What does diabetes have to do with heart disease? A lot, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Unfortunately, many people with diabetes are not aware that diabetes and heart disease are closely associated. In fact, compared to a person without diabetes, a person with diabetes runs double the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
One of the reasons is that high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood damages blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. And this is interesting: Most of the proven strategies that keep diabetes under control also keep the heart and blood vessels happy. Diabetes experts recommend we start with our ABC’s:
A1C: This simple blood test correlates with an average blood sugar level over the past 3 months. The closer your A1C is to normal, the fewer health complications (including heart issues) you can expect.
Blood pressure: Normal blood pressure puts less stress and strain on the heart and blood vessels. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure at each visit.
Cholesterol: Yep, normal blood cholesterol levels are just as important for people with diabetes as normal blood sugar levels.
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Nutritionally, we can influence all three ABC’s by choosing certain foods and patterns of eating. Here are a few ideas:
Eat nuts. Because they are low in carbohydrates and high in dietary fiber, they have minimal effect on blood sugars. They are rich in heart healthful fats — the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated type — that help keep blood cholesterol levels in check. And they are good sources of potassium and magnesium…nutrients known to help control blood pressure.
Choose heart-healthy carbs. Now hear this: Carbohydrates are not bad … they are the body’s main source of fuel and energy. Just make sure the carbs you ingest are also rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Examples: beans and legumes, whole grains like oats, corn (including corn on the cob, popcorn and polenta), wild rice and whole wheat. A recent study on people over the age of 50 reported that those who ate more whole grains were less likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
Fill at least half your plate with vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables such as salad greens, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and green beans are powerhouses of antioxidant nutrients that fight off inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. These foods also have little to no effect on blood glucose levels.
Choose a healthful protein food at each meal. This valuable nutrient maintains muscle mass and helps even out blood glucose levels. To protect your heart, choose those lowest in saturated fats such as eggs, fish, soy products, poultry, nut butters, lean meats, low fat milk and yogurt.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.