As the seasons change, include these power foods for diabetes in your diet to keep your health on the top of your to-do list without sacrificing flavor.
By Janice Baker, RD, CDE, CNSC
Butternut, acorn, Hubbard, and pumpkin are among the several varieties of winter squash — a natural accompaniment to fall cuisine that can be enjoyed in many ways besides pie! The rich flavor, high nutrient content, long shelf life, and versatility make winter squash one of the best buys of the season whether fresh or canned.
These hearty vegetables can be stuffed for a main course or used in breads, soups, stews, muffins, puddings, and savory side dishes. If using pumpkins for cooking, choose the smaller variety instead of the large ones used for jack-o'-lanterns. Pumpkin seeds can be toasted for a nutritious snack that's high in fiber and protein.
The bright colors reflect winter squash's nutrition power — rich in beta-carotene and potassium, as well as fiber, niacin, and iron. Beta-carotene is one of many plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. Research indicates that beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protect against heart disease.
One cup of cooked winter squash contains 90-130 calories and 20-30 grams of carb. The top squash-producing states in the United States are Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, but squash are also grown in California and Florida. For convenience, winter squash can be found frozen, pre-cut fresh, and canned — notably pumpkin — for use all year long.
The crisp, white-flesh fruits with red, yellow, or green skin have a sweet or tart flavor depending on the variety. Golden Delicious and Red Delicious apples are mild and sweet, while Pippins and Granny Smith apples are crisp and tart. Tart apples are often preferred for cooked desserts, such as cobblers and pies, while Delicious apples and other sweeter varieties, such as Braeburn and Fuji apples, are most often eaten raw.
Regardless of the apple variety, research has revealed this versatile fruit has benefits related to diabetes and health in general. Nutrients found in apples can help prevent spikes in blood sugar and reduce risk of a variety of chronic diseases. Flavonoids, such as quercetin found in apples, can inhibit enzymes like alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase, which aid in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars. Your blood sugar level is likely to be more stable after eating when these enzymes are inhibited. The fibers and antioxidants in apples also reduce inflammation related to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer. A medium apple contains about 80 calories and 18 grams of carb.
Apples are the second most valuable fruit crop in the United States. Harvested in the fall, apples can grow in most of the 50 states but are mostly grown in Washington state, New York state, and Michigan.
Sweet-tasting and crisp, fennel is a familiar ingredient in the healthful diet pattern of Mediterranean cuisine. Used often in Italian dishes as both a vegetable and a seasoning, fennel is a great addition to your seasonal produce choices from autumn through early spring. Fennel's fibrous bulb and stem, which looks similar to celery, is crunchy when raw but becomes tender with a variety of cooking methods.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of sliced fennel bulb provides 3 grams of fiber. The fiber in fennel promotes gastrointestinal function and blood sugar control. Eating fiber-rich foods on a regular basis also helps prevent diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and constipation, and may protect against colon cancer. Along with fiber and a variety of protective phytonutrients, fennel bulb is good source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium — all nutrients that help reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. The United States, France, India, and Russia are among the leading cultivators of fennel. Imports make fennel available all year, but California is a major producer of fennel during the fall and winter months.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein, rainbow trout is a healthy choice that brings the feeling of the great outdoors right to the table.
Fish is low in saturated fat and high in healthful omega-3s, which offer significant health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are nutrients found almost exclusively in fish. The fattiest fish tend to be cold-water varieties such as salmon, rainbow trout, mackerel, sardine, and anchovy, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Rainbow trout are native in the area of southern Alaska to northern Mexico and west of the Rocky Mountains. They are sold fresh in many seafood markets and grocery stores, either dressed or butterfly-style. Though known as a fatty fish, trout is lower in fat and calories than many of the leanest meats. A 3-ounce serving of cooked rainbow trout contains 22 grams of protein and only 130 calories, 4 grams of fat, and no carbohydrate, making trout a fine choice for any meal plan.
With the appearance of a colorless carrot, the parsnip is often underappreciated. But this sweet-tasting root vegetable has many nutritional benefits: Parsnips are fat-free, cholesterol-free, very low in sodium, and a good source of vitamin C, folate, and fiber.
You might have heard, "Don't eat anything white!" But consider the nutritional benefits of other unprocessed white foods, including cauliflower, white beans, fish, and turnips. These foods are a good source of fiber, which helps you feel full and satisfied and benefits cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight management.
Parsnips are most popular as a soup and stew ingredient, but they also make an excellent side dish when steamed, baked, sauteed or roasted. Choose firm, smooth roots that are not too large. Parsnips grow in northern regions of the United States because they need a cool climate; they taste best if brought to harvest in cool weather. One cup of cooked parsnips provides about 102 calories and 26 grams of carb.
The wonderful fragrance and flavor of rosemary is a healthful way to enhance chicken, lamb, pork, and seafood dishes as well as soups and sauces. Like other herbs and spices, rosemary is a great alternative to high-sodium flavorings and can help you cut sodium intake to the 1,500-milligrams-per-day limit recommended for people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Rosemary grows on a small evergreen shrub that is related to mint. Its leaves look like flat pine needles, deep green on top and white on the underside. Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds associated with reducing risks of many chronic diseases. It contains significant amounts of vitamins A and C, folic acid, and iron, as well as dietary fiber.
Although rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, it now grows throughout many regions of Europe and America. Rosemary makes a beautiful ornamental plant as well as a culinary seasoning, and it can be grown indoors or outdoors for year-round availability. Fresh rosemary should be stored in the refrigerator either in its original packaging or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. You can also place rosemary sprigs in ice-cube trays covered with water or stock that can be frozen and then added to soups or stews. Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, and dry place, where it will keep fresh for about six months.
The long association with Thanksgiving turkey puts cranberries in a far-too-limited category, given their low calorie and high nutrient content. Cranberries have been praised for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary-tract infections. More recent studies suggest that the cranberry may also promote gastrointestinal and oral health, lower LDL (bad) and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, aid in recovery from stroke, and even help prevent cancer.
Fresh cranberries, which contain the highest levels of beneficial nutrients, are at their peak from October through December. As cranberries grow wild in the northern regions of the United States, they are readily available in all regions during the fall months and almost always are sold prepackaged in plastic bags. Choose bags of cranberries with firm, plump, red berries with no signs of leakage. Uncooked cranberries can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week. One cup of whole, unsweetened berries has only 51 calories and 13 grams of carb, and they are a good source of vitamin C. Fortunately, you can freeze cranberries to use throughout the year in dishes such as muffins, puddings, cereals, breads, and smoothies.
Pork has often been thought of as a fatty meat to be avoided to control diabetes, heart disease, and cholesterol. However, pork, like other meats, can be used to add taste, variety, and nutrition benefits as part of an overall healthful diet.
Pork producers have changed production methods to make much leaner meat than was produced 25 years ago. Improved breeding and feeding of hogs and trimming of external fat have resulted in leaner meat choices. When the external fat on pork is removed before cooking, the result is a cut of meat that compares to chicken in calorie, cholesterol, and fat content. Like with other meats, the cut of pork (where on the animal it came from) and the portion size (3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards) make a big difference.
Choose lean cuts of pork, such as the tenderloin, sirloin, and Canadian bacon varieties, over fattier cuts, such as ribs and side bacon, as well as processed pork meats, such as hot dogs and sausage. Pork is an excellent source of B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and B6 (pyridoxine). Currently, most pork in the United States is produced in North Carolina and the Midwestern and plains states, including Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. Worldwide, China is the largest producer of pork, producing nearly four times as much as the United States.
Although there are many varieties of this umbrella-shape fungus, the most common is the one grown in the United States called agaricus, which has a white cap and brown gills. Other tasty varieties include the small and slender Japanese mushrooms cremini and shiitake, which are sold fresh, dried, or canned and are a unique and flavorful addition to meals.
Mushrooms are delightful and filling in salads and sandwiches, and they are especially flavorful sauteed as an accent or side dish to any meal. Choose clean, well-shaped mushrooms that do not have their gills showing. Some brown flecking on the surface is OK, but avoid those with dark discolorations. Mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag or open container in the refrigerator and used within a couple of days.
Nutritionally, mushrooms are very low in calories (20 calories per cup of sliced or diced raw mushrooms) and high in potassium and niacin. Notably, they're the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few nonfortified food sources. According to the U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service, mushrooms are commercially produced in virtually every state, but Pennsylvania accounts for 61 percent of total U.S. production.
Cauliflower, a cruciferous vegetable, is in the same plant family as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and collards. When broken apart into separate buds, cauliflower looks like a little tree — especially fun for children's snacks.
Although most commonly found as a creamy white color, purple and green cauliflower varieties are available. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is a very good source of vitamin B5, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese, and molybdenum, as well as a good source of protein, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and iron. Almost all of the cauliflower grown in the United States comes from the Salinas Valley in California because of its 10-month growing season, moderate climate, and rich soil. Other states where cauliflower is produced are Arizona, New York, Michigan, Oregon, Florida, Washington, and Texas. Cauliflower is available all year long, but it's most plentiful in the spring and fall. One head, about 1-1/2 pounds, will serve four people, and a 1-cup serving of cauliflower contains about 30 calories and 6 grams of carb — a true nutritional bargain!