A body is like a car: they both need regular maintenance. Some of that maintenance comes in the form of trips to the doctor’s office, taking medications, and undergoing procedures.  But part of maintaining a healthy body is in daily lifestyle decisions that we make at home and at the grocery store.

Studies have shown that people can lower their risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several other obesity-related illnesses by maintaining a healthy diet.

For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in people with prediabetes—those who are at risk of getting diabetes because of their high blood sugar, but haven’t—to determine what was more effective in preventing them from developing diabetes: medication or diet and exercise.  In that study, diet and exercise were found to be superior to taking a medication called metformin in preventing diabetes.  Specifically, 58 percent of prediabetes people avoided getting diabetes by modifying their diet and exercise versus 31 percent of those who took metformin.

A healthy diet should include these types of food, Dr. Fegan said:

  • Fruit and Vegetables: When choosing vegetables, dark greens (spinach, brussel sprouts, or broccoli) and orange-colored vegetables (carrots and sweet potatoes) are both great options.  If you can’t find fresh vegetables, canned and frozen vegetables are good alternatives, but try to find low-salt options.
  • Whole Grains: Whole-grain foods are packed with fiber, which can help prevent high cholesterol—a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke—and can also help with blood sugar control for people with diabetes or those who are at risk of getting diabetes.  Whole grain foods include oatmeal, whole grain rice, and whole-wheat bread or pasta.
  • Lean Protein: Opting for leaner proteins like chicken, canned tuna, turkey, low-fat content ground beef, or fish is an important part of healthy eating. It is also helpful to think about the preparation methods—frying a lean meat in oil will counteract some of the benefits of choosing the less-fatty option.
  • Beans, peas, and lentils: Beans are high in fiber and calcium, and they provide a great source of protein that doesn’t also include saturated fat. They have the added benefit of being filling, and canned legumes are easy to find.
  • Dairy: The combination of Vitamin D & calcium, found in some dairy products, is a very effective defense against diabetes.

Other ways to make healthier eating easier include:

  • Eating smaller portions of food
  • Choosing lower fat options, when possible, including lower fat dairy products and avoiding fried foods
  • Avoiding sugary beverages, such as fruit-flavored drinks and soda
  • Using less salt when cooking and looking at the salt content in the food you purchase at the grocery store.

Access to healthy food is a barrier to many people in Cook County, but programs are popping up across the county to remove that barrier. LINK Up Illinois allows users to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at designated farmers markets and double their dollars using LINK UP coupons. Greater Chicago Food Depository has a Produce Truck that makes stops around Cook County, including at select Cook County Health clinics. The Cook County Farm Bureau also has a directory of local farmers’ markets, where fresh produce and health sources of protein and dairy can be found.