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Review: Healthy eating for type 2 diabetes resource from Harvard

A comprehensive diabetes resource from Harvard University, although not a must-have in Australia and New Zealand.

This new consumer resource from Harvard Health Publishing has been written by medical experts as well as Harvard Medical School Chief Dietitian Linda Delahunty. It is a comprehensive guide with a big emphasis on weight loss, as well as tips on exercise, meal planning basics (including seeing a dietitian, exchanges and carb counting), healthy recipes and a sample weekly meal plan. Despite being an American resource, most recipes are familiar and relatable, although a few ingredient swaps are required for our Antipodean food supply such as cod and Yukon gold potatoes (swap for any white flesh sustainable local fish, and lower GI potato such as Carisma).

What does it contain?

The nutrition section is called Adopting a Healthy Diet and contains the following sub-sections:

  • Eating patterns matter - Summarises popular diets such as low fat, vegetarian, Mediterranean, Low carbohydrate, DASH etc., the diabetes plate method.
  • Carbohydrates: sugar, fiber and more - Tips to prevent blood glucose spikes after eating, all about fiber, choosing healthier carbs, sugar and sugar substitutes, including the following myth-busting:
“Sugar was once a taboo ingredient for people with diabetes—and you should still limit your intake to small amounts. But careful research has shown that sugar-containing foods don’t increase blood sugar any more than the same amount of white bread, white rice, and other types of refined carbohydrates.”
“common added sugar is high-fructose corn syrup, which has been used to sweeten soda and foods since the 1970s. This sweetener has been scorned as “unnatural” and blamed for the rising tide of obesity in the United States. That’s a stretch. High-fructose corn syrup isn’t all that different from sucrose (table sugar)… High-fructose corn syrup and sugar have similar effects on blood sugar levels and prompt similar insu­lin responses in healthy people.”

(EDITOR’s NOTE: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is not readily available or used in Australian and New Zealand foods)

  • Fats - Types, sources and effects, diet and cholesterol
  • Protein
  • Other dietary components - Alcohol, calcium for bones, vitamin D, salt, vitamins and minerals. Foods linked with lower risk of diabetes: fiber-rich foods, coffee, moderate alcohol, nuts. Foods linked to higher risk: sugary drinks, meat, refined grains.

What about GI?

Those caring for patients and clients with diabetes will be aware that Harvard and US diabetes health professionals generally have been hesitant to incorporate glycemic index (GI) into clinical practice. This resource talks about the importance of total amount and type of carbohydrate and how they affect blood glucose, but without using the term glycemic index. Perhaps they think the concept is too complicated? Some of their practical tips to prevent blood sugar spikes after eating are the same as those from reading the GI research and literature. For example, using oil and vinegar dressings to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, including lean protein in your meal and including foods containing soluble fibre.

The bottom line

While this American resource may not be a must-have it is interesting and useful to see what is happening in other countries in the dietary management of diabetes.

The resource can be purchased from Harvard Health Publishing.