Diabetes & COVID-19

While having diabetes doesn’t make you more likely to catch the novel coronavirus, it does increase your chance of getting very sick if you do become infected. So how can we help people with diabetes who are anxious and afraid of COVID-19?

The American Diabetes Association has lots of helpful, practical information:

Another way to help people with diabetes is to recognize whether they are newly diagnosed or have lived with diabetes for years, the coronavirus pandemic could be a turning point for them. They might be motivated to learn more about their disease and to change their diet and lifestyle in hopes of controlling or reversing their diabetes.

With individual counseling or online group sessions, you can make sure they understand diabetes, how it progresses, and how it can be reversed or at least improved. Our new Diet and Type 2 Diabetes – Progression and Remission PowerPoint shows cover these concepts in detail. The three shows are:

  1. Diabetes Overview – this show covers the basics. It’s perfect for the newly diagnosed, but even those who have been living with diabetes will learn lots.
  2. Optimal Diet for Type 2 Diabetes – this show goes beyond food exchanges and carb counting. It teaches a Mediterranean- or DASH-style of eating that has the potential to reverse type 2 diabetes or at least keep blood sugar and weight under control.
  3. Guide to Losing Weight with Diabetes – this show goes into more detail on strategies for losing weight and keeping it off to improve or even reverse type 2 diabetes.

Don’t miss this chance to help people with diabetes take steps to a healthier life!

Clearing Up Coronavirus Confusion

There’s a lot of coronavirus confusion out there. From news reports and press conferences to social media and rumors, your clients, employees, and students are constantly exposed to new and sometimes conflicting information.

You can help clear up this confusion by sharing accurate, science-based information about the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve done the work for you with our new COVID-19 PowerPoint show with handouts. By learning the basics about the pandemic, we hope people will be better informed, stay safe, and even take steps to improve their health.

Here’s a sample of some of the many questions people are asking about the pandemic. Use them as a starting point for clearing up coronavirus confusion:

How can I stay safe? First and foremost, reiterate what everyone has been hearing about handwashing, wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home when you’re sick. See all of the CDC’s prevention tips here.

How can I strengthen my immune system? This is a common question and many people are looking for a quick answer. Spoiler alert — there is none. But they can take this three-pronged approach to support good health and prevent chronic diseases:

  1. Eat a healthy diet that’s plant based, with plenty of fiber (MyPlate is always a good way to teach this!).
  2. Exercise at least 2.5 hours/week for adults (find more guidelines and the Move Your Way campaign here).
  3. Sleep well (see CDC tips here).

Can I go out? People are tired of staying home. As they see businesses opening up, they’ll want to get out more. But for some high-risk groups, this isn’t a good idea. Older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions need to take extra precautions. If you’re not high-risk, look out for those most vulnerable to COVID-19 by helping them with errands and wearing a mask. (Get the facts here.)

Do I have coronavirus? While you shouldn’t hesitate to call 911 when necessary, the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker can help you figure out if you need to call your doctor to see about being tested.

As professionals, let’s keep the positive, science-based information coming! Spread the facts on social media using the CDC’s coronavirus social media kit.

Diabetes & Fear

When talking about diabetes, it’s tempting to spout statistics. The numbers are scary, but will hearing scary statistics over and over cause the average American to take action so that they don’t become a statistic? Or will it overwhelm and scare them into not doing anything at all?

Of course, it’s important to get the message out there about diabetes. But maybe we can do a better job of helping some people by addressing this disease in a less intimidating way. Our new Type 2 Diabetes Risk Poster and matching tearpad can help you do just that. It’s very straightforward, providing:

  • A checklist of risk factors.
  • A chart with blood glucose/A1C levels for normal, prediabetes, and diabetes.
  • Three steps to prevent diabetes.
  • A statement about how high blood sugar can damage the body.

This information is basic but should spark people’s interest enough to get them to consider what step they need to take, whether it’s getting a blood glucose test or talking to their doctor or dietitian.

You could also use the information on this poster as the basis for a short class, group chat, or Facebook Live session discussing these three questions:

  1. Are you at risk of developing diabetes? How many of your risk factors are in your power to change?
  2. Do you know your blood glucose numbers (A1C, fasting, glucose tolerance test)? More importantly, do you know what they mean?
  3. What are you willing to do to prevent diabetes? Consider changes to your diet and exercise routine and modest weight loss.

You can follow up on the discussion with time for Q&A. Or simply ask participants to submit their questions, to be answered in a future session.

Be sure to end with a call to action. Ask participants to write down 1-3 things they will do based on what they’ve learned. Will they make an appointment to find out their glucose numbers? Take a walk after dinner every night? Calculate 5-7 percent of their body weight and use this number as a weight loss goal?

Above all, encourage folks to visit their doctor and get a blood glucose/A1C test – even if they’re afraid to learn that they have diabetes. Remind them that knowledge is power, and power is better than fear!

Moving Through the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our exercise habits, for better and for worse. Personally, I’m biking around my neighborhood more because there are fewer cars on the streets. But my 23-year old son misses his gym routine. And a friend recently posted on Facebook that her rear end hurts from sitting so much!

With many states opening up, some people might be ready to head back to the gym. Others will choose to stay home. It’s a good time to help your clients or students assess their exercise habits (or lack thereof) and figure out a way to keep moving throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some topics you could cover:

Exercise for weight control: Our Exercise to Lose and Control Weight PowerPoint lesson explains that you burn twice as many calories when you’re moving as opposed to sitting, along with lots of other reasons to get off the couch or out of the office chair!

Remember the other benefits of regular exercise (150 minutes/week + strength training 2x/week):

  • Helps control blood sugar, and blood pressure
  • Reduces risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer
  • Strengthens your bones
  • Improves mood
  • Helps you sleep
  • Reduces stress

Make a plan: Move Your Way has an online Activity Planner that lets you set your own weekly goals, choose the activities you want to do, and print out your plan.

Work out at home: Our Home Exercise PowerPoint lesson covers all the bases, including tips on how to be a smart consumer when setting up a home gym; incorporating 10-minute periods of activity throughout the day; couch potato exercises; and more.

Think virtually: Many gyms and studios offer their classes online. There are lots of free options available as well. Look for YMCA videos on YouTube and check out the recommendations in this previous blog post.

Watch what you eat: Just because you’re exercising doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want. Consuming an extra 100 calories a day can result in a weight gain of 10 pounds per year!

Check out the CDC post on masks. Wearing a cloth mask ensures you do not infect other people while a surgical mask or N95 can ensure you don’t get infected if you are around a lot of people or sick people. Adopt the strategy recommended by your local experts or that you feel is best. If you are wearing a mask be careful not to overheat outdoors. Wear a hat, take plenty of water, and take it easy especially if you are just starting out. It might be smart to pay attention to the weather and walk when it is cooler.

Farmer’s Markets & COVID-19

May marks the beginning of the farmer’s market season in many parts of the country. With COVID-19, most markets will open as planned, with social distancing, handwashing stations, online ordering, curbside delivery, and other changes to make shopping safe for everyone.

This is a good time to encourage your clients to support their local farmer’s market or farm stand. Farmers aren’t selling as much produce to restaurants, so they need the income as well as something to do with their harvest. And we need healthy food!

Here are six teaching tips for farmer’s market season:

1. Let your clients know the many benefits of shopping farm stands and markets.

  • Markets are a source of healthy, locally-grown food.
  • Locally-grown food is in season and at its peak for taste and nutrition.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables supply a host of nutrients that boost your immune system.
  • If farmers go out of business, this source of healthy local food won’t be available to us in the future.

2. Emphasize that fresh produce from farmer’s markets and farm stands (and for that matter, grocery stores) is safe to eat.

  • According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no evidence that food or food packaging is involved with the transmission of COVID-19 (up-to-date information is available on their website and on this PDF).
  • Follow basic COVID-19 safety guidelines when shopping:
    • Check before you go – some markets and farmers are doing online-only pre-ordering.
    • Wash your hands before and after shopping.
    • Wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others.
    • Don’t touch the food. Many vendors will have produce bagged and ready. Let them get it for you.
    • Pay with your debit/credit/SNAP card and avoid using cash.
    • Be patient – with extra safety measures it may take more time than usual.
    • Get what you need and go – avoid socializing.
  • When you get home, rinse all produce (follow FDA’s normal tips).

3. Remind clients that real food grows … and you can find it at the farmer’s market! See our beautiful Real Food Grows poster that conveys this message.

  • Did the food you’re looking at grow into what it now is, or has it been processed with other elements to create a new food?
  • Processed foods are usually calorie-dense, high in unhealthy types of fat, refined sugars, and sodium, and low in fiber.

4. Use our poster to teach people how fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market make you a winner!

  • Weight – fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories and help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • I am healthier – eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies is associated with a lower risk for many chronic diseases.
  • Nutrients – fruits and veggies are major contributors for nutrients most people are lacking.

5. Make it fun to learn about the fruits and vegetables you’ll probably see at the farmer’s market with the Vegetable Cooking Program or Name That Fruit and Veggie Game.

6. Remind clients who use SNAP that their food dollars may go further when they buy fresh produce. Most states have programs that provide a dollar for dollar match when you use your SNAP/EBT card to buy fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets and some retail stores. (Find out more about Double Up Bucks and similar incentive programs here.)

And don’t forget about community supported agriculture (CSA)! Find out what’s available in your area so you can give your clients all the information they need to get a steady supply of fresh, local healthy produce all season long.

COVID-19 Goals: It’s Time for a Do-Over

Raise your hand if, when the COVID-19 shut down began, you vowed to use this time at home to do big things — like cook from scratch with only unprocessed foods every night; organize those boxes of family photos; workout twice a day; or learn a foreign language.

We had good intentions, but our goals were unrealistic, especially given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. The news took over our lives and we had to get used to working virtually in many cases.

Chances are, your clients also set themselves up with some lofty goals, many relating to diet. When they failed to meet these unrealistic expectations, they may have thrown up their hands and quit trying. Let them know this is normal. Then help them move on with small goals for healthy eating.

This might just be the perfect time to introduce yourself and your clients to the Start Simple with MyPlate App. Free from the App Store and Google Play, this app helps you set and meet healthy eating goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely).

Here’s how the app works:

  1. Choose up to three goals per MyPlate food group. Some examples: “add vegetables to your lunch,” “have fruit for a sweet treat,” “have a whole grain at dinner,” “start your day with a protein food.” You can do this for each food group, or just pick one or two food groups to work on.
  2. When you meet a goal, you check it off for that day. The app lets you see your daily progress, get simple how-to tips to help you meet your goals, and select options for notifications and reminders.
  3. As your goals are completed, you can earn a variety of badges, like first goal complete, daily-streaks, food group badges, and the ultimate MyPlate badge.

Why we like the Start Simple with MyPlate App:

  • Easy: although it’s not designed for kids, they’ll pick it up quickly and can probably teach their parents/grandparents to use it.
  • Fun: the app is colorful, appealing to the eye, and fun to use.
  • Uplifting: when you check off a completed goal or earn a badge, you get a little celebration on your screen. (Sounds corny, but it will make you smile.)
  • Flexible: you can change your goals at any time.
  • Educational: users can learn more about MyPlate by clicking on the MyPlate 101 section.
  • Basic: the goals are simple enough for anyone to do.
  • Maintainable: when the world is overwhelming, this app helps you make a small change that you’ll be able to maintain.
  • Shareable: when you earn a badge, you can share this success on social media. This may encourage others to join you.
  • Challenging: there are built-in challenges for each season, providing a sense of competition and something larger to work toward for those who want it.

Tips for using the Start Simple with MyPlate App with your clients:

Check out our new and popular MyPlate materials:

Food, Fears & COVID-19

COVID-19 has put us all into uncharted territory. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this uncertain time, but it’s safe to say that at some point we all have fears. And many of these fears involve food.

As nutrition and health educators, how can we help? Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how to address some of the common fears so many of us are facing:

Financial fears: Many people are worried about money. They may have lost their job, had hours decreased, or taken a pay cut. We can help by sharing information about healthy eating on a budget:

  • Shop smart: Stretching food dollars is a priority when money is tight. Our Healthy Shopping on a Budget PowerPoint show covers it all.
  • Shop for produce in season to stay safe: Remind folks to buy what’s in “season” for the lowest price. Some items like cabbage, carrots, and potatoes are always in season and very low in cost. Remember to keep potatoes in a paper bag at room temperature for optimum storage life. If items look like they are losing freshness you can cook them and freeze them so you don’t lose them.
  • Pantry raid: Give tips to use up everything in your cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer.
  • Protein pro: Talk about more economical protein sources like beans, nuts, seeds, nut butter, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and less-expensive cuts of meat. Beans and lentils are always lower in cost than meat. Chicken thighs are 2.29 per pound while dried beans are $3.49 per pound. BUT one pound of beans will yield 5-6 cups of cooked beans or about 3 pounds. So the beans are a better deal. They are also high in fiber.
  • MyPlate: Focus on filling the plate with budget-friendly choices for each food group. Check out our MyPlate on a Budget tearpad.
  • COVID-19 twist: Acknowledge that some people are wary of buying fresh produce. Try to alleviate these fears by talking about basic food safety, but also provide tips on healthy canned and frozen options. Keep up to date with the FDA news feed on food and COVID-19. Currently, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted via food. Local news and health departments have all the updates on local laws for shelter in place and using masks. Many stores require masks and for people to stay 6 feet apart. Seniors and those with compromised immune systems can follow special shopping hours or use a delivery service like Instacart.

Weight gain fears: Some folks are worried about gaining weight. They’re working at home and the kitchen is a constant temptation. Stress eating is also an issue. We can help by sharing strategies that promote healthy eating:

  • Shop smart: If you buy the right foods at the supermarket, you’ll have the right foods at home. Our Shopping Smart for Weight Loss PowerPoint show is a great start.
  • Steady is good: Help people realize that even if they’re overweight, it might be smarter to focus on maintaining rather than losing weight during this time.
  • Small is smart: Talk about making small changes that will add up to a healthier diet. And for those who are trying to lose weight, remind them that losing just 5-10% of their body weight is enough to make a difference.
  • Think about drinks: Warn people about sipping on sugary beverages while binge-watching. Some folks might be drinking more alcohol, too, so it can’t hurt to remind them about lower-calorie choices and watching portion sizes.
  • Home chefs: People have more time on their hands, restaurants are closed, and they’re craving comfort foods. Our 25 Ingredients, 15 Meals PowerPoint show can help them get cooking the healthy way, while also saving money!
  • Eating your worries: It happens to the best of us. Our Stress Eating PowerPoint show is full of strategies to help.
  • COVID-19 twist: Some people are highly motivated to make healthy changes during this time. For others, it’s just too overwhelming to add diet to everything else they’re dealing with (kids, work, aging parents at risk). We have to be there for both and for everyone who’s in between.

 

Snapshots of the American Diet

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has held five public meetings over the past year. At each meeting, subcommittees present updates on their research. (You can get all the details here.)

A subcommittee called the Data Analysis and Food Pattern Modeling Cross-Cutting Working Group has presented some interesting snapshots of the American diet. Although the Advisory Committee’s report isn’t ready yet, this information can help you come up with relevant topics for nutrition and health education. Here are two examples:

Snacking:

  • Most Americans snack — in fact, 93% of us do, usually 2-3 times/day.
  • Snacks provide 22-23% of our total calories.
  • Late-night snacking often involves added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.
  • Every eating occasion is a chance to make nutrient-dense food choices. Shifts in childhood and adulthood snacks could help people meet food group and nutrient recommendations.
  • Teaching ideas:
    • Fruits and vegetables make great snacks. They’re unprocessed and lower in calories, added sugar, sodium, and fat. For tips, check out our Snack Smart poster and color handout download.
    • Portion control can make snacks healthier. Look at 100 calorie snack portions and plan to keep some on hand for easy access. See our 100 Calorie Snacks handout download.
    • Consider snacks as mini-meals, not treats. MyPlate can help people visualize this.

Burgers & sandwiches: This food category causes many Americans problems. Here’s how —

  • Most Americans eat too many calories from solid fats.
    • The main sources of solid fats include burgers & sandwiches and desserts & sweet snacks.
  • Most Americans consume too much sodium.
    • The category of burgers and sandwiches is the largest contributor to sodium intake.
  • Teaching ideas: We obviously need to help people choose alternatives to high-fat burgers and sandwiches!
    • Salad is the first thing that comes to mind:
    • Encourage folks to plan their meals, make a shopping list, and eat more meals at home. Our Menu Planning tools are a great place to start.
    • Sandwiches don’t have to be high in fat and sodium. Show clients how to build a healthier sandwich with lean meats and lots of veggies.

If you’ve signed up to get updates about the 2020 Dietary Guidelines, you should have received an email letting you know that the fifth meeting of the Advisory Committee has taken place and you have until June 1, 2020 to submit comments (revised on April 9, 2020).

NOTE:

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s schedule has been extended by one month, in consideration of new demands on Committee members’ schedules due to COVID-19. USDA and HHS continue to plan for the release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the end of the year.

To stay connected and receive updates as the Committee’s work progresses, please check DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Stick to the Message on Added Sugar

As we await the release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, this is a good time to review key parts of the 2015 guidelines that aren’t likely to change much. One of these topics is added sugar.

Specific sugar intake recommendations were included in the Dietary Guidelines for the first time in 2015 (whereas in years earlier they only recommended avoiding consuming too much sugar or moderate intake of sugar). The message: consume no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugar.

Sugar continues to be a hot issue. When the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last met on March 12-13 (source), subcommittees presented their DRAFT conclusion statements. Here are a few related to added sugars:

  • Mean intakes of added sugar have significantly decreased over time, but remain high across age, sex, race-ethnic and income.
  • There is a notable increase in the intake of added sugars when 1-year-olds are compared with babies less than 12 months of age.
  • Nearly 70% of added sugars come from five food categories: sweetened beverages, desserts & sweet snacks, coffee & tea (with their additions), candy & sugars, and breakfast cereals & bars.
  • A large percentage of daily sugar intake comes from beverage consumption: 30% for young children, 50% for adolescents, and 60% for adults.
  • The top beverage sources of added sugars: regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports/energy drinks, smoothies, and coffee and tea with added sugars.

So what messages about sugar do we need to keep sharing?

  1. Clear up sugar confusion. Consumers may not get it — ‘Doesn’t milk have sugar?! Fruit has sugar!’ But when it comes to sugar, ‘added’ is the key word. Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in REAL food when there’s so much added sugar in PROCESSED food.
  2. The new Nutrition Facts label is key! We no longer have to arm our clients with long lists of ingredients that actually mean sugar. Added sugar is now on the label – we just need to remind folks to look for it. See our New Food Label materials for ideas on how to do this.
  3. To understand the food label, you have to understand Sugar Math. Teach clients and students how to get from “10% of daily calories” to the grams of sugar shown on the new Nutrition Facts panel.
  4. Beverages matter. Choosing water and sugar-free drinks can make a big difference in your sugar intake. We have lots of materials on this — a favorite being Are You Drinking Candy?
  5. Switch to fruit for dessert. This is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without a lot of sugar. We even have a Fruit Tooth Dessert Cookbook!
  6. Start early for a lifelong low sugar habit. We want to be raising sugar-free kids who eat real food. Parents, grandparents, and childcare providers need our help. Check out our 0 to 5 Baby and Toddler Nutrition PowerPoint show.
  7. There’s no room for added sugar with MyPlate! Use resources from ChooseMyPlate.gov or see all the materials we have.

 

Are You Ready for the New Dietary Guidelines?

Earlier this month, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee met for the fifth and final time before they draft the Scientific Report that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will use to craft the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines.

The Advisory Committee first met nearly a year ago to begin reviewing the body of scientific evidence on nutrition and health from birth into older adulthood. All meetings have been open to the public and more than 40,000 public comments have been submitted to the Committee over the past year.

The draft of the Committee’s Scientific Report is scheduled to be discussed in a webinar (viewable by the public) on May 11, 2020. After this, the Committee has until the end of May to deliver the final report to USDA and HHS.

The final step in this multi-year process? USDA and HHS will use the Scientific Report to develop the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines.

Why do we need the Dietary Guidelines and why should we be ready to teach them? Here are just a few reasons taken from a handy infographic you can find here:

  • It’s no surprise that Americans just don’t eat right. The Healthy Eating Index Score grades us on how well we align our  food choices with the Dietary Guidelines. For Americans, the average score is 59, on a scale of 0 to 100! We need to do what we can to change this.
  • Eight out of ten Americans say diet advice is confusing — also not a surprise.
  • Billions of dollars are spent every year to treat diet-related health conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
  • In a world of fad diets and celebrities giving medical advice, one thing is certain – the Dietary Guidelines are based on science.

What can you be doing? While waiting for the new Dietary Guidelines to come out, we have some recommendations for you:

  • Follow along here or at least subscribe here to get updates on the process and find out when the new Dietary Guidelines are released.
  • Take time now to review the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, because in most cases the new guidelines will  build on the previous edition. To give you a glimpse of what’s to come, consider the working groups of the Advisory Committee:
    • Dietary Patterns
    • Pregnancy and Lactation
    • Birth to 24 Months
    • Beverages and Added Sugars
    • Dietary Fats and Seafood
    • Frequency of Eating
  • If you work with pregnant women, parents, or children under two years of age, get ready to see something new. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines will for the first time provide guidance for women who are pregnant, as well as infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months.

Take time now to plan how YOU will incorporate the new Dietary Guidelines into your classes, counseling sessions, social media, and more. Take a look at our 12 Lessons Programs. These comprehensive wellness and weight management programs, based on the Dietary Guidelines, make health and nutrition education fun and easy. We keep them up to date, too. When the new Dietary Guidelines are released, we’ll update the digital files and send them to you via email.