: arugula, spinach, romaine, watercress, kale, mixed baby greens. (Skip the iceberg lettuce; it’s barely green and has few nutrients.)
Chopped veggies: Cut washed, raw veggies, or steamed or roasted leftover veggies into salad-size bits. Store in sealed glass containers in your fridge.
Herbs: Chop and refrigerate fresh herbs (or choose dried): parsley, basil, oregano, dill, cilantro, mint.
Protein: Stock the pantry and fridge with a variety of proteins: canned salmon, sardines, roast chicken or turkey, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, cooked shrimp.
Healthy fats: Keep an avocado and Kalamata olives on hand. Store toasted or raw nuts in sealed glass jars (they’ll stay fresh for weeks at room temperature).
Dressing: Mix a healthy oil (extra-virgin olive, flaxseed, walnut or avocado) with fresh lemon or lime juice, vinegar or both. Use a ratio of 2/3 oil to 1/3 citrus or vinegar. Whisk in Dijon mustard or seasonings. For a creamy dressing, add avocado or tahini.
2. Get set!
Make a salad each night so you can grab it from the fridge the next morning. Keep your palate happy by choosing different options. Combine the following:
Greens: 2 cups (mix and match)
Veggies: 2 or more cups
Herbs: ¼ cup fresh or 1 teaspoon dried
Protein: 3 to 6 ounces
Healthy fat: ¼-½ avocado, or 1/4 cup nuts, seeds or Kalamata olives
3. Keep it going!
So your first salad tasted great and was a cinch to make — you’re on a roll! Use these tips to maintain your gourmet salad bar:
Store enough veggies for 2 to 3 days, replenishing as needed for freshness.
Change up your veggies, proteins and healthy fats at least twice a week for variety.
Store dressing separately at work or at home. (You’ll only need 1-2 tablespoons per salad.)
“Superfoods” go in and out of fashion faster than you can press “start” on your blender. For example: flaxseed. But hold on. Just because social media influencers may have left flax behind doesn’t mean you should.
“Flaxseed has many nutritional benefits,” says dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD. “There are so many reasons to add it to your diet.”
Why do dietitians love flaxseed? Let us count the ways:
Omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed (its closest friends call it “flax”) is chock-full of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of fatty acid that benefits heart health. Fish is famously the best source of omega-3s, but some plants also pack an ALA punch. Flax happens to be the richest plant source of ALAs in the North American diet, making it a great choice for vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Lignans. These are a type of phytoestrogen, a group of compounds that are linked to a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer. Lignans also have antioxidant properties. “Antioxidants protect cells from damage,” Zumpano explains. A lignan-rich diet may help ward off diseases such as heart disease and cancer. And flax happens to contain 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Fiber. Flax is an excellent source of soluble fiber, which absorbs water and slows down digestion. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
Protein. Flaxseed is a good source of high-quality plant protein, comparable to soybeans.
Potassium. Potassium is a mineral that’s important for cell and muscle function and helps maintain normal blood pressure. But many Americans don’t get enough. Enter flaxseed, which has more potassium than (the famously potassium-rich) bananas.
How to shop for flaxseed
Flax comes in several forms. Here’s what you need to know before you start using this superseed.
Whole flax has the longest shelf life, but it’s hard for your body to break down. You’ll have to grind it in a food processor or coffee grinder first, Zumpano says. Otherwise, all those nutrients will go in one end and out the other.
Pre-ground or milled flax can save you time, but it does have a shorter shelf life than whole seeds, Zumpano says. Check expiration dates and only buy as much as you can use before they expire. You can also store flax in the fridge to ward off spoiling. (Past its prime, flax becomes rancid. It will have a sour smell and bitter taste.)
Flax oil is full of fatty acids, but it lacks the fiber of flaxseed. It’s a convenient way to boost your omega-3 intake but doesn’t contain all the goodness of ground flax. And it has an even shorter shelf life, Zumpano says, so keep an eye on the use-by date.
How to enjoy flaxseed
Ready to start reaping the benefits from this little seed? Zumpano recommends aiming for about 2 tablespoons of seeds a day. But you might not want to start with that amount right out of the gate. Like any high-fiber food, it can make you feel a little bloated if you’re not used to it. “I suggest starting with a teaspoon a day and working your way up to 2 tablespoons,” she says.
Flax has a mild, nutty flavor. Often, you can’t even taste it when you mix it into other foods. And you can add it to just about anything, Zumpano says. These are some of her favorites:
Sprinkle flax on yogurt, cottage cheese or oatmeal.
Add a spoonful to your salad.
Stir flaxseed into sauces or soups.
Scoop some flax into smoothies or protein shakes.
Add flax to baked goods such as muffins or pancakes. You can even use it as a flour substitute: Swap up to 3/4 cup of the flour in the recipe for flax. (If a recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, for example, use half flour and half flax.)
Replace an egg. For a plant-based egg substitute, mix 1 tablespoon of flax with 3 tablespoons of water. Let it sit until it forms a gel. Use it in recipes in place of eggs. It’s great for making vegan-friendly recipes and can help you cut cholesterol from your diet.
Is flax right for you?
Most people can benefit from adding flaxseed to their diets. But there are a few cases where Zumpano recommends caution. Talk to your doctor first if you have:
Kidney disease or other problems that affect potassium levels, since flax is high in potassium.
Hormone-related cancers, such as ovarian or breast cancer, since flax contains phytoestrogens. (While flax can be beneficial in preventing cancer, check with your doctor if you’re being treated for these cancers.)
If you have diverticulitis or diverticulosis you may need to avoid flaxseeds – specifically whole flaxseeds, but ground or finely milled flaxseed may be tolerated. Flaxseed oil is good option if you want to avoid the seeds completely especially in a flare up.
Most people, however, have good reason to get friendly with flax. Need more proof that flaxseed is worth the effort? It’s so good for you that its nutritional benefits outweigh its calories, Zumpano says. “Flax has only about 60 calories per 2-tablespoon serving. I suggest people don’t count them if they’re logging calories,” she says. “It’s so beneficial that the calories don’t matter.”
From our favorite pretzels to our daily sandwiches, salt is in almost everything we eat. But how much is too much?
Studies show that cutting down on sodium in your diet can lower blood pressure — reducing your risk of stroke, heart failure and other health problems, says hypertension specialist George Thomas, MD.
The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. People with certain medical conditions should consume even less.
Is sea salt healthier?
Sea salt is generally marketed as a “natural” and “healthier” alternative.
The main differences between sea salt and table salt are in taste, texture and processing. Sea salt has a stronger flavor. However, what people should remember is that both sea salt and table salt have the same amount of sodium by weight.
According to the AHA, a teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium while a teaspoon of sea salt may have less sodium only because fewer salt crystals fit on the spoon.
“When it comes down to it, sea salt doesn’t offer any health advantages over regular table salt,” says Dr. Thomas.
Should I just stop using the salt shaker?
It does help to avoid adding salt to your food at the table, but unfortunately, a major part of the sodium in American diets — more than 70% — comes from processed and packaged foods. These foods can be high in sodium even if they don’t taste salty.
Processed foods include:
Canned or pickled foods.
Condiments, sauces and dressings.
Soda (including diet soda).
Checking labels is the only way to know how much sodium is in your food. If you buy packaged or processed foods, choose foods that are labeled sodium-free or very low sodium.
“Remember that the amount of sodium listed on the ingredient label references a particular serving size,” says Dr. Thomas. “If you eat more than the listed serving size, you’ll consume more sodium.”
How much sodium is in popular foods?
The AHA has a list of six popular foods with high sodium content dubbed the “Salty Six”:
Breads and rolls: Each piece can have up to 230 mg of sodium.
Pizza: One slice can have up to 760 mg of sodium.
Cold cuts and cured meats: Two slices of bologna has 578 mg of sodium.
Poultry: Especially chicken nuggets. Just 3 ounces have nearly 600 mg of sodium.
Canned soups: One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium.
Sandwiches: Consider the bread, cured meats, processed cheese and condiments can easily surpass 1,500 mg of sodium.
When making plans to your favorite restaurant, sometimes the restaurant will add their menu’s nutritional values on their website. If possible, take a look before you go. This can help you make a decision based on how much sodium is in your meal of choice.
Try the DASH diet for high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a low-sodium intervention. All the foods you would eat are low in fat.
The diet calls for four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, and two to three servings of low-fat dairy. It’s also rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts – while also limiting sugar and red meats.
Work with your doctor or dietitian to figure out a meal plan for you with the DASH diet.
It is possible to train your taste buds to eat less salt. You may not like eating food without sodium at first, but your taste buds will adjust over time.
“Try using natural substitutes like lemon, ginger, curry, dried herbs (such as bay leaves, basil and rosemary), onion, garlic and dry mustard,” says Dr. Thomas. “You might also use salt substitutes, but check with your doctor first.”
Millennials get flak for being the avocado toast generation. But they’re definitely on to something. Avocados are as nutritious as they are delicious and they come with some great health benefits.
Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, says, “Avocados are a great addition to a healthy diet.” Jam-packed with vitamins and nutrients, here are some good reasons to give these wrinkly green fruits a second look and add them to your regular rotation.
One avocado, a ton of nutrients
There are hundreds of avocado varieties, ranging from big to small, wrinkly to smooth. What they have in common: a big round pit, creamy green flesh and a whole lot of nutrients crammed into a handy pear-shaped package.
Whether you’re adding a slice to a salad or sandwich or using them as an ingredient in a more complicated recipe, avocados have a lot going for them, health-wise, Zumpano says. Here are some of the many nutrients and vitamins packed into just a single avocado.
Monounsaturated fats: Avocados are rich in these heart-healthy fats, which help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Low LDL levels reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Folate (B-9): Avocados contain a significant amount of folate, which is important for normal cell function and tissue growth
Vitamin K-1: Vitamin K-1 is important for blood clotting and may have benefits for bone health
Potassium: This is an essential mineral that is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart health. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas.
Copper: Copper is low in a standard American diet. Copper plays a role in iron metabolism
Vitamin C: Aids in immune function and skin health.
Vitamin E: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that prevents cells from damage.
Vitamin B-6: B vitamins help convert food into energy.
Fiber: Avocados are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. And fiber can lower cholesterol and blood sugar, keep you regular and help you feel full and satisfied after a meal.
Low sugar: Compared to most fruits, avocadoes rank VERY low on the sweet scale.
How to enjoy avocados
A perfectly ripe avocado is slightly firm but not rock-hard. Can’t wait to eat it, but it’s not ripe? Store it in a paper bag on the counter until it gives a little when you squeeze it. Once it’s ripe, you can store it in the fridge for a day or two to keep it from going soft too quickly. (Or just dive right in, since a ripe-but-not-too-ripe avocado is a time-limited treasure.)
But don’t go overboard. Avocados are packed with nutrients, but they’re not exactly low in calories. A 50-gram portion — about a third of a medium-sized avocado — has about 75 calories. An entire large avocado can add upward of 400 calories to your daily diet.
Like most things, says Zumpano, moderation is key. “As long as you’re paying attention to portion sizes, avocados are great foods to include in your diet,” she says.
Avocado recipes even skeptics will love
The avocado is an all-ages treat, says Zumpano. Lots of babies love it mashed with banana. For an older palate, there are almost endless ways to use it. Some ideas to get you started:
Adorn burgers and burritos with avocado slices.
Cook them into quesadillas.
Start your day with a delicious combo of veggies, avocado and poached eggs.
No time for guacamole? Buy some store-bought salsa and mash avocado into it for a quick guac-hack.
Add them to a salad, such as a tomato avocado salad with shallot-lemon dressing or zesty mango, avocado and black bean salad.
You can also use the smooth, creamy fruit to replace the less-healthy fats in your diet, Zumpano says. Here are some additional ways you can add avocado to your diet.
Instead of slathering a sandwich with mayonnaise, spread some avocado on the bread.
Swap in avocado slices instead of shredded cheese on your salad.
Skip the butter on your toast and, yes, embrace avocado toast.
Rather than snacking on dips made with cheese or sour cream, dunk your veggies in guacamole.
Replace the butter or oil in recipes with mashed avocado (such as in these chocolatey avocado brownie bites).
“If you use avocado to replace other fats, you can enjoy the flavor and nutrients and also cut down on saturated fats,” she says.
A healthy breakfast doesn’t require a lot of time or energy every day. All you need to do is stock up on good ingredients when you’re at the grocery store each week. Then, take a few minutes each morning to put it together. These few changes in shopping and morning habits can help you to establish a lifetime of healthy eating.
Preventive cardiology dietitian Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, offers five tasty, hearty and heart-healthy breakfast ideas that take no more than 10 minutes to prepare.
They can be eaten at home or on the go, so you won’t miss a beat in your busy day — and you won’t miss any flavor. Each incorporate carbohydrate, protein, and fat to ensure you start the day with a satisfying, balanced meal to fuel you all morning long.
Creamy, crunchy oatmeal
Measure a ½ cup dry serving of old-fashioned or steel cut oats oatmeal into a microwave-safe bowl (quick cook or instant versions are okay if you need to save more time). Pour enough water over the oatmeal to cover, and stir. Microwave on high for 2½ to three minutes until done. If you prefer a sweeter taste, try adding fresh fruit or a dash of vanilla extract. To balance out this complex carbohydrate containing meal with protein and healthy fat, add chopped nuts and/or seeds like chia or ground flaxseed.
An alternative oatmeal option is soaking oatmeal overnight or for as little as 30 minutes in the morning. Start with ½ cup of your favorite oats and ½ cup of water or your favorite milk. Mix together and let soak. (Original oats need to be soaked overnight, instant can be soaked for ~30 minutes). Eat cold or warm up in microwave if desired.
Egg and cheese English muffin
Ever cook an egg in the microwave? It’s fast and, unlike frying an egg in a skillet, you don’t have to add fat. Whisk one large egg (for extra fiber add chopped veggies like peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms) in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 45 to 55 seconds until firm. Set the cooked egg on a slice of whole-wheat English muffin and top with extras for more flavor: sliced avocado, tomato, onion, a slice of 2%-fat cheese or salsa. Top with remaining half of English muffin and serve with a cup of fresh fruit.
Spread one tablespoon natural almond butter on one toasted or untoasted sprouted grain bread (or waffle) and a tablespoon of fruit preserves or sliced banana on another. Press the two slices together to make a sandwich. Enjoy with a 8 ounce glass of your desired milk — skim, 1%, soy or almond.
Cereal a go-go
For a quick on-the-go meal, prepare single-serving sandwich baggies filled with your favorite low-sugar, high-fiber (at least 3 grams of fiber) cereal, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Making your own mix allows you to customize to your taste buds and change it up from day to day. Don’t have time to make your own? Turn to a pre-packaged single serving trail mix
For the last several years, non-dairy milk options have skyrocketed in popularity, directly challenging cow milk for grocery aisle dominance. From lactose tolerance issues to diets to going vegan or dairy-free, there are a number of reasons these alternatives are rising in prominence among shoppers.
But how do these alternatives stack up to the long-time staple of cow’s milk? Most alternatives are fortified with added calcium and vitamin D that’s naturally occurring in dairy, but what about other nutritional items like calories and protein?
We took a look at eight varieties of milk and spoke with registered dietician Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, about the differences between all of them and what tips you should keep in mind when choosing one.
The traditional choice of milk, dairy milk, remains the most popular option, especially for children. Cow’s milk offers a good balance of naturally occurring calories from fat, protein and essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D and calcium, providing key nutrients kids need for growth and development.
But Zumpano points out, “Adults can benefit from cow’s milk too; as you age, you lose bone density and need sufficient dietary calcium to support healthy bones. And milk is a great source for that calcium.”
But even within just the dairy milk category, there are still choices to make with regards to
Which fat-percentage is the best?
According to Zumpano, “It really depends. For children under 2, it’s best to give them whole milk. After that, it’s based on the individual needs and taste preferences of the child.”
For adults, she says it’s also variable but points out, “If you have high cholesterol or you’re trying to reduce calories for weight loss, stick to 2% or less. But for weight gain or if you have difficulty gaining weight, go with whole milk.”
One of the more popular non-dairy alternatives, almond milk is rich in Vitamin E while being lower in calories than cow’s milk. It’s also popular for cooking purposes, like with oatmeal, and as an addition to your morning coffee.
That said, if you have a nut allergy, you’ll obviously want to steer clear of almond milk. It also does not provide either protein or fiber, so if you’re drinking almond milk, make sure to make up for those nutrients elsewhere. Zumpano recommends avoiding sweetened versions with their sugar additives and opting for unsweetened varieties instead.
If your vegan or lactose-intolerant, cashew milk is yet another nut-based alternative that has a rich, creamy taste. Cashew milk is loaded up with vitamin E, like almond milk, and low on calories, cholesterol and sugar.
While store-bought cashew milk is, like other options, usually fortified with vitamin D and calcium, it lacks fiber and protein. And, finally, like almond milk, cashew milk is a no-go for anyone with nut allergies.
A very popular non-dairy option, the plant-based milk alternative is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fats and high in protein. Oh, and it’s another great lactose-free option and is great for cooking needs, too.
Soy milk, especially if sweetened, can be high in calories and if you have a soy allergen, you’ll want to avoid this option.
Besides being a milk alternative for consumers with allergies (nut, soy or lactose), it has a sweeter taste which usually means less sugar additives. And, like other alternatives, it’s well fortified for other nutrients.
The big downside is that rice milk can be high in carbohydrates and calories while having very little protein and fiber.
Coconut milk beverage
Yes, coconut milk beverage because simply “coconut milk” usually refers to the fat- and calorie-laden version found on your grocery shelf that is traditionally used for baking needs.
Like other options, though, coconut milk has zero protein and while it’s low in calories, it’s also high in fat. And though there are many coconut milk options that have been diluted to offer less fat and calories, Zumpano advises, “Keep in mind the fat found in coconut milk is saturated fat, which we want to keep at a minimum if heart health is a concern.”
The upside, she says, is that coconut milk, if unsweetened, contains no carbs in an 8-ounce serving and can offer a thick and creamy plant-based alternative suitable to dairy and nut allergies.
Hemp milk comes with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fewer calories than whole milk but, as Zumpano notes, it’s not as readily available at major grocery stores.
A more recent, trendy addition to non-dairy milk options, oat milk is made from, well, oats, water and additional ingredients like added oil, gums or thickeners. One big advantage of oat milk for those with dietary restrictions or food sensitivities is that it’s naturally free of dairy, lactose, soy and nuts.
Like a lot of other non-dairy options, oat milk generally comes with added calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and riboflavin. It also typically has a bit more protein and fiber than other alternatives.
The downside? Oat milk usually has more carbs and calories than other plant-based options, with a serving from most brands adding up to around 100 calories or greater
What else to keep in mind
One big thing to keep in mind, says Zumpano, is that all of these non-dairy options have a wide range in terms of supplements. Says Zumpano, “Vitamin and mineral supplementation is variable amongst brands even with the same product, like unsweetened almond milk.”
“If you’re looking to maximize certain vitamins or nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E or riboflavin,” she says, “check specific brands so you can compare and find the highest value of what you’re hoping to achieve.”
Besides all these pros and cons of each option, there are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing which milk works best for you.
Chances are that if you’re an adult, you’re not drinking much chocolate milk (we’re not judging if you do, though), but your kids might be. And many non-dairy milk options come in flavored varieties (typically vanilla) to help make them a bit more palpable.
There’s nothing wrong with these flavored milks, of course, but it’s all about moderation. These options typically come with added sugars and that brings more calories which offset some of the healthier reasons you’re drinking milk in the first place.
Instead, Zumpano suggests choosing the unsweetened flavored options or add flavor to the plain, unsweetened versions, like vanilla or cocoa powder.
Say no to “raw milk”
Raw milk is another way of saying “unpasteurized milk. And while some people believe raw milk has more nutrients, promotes better health, and might be okay for those with lactose intolerance, it’s actually not advisable to drink it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness than pasteurized milk — and 13 times more likely to lead to hospitalization.
Pasteurized milk has the same nutrients as unpasteurized and either option will still trigger an allergic reaction for lactose-intolerant drinkers.
In fact, they’re one of the best foods for keeping you full for hours (28, 29, 30).
Regular egg consumption may also reduce your heart disease risk in several ways.
Eggs decrease inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase your “good” HDL cholesterol levels and modify the size and shape of your “bad” LDL cholesterol (31, 32, 33, 34).
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who consumed 2 eggs daily as part of a high-protein diet had improvements in cholesterol and blood sugar levels (35).
In addition, eggs are one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect the eyes from disease (36, 37).
Just be sure to eat whole eggs. The benefits of eggs are primarily due to nutrients found in the yolk rather than the white.
BOTTOM LINE:Eggs improve risk factors for heart disease, promote good blood sugar control, protect eye health and keep you feeling full.
5. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a wonderful food for people with diabetes.
They’re extremely high in fiber, yet low in digestible carbs.
In fact, 11 of the 12 grams of carbs in a 28-gram (1-oz) serving of chia seeds are fiber, which doesn’t raise blood sugar.
The viscous fiber in chia seeds can actually lower your blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which food moves through your gut and is absorbed (38, 39, 40).
Chia seeds may help you achieve a healthy weight because fiber reduces hunger and makes you feel full. In addition, fiber can decrease the amount of calories you absorb from other foods eaten at the same meal (41, 42).
Additionally, chia seeds have been shown to reduce blood pressure and inflammatory markers (43).
BOTTOM LINE:Chia seeds contain high amounts of fiber, are low in digestible carbs and may decrease blood pressure and inflammation.
Turmeric is a spice with powerful health benefits.
Its active ingredient, curcumin, can lower inflammation and blood sugar levels, while reducing heart disease risk (44, 45, 46, 47).
What’s more, curcumin appears to benefit kidney health in diabetics. This is important, as diabetes is one of the leading causes of kidney disease (48, 49, 50, 51, 52).
Unfortunately, curcumin isn’t absorbed that well on its own. Be sure to consume turmeric with piperine (found in black pepper) in order to boost absorption by as much as 2,000% (53).
BOTTOM LINE:Turmeric contains curcumin, which may reduce blood sugar levels and inflammation, while protecting against heart and kidney disease.
What’s more, Greek yogurt contains only 6–8 grams of carbs per serving, which is lower than conventional yogurt. It’s also higher in protein, which promotes weight loss by reducing appetite and decreasing calorie intake (61).
BOTTOM LINE:Greek yogurt promotes healthy blood sugar levels, reduces risk factors for heart disease and may help with weight management.
Nuts are delicious and nutritious.
All types of nuts contain fiber and are low in digestible carbs, although some have more than others.
Here are the amounts of digestible carbs per 1-oz (28-gram) serving of nuts:
Almonds: 2.6 grams
Brazil nuts: 1.4 grams
Cashews: 7.7 grams
Hazelnuts: 2 grams
Macadamia: 1.5 grams
Pecans: 1.2 grams
Pistachios: 5 grams
Walnuts: 2 grams
Research on a variety of different nuts has shown that regular consumption may reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar, HbA1c and LDL levels (62, 63, 64, 65).
In one study, people with diabetes who included 30 grams of walnuts in their daily diet for one year lost weight, had improvements in body composition and experienced a significant reduction in insulin levels (66).
This finding is important because people with type 2 diabetes often have elevated levels of insulin, which are linked to obesity.
In addition, some researchers believe chronically high insulin levels increase the risk of other serious diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease (67, 68).
BOTTOM LINE:Nuts are a healthy addition to a diabetic diet. They’re low in digestible carbs and help reduce blood sugar, insulin and LDL levels.
Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables around.
A half cup of cooked broccoli contains only 27 calories and 3 grams of digestible carbs, along with important nutrients like vitamin C and magnesium.
Studies in diabetics have found that broccoli may help lower insulin levels and protect cells from harmful free radicals produced during metabolism (69, 70).
What’s more, broccoli is another good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These important antioxidants help prevent eye diseases (71).
BOTTOM LINE:Broccoli is a low-calorie, low-carb food with high nutrient value. It is loaded with healthy plant compounds that can protect against various diseases.
It contains oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that has been shown to improve triglycerides and HDL, which are often at unhealthy levels in type 2 diabetes.
It may also increase the fullness hormone GLP-1 (72, 73).
In a large analysis of 32 studies looking at different types of fat, olive oil was the only one shown to reduce heart disease risk (74).
Olive oil also contains antioxidants called polyphenols. They reduce inflammation, protect the cells lining your blood vessels, keep your LDL cholesterol from becoming damaged by oxidation and decrease blood pressure (75, 76, 77).
Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined and retains the antioxidants and other properties that make it so healthy. Be sure to choose extra-virgin olive oil from a reputable source, since many olive oils are mixed with cheaper oils like corn and soy (78).
BOTTOM LINE:Extra-virgin olive oil contains healthy oleic acid. It has benefits for blood pressure and heart health.
Although it’s made from apples, the sugar in the fruit is fermented into acetic acid, and the resulting product contains less than 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon.
Apple cider vinegar has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower fasting blood sugar levels. It may also reduce blood sugar response by as much as 20% when consumed with meals containing carbs (85, 86, 87, 88).
In one study, people with poorly controlled diabetes had a 6% reduction in fasting blood sugar when they took 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed (88).
Apple cider vinegar may also slow stomach emptying and keep you feeling full.
However, this can be a problem for people who have gastroparesis, a condition of delayed stomach emptying that is common in diabetes, particularly type 1 (89).
To incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet, begin with 1 teaspoon mixed in a glass of water each day. Increase to a maximum of 2 tablespoons per day.
BOTTOM LINE:Apple cider vinegar can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. It may also help you feel full for longer.
Strawberries are one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat.
They’re high in antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which give them their red color.
Anthocyanins have been shown to reduce cholesterol and insulin levels after a meal. They also improve blood sugar and heart disease risk factors in type 2 diabetes (90, 91, 92).
A one-cup serving of strawberries contains 49 calories and 11 grams of carbs, three of which are fiber.
This serving also provides more than 100% of the RDI for vitamin C, which provides additional anti-inflammatory benefits for heart health (11).
BOTTOM LINE:Strawberries are low-sugar fruits that have strong anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce heart disease risk.
Garlic is a delicious herb with impressive health benefits.
Several studies have shown it can reduce inflammation, blood sugar and LDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes (93, 94, 95).
It may also be very effective at reducing blood pressure (96, 97).
In one study, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure who took aged garlic for 12 weeks averaged a 10-point decrease in blood pressure (97).
One clove of raw garlic contains only 4 calories and 1 gram of carbs.
BOTTOM LINE:Garlic helps lower blood sugar, inflammation, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure in people with diabetes.
Squash is one of the healthiest vegetables around.
Winter varieties have a hard shell and include acorn, pumpkin and butternut.
Summer squash has a soft peel that can be eaten. The most common types are zucchini and Italian squash.
Like most vegetables, squash contains beneficial antioxidants. Many types of winter squash are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Animal studies using squash extract have also reported reductions in obesity and insulin levels (98, 99).
Although there’s very little research on humans, one study found that people with type 2 diabetes who took an extract of the winter squash Cucurbita ficifolia experienced a significant decrease in blood sugar levels (100).
However, winter squash is higher in carbs than summer squash.
For example, 1 cup of cooked pumpkin contains 9 grams of digestible carbs, while 1 cup of cooked zucchini contains only 3 grams of digestible carbs.
BOTTOM LINE:Summer and winter squash contain beneficial antioxidants and may help lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
16. Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles are wonderful for diabetes and weight control.
These noodles are high in the fiber glucomannan, which is extracted from konjac root.
This plant is grown in Japan and processed into the shape of noodles or rice known as shirataki.
Glucomannan is a type of viscous fiber, which makes you feel full and satisfied. It also lowers levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin (101).
What’s more, it’s been shown to reduce blood sugar levels after eating and improve heart disease risk factors in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome (102, 103, 104, 105).
A 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving of shirataki noodles also contains less than one gram of digestible carbs and just two calories per serving.
However, these noodles are typically packaged with a liquid that has a fishy odor and you need to rinse them very well before use. Then, to ensure a noodle-like texture, cook the noodles for several minutes in a skillet over high heat without added fat.
BOTTOM LINE:The glucomannan in shirataki noodles promotes feelings of fullness and can improve blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.
Take Home Message
Uncontrolled diabetes increases your risk of several serious diseases.
However, eating foods that help keep blood sugar, insulin and inflammation under control can dramatically reduce your risk of developing complications.