Diabetes and Processed Foods
Making healthy food choices can help you control your blood sugar
You’ve likely heard or read that a diet heavy in processed foods can be bad for you, and that it is healthier to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Why do processed foods have a bad reputation?
Processing means changing foods from their natural state. We process foods for many reasons: to turn them into other foods, to extend their shelf life (adding preservatives), to fortify them with nutrients (vitamins and minerals), to improve their taste or appearance, or to kill bacteria (for example, pasteurizing dairy products). These alterations are often beneficial to our health; there is a real risk of getting sick from drinking unpasteurized milk, for example.
The problem with processed foods
Consumers often favour processed foods because they’re convenient (hence their other name, “convenience foods”), predictable, inexpensive and, yes, tasty. The problem is that many processed foods are high in fat (including harmful trans fats), sodium (salt), sugar, artificial colours and flavours, and preservatives. They also tend to be low in good-for-you nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Scientific research published in the journal BMJ earlier this year found a link between a diet high in heavily processed foods and health issues such as obesity, cancer and heart disease. Other studies have shown that the high sugar content of processed foods may contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Processed products can be especially unhealthy for people living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, because they can affect blood glucose control. Research conducted on mice has shown that certain chemicals in processed foods may even contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Picking processed foods
Not all processed foods are created equal. They range from minimally processed to heavily processed. Essentially, the closer a food is to its natural state, the less processed it is.
Many minimally processed food items, such as pre-cut fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, salad mixes, roasted nuts, milk and juices can be part of a healthy diet. Some processed foods, such as frozen fruits and veggies, are often as healthy as the fresh versions – they’re harvested at their peak, and freezing actually locks in the nutrients.
More heavily processed foods include products with added oils, sweeteners, spices, preservatives and colours, such as canned soups, pasta sauce, yogurt, salad dressing and other condiments. Ready-to-eat foods such as potato chips, granola bars, cookies and crackers are also heavily processed, as are processed meats (hot dogs) and pre-made meals such as frozen pizzas and microwaveable dinners.
Heavily processed foods tend to high in fat, salt, sugar and calories. Whenever possible, eat whole, less-processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and whole grains. If you do choose processed foods, aim for minimally processed items and compare products by reading the nutrition labels. Buy the ones lowest in fat, salt, etc., and look for labels like “reduced fat” and “reduced sodium.”
Make healthy eating a habit
Changing life-long eating patterns takes time and patience – few people can overhaul their diets overnight! Try these free online resources to help yourself adopt nutritious new habits:
Diabetes Canada offers helpful advice about basic meal planning, portion sizes, reducing salt intake, lowering cholesterol, and much more.
- Canada’s food guides also provide guidance about portions, choosing healthy foods and understanding food labelling.
- Dietitians of Canada has a senior-friendly guide to planning meals and eating well.
- Dietitians of Canada also offers two free apps for iOS and Android: Cookspiration features healthy recipes for any mood or schedule, and eaTracker tracks your food and activity, analyzes recipes and plans meals.
- The Government of Canada has guides to comparing nutrition labels and understanding percent daily value.
If you need help selecting more nutritious, less processed foods for a healthier diet, let us help. Our caregivers can assist with purchasing groceries, preparing hot and nutritious meals and light clean up after meals.
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