Mary M. Fynn, Ph.D, RD, L.D.N

Food as Medicine

What is diabetes?


Glucose, a type of sugar found in your blood, is an important source of energy for the body.  Your body can store some glucose to use for energy when you need it.  Diabetes means that your blood glucose (or blood “sugar”) is not being completely stored.   The hormone that stores glucose in the blood is insulin.  We make insulin in the pancreas.  Insulin is released into the bloodstream when the amount of glucose in the blood is increasing, like after a meal.  The insulin then works to remove the glucose from your blood and get it into the cells where it is used for energy or stored.


Diabetes means that your blood sugar (glucose) is not being completely stored.  Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes means that the insulin being made is not working as well as it should so not all of the blood glucose is stored.  Someone with type 2 diabetes has too much glucose in their blood.


“Fasting blood glucose” (FBG) is the amount of glucose in the blood when a person has not had any foods or drinks with calories for at least 8 hours.  A healthy level of fasting blood glucose is less than 100 mg/dl.


The healthiest diet to treat type 2 diabetes is a diet moderate in healthy fats and moderate in carbohydrate.  When foods that contain carbohydrate are digested and absorbed, they enter the body as glucose.  So food that contains mostly carbohydrate is the most important food for a diabetic to know what they are eating.


Food groups that contain carbohydrate:

Food Serving size Carbohydrate in a serving
Vegetables ½ cup


Fruits ½ cup = ½ piece of fruit

1 cup of berries or melons



Starch 1 oz. pasta, uncooked

½ cup rice or raw potatoes

1 slice of bread


1 cup milk or plain yogurt



There is also carbohydrate in white and brown sugar and other sweeteners so any food that contains sweeteners also has carbohydrate.  You would need to read the ingredient label to find out if a food contained sugar.  Some words for sugar are: fructose, high fructose corn syrup.


The amount of carbohydrate you can eat each day is based on your total calories and is typically about half of your total calories per day

What are blood fats and how are they related to heart disease?

Blood fats are cholesterol and triglycerides.  These are 2 values that are reported on your lab results.  High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides have both been related to an increase risk of heart disease.  The participles that carry your blood fats are called “lipoproteins”.  The 2 lipoproteins that would be on your lab results are HDL and LDL.


HDL stands for “high density lipoprotein”.  HDL is thought to protect you from heart disease, so you want you HDL to be as high as possible.


Healthy levels of HDL:       men    40 mg/dl or higher; women 50 mg/dl or higher


Diet and HDL: diets low in fat will decrease your HDL.  Diets moderate in fat, especially healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, will lead to higher and healthier levels of HDL than low fat diets.  Some studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil will increase the level of HDL more than other diet fats.


LDL stands for “low density lipoprotein”.  LDL is the main carrier of cholesterol in the blood and higher levels of LDL are thought to increase your risk of heart disease.  A healthy level of LDL can vary and will depend on if you already have heart disease or diabetes, but many people think a healthy level of LDL is no more than 130 mg/dl.


Diet and LDL:  solid or saturated fats can increase LDL.  These are found in red meat and other animal fats.  Red meat has been related to increasing your risk of heart disease (and some cancers); a healthy diet is low in red meat.  Even though some studies show that dairy fat can raise LDL, dairy fat is not related to increasing heart disease.  So eating less red meat would help to decrease your risk of heart disease, but full fat dairy does not increase your risk.  LDL levels do not change that much with diet.  However, using extra virgin olive oil will contribute to a healthy LDL particle or one less likely to contribute to heart disease; vegetable oils (including margarine and salad dressing) will lead to oxidized LDL, which contribute to heart disease.


Triglycerides are blood fat.  Triglycerides can be stored as fat in our bodies and it can be used as energy by cells.   Triglycerides need to be measured after you have fasted for 10 to 12 hours.  Lab results will list triglycerides as normal if the value is less than 150 mg/dl; however, a healthy level of fasting triglyceride is less than 100 mg/dl.


Diet and triglyceride:  diets too low in fat will raise your blood triglycerides (and lower your HDL).  A diet moderate in fat will lower your triglycerides.  A moderate amount of fat would be about 60 to 70 grams for 1500 calories and 70 to 80 grams for 1800 calories.  Extra virgin olive oil olive oil is a healthy source of oil.  Vegetable oils can contribute to oxidation of LDL, which will increase heart disease risk.

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Your blood pressure can increase if you are overweight, and any weight loss (even small amounts) will lower your blood pressure.  There are 2 minerals that can change your blood pressure: sodium and potassium.


Sodium.  Eating high amounts of sodium can increase your blood pressure.  Some sodium is found naturally in food but the main diet source of sodium is that added to food in processing; this includes foods that are in packages, cans, prepared meals and foods from Fast Food restaurants.  Eating less of these foods will lower the amount of sodium in your diet.  Most people with high blood pressure can add salt to the water to cook pasta, rice or potatoes.  You can even add small amounts of salt to foods.  You should eat less food that is in a package (crackers, cereals, cookies, snack foods, etc), canned (vegetables, pasta meals, etc), prepared meals and less foods from Fast Food restaurants to lower your sodium intake.


Potassium.  All vegetables and fruits contain potassium.  Eating a diet high in potassium, or eating more fruits and vegetables, will help to decrease your blood pressure.  A serving of both vegetables and fruits is ½ cup; a serving of leafy greens, such as lettuce or spinach,  is 1 cups; most pieces of fruit are 2 servings.   The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) found that eating 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day would lower blood pressure.  Nine servings can be easily consumed if you have a piece of fruit at breakfast and lunch; then 2 servings of vegetables lunch (for example 2 cups of salad) and then 2 to 3 servings of vegetables at dinner. You can eat fresh, canned or frozen vegetables and fruits.  Canned fruit should be packed in juice or water; canned vegetables that are either low salt or salt free are healthier but if you buy ones with salt in the water you can drain them or rinse the vegetables off.