Recently on the TV program “The Doctors,” where four physicians discuss health issues, they brought up the fact that most of us here in the United States do not get sufficient amounts of vitamin “N”. Not familiar with “vitamin N”? Neither was I.  It is vitamin “nature”. More and more research is showing that most of us do not get out in nature enough and that we are suffering for it physically, mentally, and emotionally.  This is certainly the time of year when you can get out in nature a little more easily. You can get some fresh air and sunshine and not have to bundle up as in winter or bake and sweat as in summer. Go on and enjoy the beauty of God at work renewing our world and get some good exercise, vitamin D, and “vitamin N”. Each of these help control your blood sugar and makes you feel better mentally and physically.

If you are a gardener, then working in the garden might count as your 30 minutes of exercise a day that is so very important to those with diabetes. But be really honest with yourself: are you really doing some good exercise or are you just doing minimal exercise. If you are tilling the soil, or digging holes with a shovel—good exercise. Dropping seeds into a shallow trench, watering with a hose, plucking a few tomatoes--- not good exercise. It is good activity and getting some “vitamin N,” but you can’t really count it as part of your 30 min of exercise a day. Remember that exercise reduces your blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood glucose for the next 24 hours besides increasing those good chemicals call endorphins that just make you feel better. So take advantage of this time of year and get outside and enjoy nature.

Let’s discuss sugar for a minute. Doctors used to tell their diabetic patients to stay away from sweets. Some still will tell their patients to just stay away from concentrated sweets and that’s all you need to do to control your diet. But we know that’s not the real scoop on sugar. Carbohydrates break down into sugar in our bodies which is what they are supposed to do. Simple carbohydrates break down very fast into sugar and therefore spike up your sugar and then drop it quickly. That is why you should eat simple carbohydrates only with other foods such as complex carbohydrates, proteins or fats. 

So what exactly are we talking about here? Sugary foods of course, but also those foods commonly known as starches; bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, corn, etc. This does not mean that you cannot have these foods, it just means that you need to have them in the right amount and with other foods that will slow down the absorption of the sugars. Also, know that whole grain or multi-grain breads and pastas, brown rice instead of white rice, etc. are broken down into sugar slower because of the increased fiber content. That is why it is better to eat those products rather than the white, processed breads, pasta and rice. Some people find they can actually eat a sweet potato without it affecting their blood sugar better than they can a white potato because the sweet potato has more fiber. For some people, this is not the case. You need to find out what works best for you.

Remember that peas, beans such as pintos and black beans, navy beans, lima beans, and butter beans are starchy vegetables. Also, they have protein in them and lots of fiber of which most of us need more. Again, balance is the key. You have to learn what works for you and your blood sugar. All these beans and peas are good and good for you within moderation. An entire plate of butterbeans or pintos, along with the required large piece of cornbread slathered in butter might be a delicious meal, but what might it do to your blood sugar? Be careful with meals such as this. Know what it does to you.

Another hidden starchy carb to watch out for is batter or breading. Here in the South we will fry anything; Twinkies, Oreos, corn-on-the-cob, anything, not to mention meat and vegetables. And what do we do with this food before we drop it in hot oil? We batter it with flour, or corn meal or both, and the thicker the coating of all this—the better. So not only do we add the oil we fry things in to our body to clog our arteries, we add this breading too which is an additional starchy carbohydrate that elevates blood sugar. We take wonderful vegetables like squash, or okra and instead of just sautéing in a little olive oil we batter them and fry them. Usually we don’t even taste whatever is fried—we just taste the fried breading. Try cutting back on your fried foods. Try more foods baked, broiled, steamed or sautéed.  You might very well find that you enjoy the food even more than when it is fried and it will be much more healthy for you.

-- By Sarah Joy Maxwell, UAB Medical West Diabetes Educator