Vegetables Lower a Diabetic's Risk for Heart Disease

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 2:42pm

By Megan Porter, RD/LD

Are you still hungry after snacks or meals? If so, eat a vegetable. When it comes to vegetables, people with diabetes should munch on a minimum of 3 servings per day to minimize their risk of heart disease and other condition-related risk factors. According to the results of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses' Health Study, 1 extra serving of vegetables a day decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by approximately 4 percent, while the risk of ischemic stroke decreases by 6 percent. What can we take away from these findings? Diabetics have some control over reducing their risks of many diseases.

Vegetables are high in antioxidants

Nutrients in plant foods protect your body from diseases such as:

Because vegetables are high in antioxidants, they offer the most benefits. Antioxidants are elements in foods such as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols. These components give foods their distinctive colors-the deep red of tomatoes, the orange of carrots, and the yellow of corn. The most well-known components of food with antioxidants are:

Vegetables: Choose a rainbow of color

You can find vitamin A in carrots and lots of vitamin C in bell peppers. Vitamin E is found in green leafy vegetables. Selenium can be found in mushrooms, while tomatoes contain lycopene. However, the best guideline is to eat a rainbow of color. Moreover, by eating vegetables instead of foods higher in calories and carbohydrates, you help your body keep its blood sugars within a healthy range. An added bonus is that you'll also probably lose some weight!

For more information on the color of food and the associated health benefits see the following articles from TheDietChannel: Eat a Rainbow: Part 1 (red foods), Part 2 (green foods), Part 3 (yellow/orange foods) and Part 4 (blue/purple foods).

Most vegetables are "free foods"

If you eat 1 or 2 vegetables in-between meals, you don't have to count the calories or carbohydrates because they contain such small amounts. However, if you eat more than 4 cups of raw vegetables or 2 cups of cooked vegetables in one sitting, you should count them.

Keep in mind that high-starch vegetables (e.g. corn or anything from the potato family such as yams, sweet potatoes, etc.) have as much as 15 grams of carbohydrates per half-cup. Thus, you should consider them carbohydrates, not vegetables! Talk to your diabetes educator or dietitian if you have any questions about which vegetables fall into the high carb category.

Include vegetables in your daily diet

Snack on vegetables or eat them in-between your meals to lower the risk of heart disease. Incorporate them into your regular diet by keeping ready-to-eat vegetables (cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, baby carrots, celery sticks, etc.) and low-fat dips or salsa in the refrigerator at home or at work. Grab some sliced vegetables instead of chips when you're hungry and you'll save approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates, and about 100 calories every day.

Watch out for sodium and fat in vegetables

Fresh and frozen vegetables contain less salt than canned vegetables and are a better choice, especially if you have high blood pressure. You can drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce the salt content if you want to use them.

Also, pay attention to the high fat content of many dressings and sauces, which can significantly increase the calorie and fat content of your otherwise healthy snacks. Instead, marinate sliced carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash with your favorite low-calorie dressing.

Vegetables are convenient and easy to carry

The next time you're hungry, grab some veggies. They are among the most convenient foods around, and you can carry most vegetables with you just about anywhere for easy, in-between meal snacking.

Source: 1 FB Hu, WC Willett. "Diet and coronary heart disease: findings from the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals' Follow-up Study." Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging. 2001:5(3):132-8.