Amy Campbell is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Good Measures, a company that combines the expertise of dietitians with state-of-the-art technology to help people improve their eating and exercise habits. Before joining Good Measures, Amy worked for almost 20 years at Joslin Diabetes Center, an internationally recognized diabetes treatment, research and education institution.
Amy, you have an impressive background – former nutritionist at Joslin Diabetes Center and co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, just for starters. As a certified diabetes educator, you’re aware of the media buzz around the new cholesterol guidelines. What does this mean for people with type 2 diabetes – and those at risk for it?
Cholesterol guidelines have always been somewhat confusing. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an expert panel that provides recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, has done their homework and really examined the evidence around dietary cholesterol. The good news is that, for the first time, the committee is really downplaying the role of dietary cholesterol. In other words, for most of the population, eating foods that contain cholesterol has little if any effect on blood cholesterol levels. This is great news!
Whether or not eating eggs affects our cholesterol levels is awfully fuzzy for many people. As both a dietitian and a health professional advisor for the Egg Nutrition Center, this probably comes up a lot. What’s the latest wisdom?
For many years, health professionals, including doctors and dietitians, advised their patients to limit or even avoid eggs due to their cholesterol content. But a number of important studies have shown that dietary cholesterol (cholesterol found in food) has little effect on blood cholesterol levels. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have dropped their recommendation that Americans limit their intake of cholesterol from foods, such as eggs and shrimp.
The data is a little less clear in terms of how dietary cholesterol might affect people who have type 2. But again, there’s no need to cut eggs out of a diabetes eating plan. In fact, if anything, eggs are a great addition because they are carbohydrate-free, rich in protein and low in saturated fat. Eggs provide many other important nutrients, as well, such as iron and vitamin D. Plus, they’re budget-friendly nutrients, as well.
Any specific suggestions for foods to eat or avoid if you want to reduce the level of “bad” (or lousy or LDL) cholesterol?
Although there’s some controversy surrounding saturated fat and how “evil” it really is, studies do show that this type of fat, found in red meat, cheese, whole milk and butter, for example, can raise LDL cholesterol levels. However, there are foods that can lower LDL cholesterol. These include foods high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, oat bran, beans, apples and pears. And foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts and flax seed can lower LDL levels as well.
Type 2 diabetes seems to be one of those conditions that’s closely related to lifestyle. Along with tips on nutrition, what else do your readers want in helping to manage their diabetes?
I’ve found that people who have type 2 diabetes want simple but straightforward suggestions on what they can do to live a healthy life with diabetes. Making changes to one’s eating plan can be difficult (we form our eating habits early on!), so practical pointers around food shopping, making nutritious meals and controlling portions are always helpful.
In addition, because getting and staying physically active is so important for people with diabetes, guidelines on how to fit activity into one’s daily life (like walking on your lunch break, for example, or using a resistance band while watching TV) are invaluable. Dealing with a chronic condition day in and day out can be stressful. Finding ways to reduce stress and to take time to relax is important. Finally, information is power. I encourage people who have diabetes to check their blood sugar levels – if not every day, at least a few times per week – to get a better understanding of how their food, activity and medications affect their diabetes control.
What about sleep? Have patients indicated that the condition seems to be associated with insomnia or sleep apnea?
Sleep is a big issue when it comes to diabetes. First, poorly controlled diabetes can keep a person from getting a good night’s sleep, especially if they’re getting up frequently to use the bathroom or get something to drink. Second, having type 2 diabetes increases the risk for sleep apnea, a serious condition whereby a person stops breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. And third, complications from diabetes, such as neuropathy, can also prevent a person from getting restful sleep.
Restless leg syndrome is another condition that interferes with sleep, and this condition is more common in people who have diabetes than in people who don’t. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and even type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation can also do a number on your immune system, meaning that you’re more likely to get sick. Sleep experts recommend aiming for about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
So, if you could come up with three top bits of advice for people who live with – or want to avoid – type 2 diabetes, what would they be?
Here’s my advice: First, focus on making small but meaningful changes to your eating plan (if you need to!). You don’t need to cut out carbs or go on some stringent diet. But aim to eat plenty of “whole” foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein foods. Limit processed and fast food as much as possible.
Second, be active. If going to the gym isn’t for you, no worries. Go walking. Climb stairs. March in place when you watch television or talk on the phone. Physical activity is so important to help with blood sugar control. And third, take care of yourself. This means getting enough (but not too much) sleep, managing stress and making sure you have support from family, friends, co-workers or even an online community.
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