NEW YORK – Most Americans with diabetes are eating too much fat and sodium, and not enough fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat dairy, a new study suggests.
The results, say researchers, indicate that many people with diabetes may need more education about the importance of nutrition in managing their condition.
Excess weight is one of the major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, a disorder in which the body can no longer properly use the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin. Diet, exercise and weight loss are key to managing the disorder, and in some cases, weight loss can reverse the condition.
Yet in the new study, researchers found that of nearly 2,800 middle- aged and older U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes, nearly all were exceeding the daily recommended fat intake. When it came to artery-clogging saturated fat, 85 percent were consuming too much.
Similarly, 92 percent of study participants were consuming too much sodium, which can raise blood pressure and contribute to diabetics' already elevated risks of heart disease and kidney disease. (See related Reuters Health story today.)
The researchers used a number of nutritional yardsticks, including the Food Guide Pyramid and recommendations by the Institute of Medicine. For example, experts recommend that adults get no more than 20 percent to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat, with less than 10 percent coming from saturated fat.
And if most study participants were getting too much of those nutrients, many were also not getting enough of certain healthy foods, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Less than half were getting the minimum recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains each day.
"I thought we were going to find people who, because they have a chronic disease, were more educated about and more motivated than the average American to eat healthy, but that's not the case," lead researcher Dr. Mara C. Vitolins, of Wake-Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said in a written statement.
The "most important thing" in managing type 2 diabetes, Vitolins noted, is balancing calories in and calories out to help shed pounds or at least avoid weight gain. The choice of foods is also vital in getting enough beneficial nutrients — like antioxidants and "good"
unsaturated fats — and helping to control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
But many people in this study were not making healthy diet choices, even if they had long-standing diabetes, the researchers found.
"The findings clearly illustrate a need to provide ongoing nutrition education for people with diabetes regardless of the amount of time they've had the disease," Vitolins said.
"These people have, within their cupboards and refrigerators, the potential to really manage their diabetes well," she added. "Day to day, the foods they are eating should be considered a vital part of their treatment."