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Heart disease and diabetes: Simplifying diet and lifestyle recommendations

Last Modified: January 25, 2021

Diseases & Disorders, Heart Health

heart and diabetes 2

This post was written by Sarah Mohrman, RDN, Parkview Heart Institute.

You have recently been diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease and are now struggling with what to eat. Does that sound familiar? As a dietitian at the Parkview Heart Institute, this is a concern we hear quite often. Diabetes is one of the seven major controllable risk factors of cardiovascular disease. Over time, increased blood sugars can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to build up on the vessel walls. Those with diabetes, especially Type 2, often have conditions that contribute to a risk of developing heart disease, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity.

ABCs of diabetes

To manage diabetes and heart disease, you must know the ABCs of diabetes management:

A – A1c (Hemoglobin A1c is a blood test that measures the average of your blood sugar over three months)

B – Blood pressure

C – Cholesterol

Keeping these three components well-controlled can help manage both your heart disease and diabetes while preventing further complications from occurring. Additionally, medications prescribed by your provider should work together with your diet and lifestyle changes. 

123s of nutrition and lifestyle changes

At the Parkview Heart Institute, nutrition and lifestyle modifications are encouraged for most of our patients to improve their quality of life. Most of our patients, diabetic or not, will benefit from these simple strategies:

  • One hour for you. Dedicate one hour of your day to physical activity and stress management to improve your health conditions. Ideally, the recommended amount of exercise for most people is 30 minutes (or more) on most days of the week. You can choose to break that 30 minutes up into three 10-minute sessions or schedule your activity all at once. Either way, it is benefiting your blood sugar and heart health. Be sure the physical activity, which is above and beyond your typical work activities, is an activity you enjoy and will continue to do, whether walking, jogging, biking or swimming. Your choice! You can utilize the remainder of the time doing meditation, stretching, journaling, deep breathing or whatever helps you manage your stress. People often find exercise a stress management technique and utilize the full hour for physical activity, which is even better!
  • Two grams of sodium or 2,000-2,300 milligrams per day. This range should be your goal. Sodium is a significant contributor to elevated blood pressure because it constricts the blood vessels making it harder for blood to pump through them. If you are using the saltshaker, STOP! One teaspoon of salt contains roughly 2,100 milligrams of sodium. Most of the sodium Americans consume is already in our foods. Start comparing food labels, looking for lower sodium bread options, no salt added canned products, low sodium snack foods and limiting processed foods in your diet. Instead, move toward the whole food section for fresh fruits, vegetables, homemade sauces and more.
  • Three servings of fruits and vegetables with each meal. Have you ever used a food diary to write down what you eat in a day? If not, give it a try. You may see that you are consuming too few fruits and vegetables. The average American only eats 2.7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day! Ideally, this number should be nine or more! By consuming three servings of fruits and vegetables per meal (preferably one fruit and two non-starchy vegetables), you will be much closer to this goal. Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and fiber, naturally lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and are low in calories to aid with weight loss. 
Practice makes progress
Take a look at the sample day located below. It will help you understand how you can incorporate the ABCs and 123s into your daily routine. Also, don’t be afraid to try several of the recipes mentioned in this sample scenario. They are delicious! You won’t be sorry!
6:00 am - Monitor blood sugars

Know what your goal is when fasting

6:30 am - Breakfast ideas
Roasted vegetable skillet (recipe below) and ½ a banana
Avocado chickpea tomato toast (recipe below) and a cup of blueberries
Breakfast stuffed peppers (recipe below) and two clementine oranges
10:30 am - Snack
Raw veggies with 1-2 Tbsp of hummus
12:30 pm - Lunch ideas
Nut butter Thai salad (recipe below) and an apple
Buffalo chicken chili (recipe below) and a side salad with craisins, berries and an oil vinegar dressing
Hummus quesadillas (recipe below) and fruit salad
3:30 pm - Snack
Apple slices with 1-2 tablespoons natural nut butter
5:00 pm - One hour for you
Incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity
6:30 pm - Dinner ideas
Orange thyme salmon (recipe below) with orange slices and a large dinner salad
Grilled chicken with zucchini noodles and grape tomatoes (recipe below) with a sliced pear
Mexican quinoa bowl (recipe below) and watermelon

heart diabetes 2

Roasted Vegetable Skillet                          
Cooking spray
1½ cups chopped mixed veggies of choice (onions, mushrooms, bell pepper, kale, squash)
1-2 eggs with yolk discarded (or ¼-½ cup egg substitute)
Garlic powder and black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven broiler while chopping vegetables.
  2. Lightly spray a small baking dish.
  3. Put the vegetables in the baking dish and add garlic powder and black pepper to taste.
  4. Place on the middle oven rack under the broiler for about two minutes, then stir and cook for about two more minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven, crack 1-2 eggs over the top (remember to discard the yolks or use egg substitute), then place back under the broiler.
  6. Cook until the desired doneness. For over-easy eggs, it takes about 2-3 minutes. Watch them closely. They will cook fast. Makes 1 serving.?
Avocado Chickpea Tomato Toast
1 slice low-sodium, whole-grain bread (ideally less than 100mg per slice)
1-15 ounce can chickpeas no salt added, 1½ cups
1 medium avocado
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon cilantro
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
1-2 slices of tomato
  1. Toast the bread if desired.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the chickpeas and avocado into a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Add in remaining ingredients and stir/mash until desired consistency.
  4. Spread about ¼ cup on each slice of toast, top with tomato and enjoy! You can keep the chickpea mixture in the fridge for up to three days. It will turn a darker color but still tastes great. Makes 1 serving with leftover chickpea mix.
Breakfast Stuffed Peppers
Cooking spray
3 bell peppers
1-2 tsp low sodium vegetable broth for sautéing
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 eggs, yolks discarded
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 green onion, chopped
Salsa for serving if desired
  1. Cut the tops off the peppers, take out the ribs and seeds, then set them aside.
  2. Slice the stems off, cut any remaining bell pepper off from around the stem and dice it.
  3. Add broth to skillet. Heat it over medium. Sauté onions and any leftover bell pepper until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add in garlic and pepper, stir for 30 seconds, then remove from heat and let cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the oven rack on the bottom half of the oven.
  5. Whisk together eggs and slightly cooled veggie mixture.
  6. Lightly spray a small baking dish.
  7. Put the bell peppers in the baking dish with the cut side up. Sprinkle one tablespoon of cheese on the inside of each bell pepper. Fill evenly with the egg mixture. 
  8. Put the baking dish into the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes until eggs are almost set.
  9. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake until eggs are completely set and cheese is melted, about 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with green onion and enjoy! Makes 3 servings.
Nut Butter Thai Salad
3 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup raw)
1 cup broccoli florets finely chopped
½ cup shredded carrot
1 cup red bell pepper julienned and cut into 2-inch strips
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 green onions finely chopped
¼ cup lightly salted peanuts chopped (optional)
¼ cup creamy almond or peanut butter
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime (or 2 Tbsp)
2-3 tablespoons water to thin the dressing
  1. Add all the salad ingredients into a large bowl minus the dressing.
  2. Drizzle dressing over salad. Toss until incorporated and evenly covered by the dressing.
  3. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator, serve when desired. Makes 6 servings (1 cup each).
Buffalo Chicken Chili
1-pound ground chicken breast
2 medium white onions chopped
2 cups celery chopped
2 cups carrots chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
2-14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes (no salt added) undrained
2-15 ounce cans low sodium cannellini beans drained and rinsed
1-15 ounce can black beans (no salt added) drained and rinsed
3/4 cup hot sauce 
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne
  1. Brown the ground chicken in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Toss the cooked chicken and the rest of the ingredients together into a crockpot.
  3. Give everything a good stir and secure the lid.
  4. Cook for 8-10 hours on low or 6-8 hours on high.
  5. Top with your choice of toppings. Serve warm and enjoy! Makes 10 servings.
Hummus Quesadillas
1 whole-grain tortilla (8-inch)
¼-? cup hummus
Fillings of your choice (spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced peppers, etc.)
Cooking spray
  1. Spread hummus generously over your tortilla.
  2. Lightly cover one-half of the tortilla with fillings of your choice. Fold the blank half over to create a half-moon shape. Repeat if you’d like to make more than one quesadilla.
  3. Warm a medium skillet over medium heat. Lightly spray the skillet with cooking spray. Place the folded quesadilla(s) in the pan. Let the bottom sides warm up for a minute or two, then carefully flip. Cook until each side is lightly golden and crisp.
  4. Transfer the quesadilla(s) to a cutting board. Let them rest for a couple of minutes. Using a sharp chef’s knife or pizza cutter, slice each quesadilla into three wedges. Serve immediately. Makes 1 serving.
Orange Thyme Salmon
4-4-ounce wild-caught salmon fillet portions
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme plus sprigs for garnish
3 oranges peeled (2 sliced and 1 segmented)
  1. Combine pepper, olive oil, mustard, garlic and thyme. Squeeze the juice of 2-3 orange segments into the mix and stir. Rub this mixture all over the salmon fillets.
  2. Heat grill to high, sear salmon skin side up, then reduce heat to medium. Cook salmon for 5 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 3 minutes or to desired doneness.
  3. Top with sliced oranges and cook an additional 2 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Zucchini Noodles and Grape Tomatoes
½ tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
¾ pound grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 large zucchini, spiralized with a thicker blade
A pinch of red crushed pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over high heat.
  2. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes, season with pepper. Reduce the heat to low.
  4. Simmer, covered, until the tomatoes soften, about 15 minutes.
  5. Increase heat to medium-high, stir in the zucchini and basil and cook for 2 minutes. Serve immediately. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (optional). Makes 2 servings.
Mexican Quinoa Bowl
1½ garlic cloves 
1½ tomatoes
¾ cup quinoa
½ tablespoon cumin
1 can (no salt) pinto beans 
1 cup cilantro
 ¾ cup frozen corn
1 lime
7 cups romaine or mix greens
1½ cups water
½ tablespoon chili powder
 ½ avocado
  1. Mince the garlic. Wash and chop romaine, tomatoes and cilantro. Rinse and drain pinto beans.
  2. Heat a tablespoon of water in a skillet or pot with a lid over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Add quinoa, water, beans, tomatoes, frozen corn, chili powder and cumin to skillet. Stir and combine.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low.
  5. Simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 15 minutes. Add pepper and season to taste.
  6. Serve over a bed of fresh romaine or mixed greens and top with lime juice, avocado and cilantro. Makes 5 servings.

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