I recently had the privilege of presenting at a JDRF Type One Nation event and one of the topics I spoke about centered around Food.
Do you know the basic definition of that word? The simple word we use to refer to everything from an apple to a bag of potato chips seems to fall short in actually describing the true meaning.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides this definition:
The Definition of food is:
1a: material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy
also : such food together with supplementary substances (such as
minerals, vitamins, and condiments
b: inorganic substances absorbed by plants in gaseous form or in water solution
From the feedback and questions about fuel people presented after the conference, it seems a lot of people just don’t know the difference between fueling their body and just eating food.
We should know more about what we put in our body and what it does for us long term. Those living with diabetes are at heightened risk for heart disease as well as other autoimmune disorders and potential complications. It makes sense to know how the nutrients we put in our body work to our advantage…or potentially against us.
When we talk about Food, I really prefer to use the word fuel. The change in words makes us more aware of the purpose of what we choose to put in our mouth and have our digestive system process down to the nuts and bolts that drive our body.
We start with the basic macronutrients and what they each provide – Carbohydrate – the body’s main, and very quickly accessible, form of fuel Protein – the building block of all our cells and used to repair and rebuild Fat – a storage form of fuel. Our body taps into this in times of fuel shortage – such as overnight while we sleep or for those who follow a low carb lifestyle. It helps the body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones.
A balance of all the macronutrients also provides us access to all the micronutrients- vitamins, minerals, water – that don’t contribute calories and may not have direct impact on BG levels or a need to cover them with insulin. These micronutrients are the little pieces that make the difference in calling something food versus fuel.
So, now that you have the basics for what fuel is supposed to do for you, how do you know how to fuel your best life?
It really starts with where you are in life. Consider your age, gender, activity level, life cycle status -childbearing years, menopause, etc. Do you have other health issues – arthritis, digestive disorders, heart disease, etc.? These factors may also dictate what type of fuel and what amount is best for you at this point. Your fueling strategy may very well change as you move through life stages and activity levels.
Do we need all the macronutrients? In general, yes. All of them provide, as noted above, a necessary part of our daily fueling strategy. How then do we incorporate them all in the right amount for personal fueling needs and still maintain healthy glucose management? It can and will take some assessment. Choose to work with someone who can consider all your needs for where you are in life. Integrated Diabetes clinicians can help if you need a place to start!
In a simplified way, to start fueling your best life consider your current intake. Take an unbiased look at your regular fuel sources or what you call your usually food choices. Try to categorize them from a simple standpoint – food or fuel. Look at the impact of this intake on BG and other life status needs. Evaluate where things might be improved and how overall health might benefit from some simple changes.
Carbohydrates- unprocessed as possible. Aim for 4-5cups of non-starchy veggies per day. Add in berries or apples for low glycemic fruit – try to pair these around exercise to avoid swings in BG if that is why you have been avoiding them. Aim for grains, if you choose to eat them, that are least processed such as quinoa or wild rice. Choose beans and lentils for healthy low glycemic carb as well as a fiber and protein boost. ** Needs differ based on where you are in life and activity level
Protein – sources include meat of all kinds, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, nut butters, cheese. Choose lean cuts of meat and pay attention to health portion size (about palm sized portion at most meals). ** Needs will differ based on where you are in life and activity level.
Fat– sources include butter, mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, half and half, creamers, oils of all types, salad dressing, coconut, nuts/nut butters, avocados Meat and cheese also naturally have fat, so be aware of amount in the food as well as how much you add at a meal time (such as salad dressing, etc.). Don’t be fat free – it is a needed nutrient in the body, but be aware of how much you need for fuel from this nutrient. ** Needs will differ based on where you are in life and activity level.
A good variety of fuel through the day with mixed nutrients will help your body absorb the vitamins and minerals in the right way and also assist with optimizing your long-term health and diabetes management!
Integrated Diabetes Services, Director of Lifestyle and Nutrition.
Jennifer holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Biology from the University of Wisconsin. She is a Registered (and Licensed) Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Certified Trainer on most makes/models of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems.