For some of us, the word diet triggers a fight-or-flight response. Our pulse quickens as we panic about imposed limitations and restrictions hindering us from ever enjoying food again. But diet’s gotten a bad rap over the years.
The word has a few modern definitions. It can refer to a special course of food we restrict ourselves to for weight loss or medical reasons. But, according to Merriam-Webster, its original meaning derived from the Greek word diaita, meaning “to lead one’s life.” This, I believe, is the truest essence of the word since it is through our choices that we steer our own path.
However, as a scientist and a realist, I understand that old habits die hard. So I suggest we ditch diet momentarily and instead focus on developing patterns – because most of us find patterns pleasing.
The American Diabetes Association says there are many different eating patterns to help you manage diabetes. And, ultimately, the best eating pattern for you is the one you can sustain while meeting your diabetes goals.
First, develop a meal plan – a guide for the timing of your meals and how much food you consume at those times. For example, eating smaller, more frequent meals is a better plan than denying your hunger and overeating at the end of the day.
Once you’ve decided on a schedule, let’s consider your food options. Just like sewing or quilting, we can follow a tried-and-true pattern or we can create our own, but we need to learn the basics before reinventing the wheel.
The American Diabetes Association recommends several eating patterns for people living with diabetes or the risk of developing the disease. One that’s received a lot of headlines in recent years is the Mediterranean-style eating pattern.
Focused on mostly plant-based foods, this pattern includes eating whole grains, vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans, nuts and seeds as well as consuming locally-grown foods that are in season. The Mediterranean pattern doesn’t rely heavily on dairy products, but it does include cheese and yogurt. Its main source of fat comes from olive oil. Red meat is rarely consumed, but fish and poultry are enjoyed on occasion as well as a glass of red wine.
According to the American Diabetes Association, research has shown that the Mediterranean-style eating pattern protects against heart disease, stroke and some cancers, and improves blood sugar and weight loss.
Another hot topic in recent news is the benefits of becoming vegetarian or vegan. These plant-based patterns focus on foods such as beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and meat substitutes for nutrition.
The difference is that vegetarians do eat animal products such as eggs and dairy while vegans do not. The American Diabetes Association says research has connected vegetarian eating patterns to a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.
Other eating patterns to pick from are low-carb, low-fat and DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is a combination of parts of the eating patterns mentioned earlier, promoting a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and seeds while choosing low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish. High-sodium saturated fat is limited as well as red meat, added sugars and sweets. By increasing fiber and nutrients, the DASH eating pattern may help reduce blood pressure.
Whatever pattern, or combination of patterns you choose, just remember your diet is simply a tool to lead your own life in the direction you’d like to go.