Thursday, October 28, 2010

Diabetes - Part 3: Diet and Nutrition in the Management of Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you know that it means your body is not handling sugar properly. With type 2 diabetes, you may be producing insulin, but the cells are just not responsive to the insulin. So, instead of the sugar entering the cells where it can be used for energy, it just kinda hangs around in the blood. This leads to high blood glucose (sugar) levels, which in turn can create all kinds of health problems. These problems are discussed elsewhere. For now, I want to focus on the importance of diet and nutrition in controlling diabetes.

Goal of Dietary Management of Diabetes
Your primary goal in treating diabetes should be to get your blood sugar to a safe level and maintain it that way. Ideally, you would want it to be between 70 and 99 mg/dL. Your doctor will work with you to determine what is a safe, desirable and sustainable level for you.

It is important to understand that high blood sugar can lead to heart disease and stroke over time. It can lead to blindness, cuts, bruises or infections that are slow to heal, nerve damage and kidney failure. But by controlling your blood sugar, you can reduce the chances of these conditions developing. In effect, proper control of your blood sugar will help to improve your overall health.

Dietary Strategies for Controlling Your Blood Sugar
The most important thing that you can do to control your blood sugar is to eat a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and other health-promoting compounds. Of course, consuming a healthy balance of energy nutrients, namely protein, fat and carbohydrates, is also critical. At the same time, you will need to avoid foods that are loaded with added sugar, trans fat or saturated fat and salt/sodium.

If you are overweight or obese, you have a greater risk of having diabetes than people who are at a normal weight. Numerous studies show that losing weight can help to improve blood sugar levels and thus reduce other health risks. Even if you lose just 10 percent of your body weight, you can see tremendous health benefits in terms of improvement in your blood sugar and other conditions, such as cholesterol levels.

Exercise is another important consideration. Getting regular exercise will help to lower your blood sugar levels, lose weight and improve circulation, all of which are important to total health.

Tips for Eating to Control Your Blood Sugar
Here are a few basic strategies that can help to control your blood sugar:
  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. These foods are high in nutrients and offer a wide-range of health-promoting benefits.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and dried beans and peas are excellent choices.
  • Eat foods that are high in omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fat. These fats act as powerful antioxidants to help prevent damage to your vital organs.
  • Get an ample supply of vitamin D. A few minutes of exposure to the UVB rays of the sun daily should provide the vitamin D you need. But for extra insurance, the government recommends that you consume foods that have been fortified with vitamin D. Aim for 400 IUs of vitamin D from food.
Other Strategies to Manage Your Diabetes
  • Eat meals and snacks at regular times each day. This will help to prevent your blood sugar from becoming dangerously high or dangerously low. If you are taking medication to lower your blood sugar, meals must be timed accordingly.
  • Be consistent with the amount that you eat. Pay attention to how much protein, carbohydrate and fat you are eating. Learn what is a portion for each food group and plan meals and snacks accordingly.
  • Get regular exercise. This will help to reduce the amount of sugar in your blood. It will also help you to lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. As mentioned earlier, even losing a small amount of weight can have tremendous health benefits. In some cases, people have been able to decrease the amount of medication needed or to come off of medications altogether after losing weight and controlling their blood sugar with diet and exercise.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian. You might be surprised at how clear all the "diet talk" becomes when you talk to a dietitian. Don't skip this important step. You can find a registered dietitian by going to the American Dietetic Association website: and key in 'Find a dietitian,' to find a diet and nutrition professional near you. 
If you are not able to control your blood sugar by eating a healthy diet, exercising and losing weight, your doctor will prescribe a glucose-lowering drug. If medication is prescribed, you still have to pay attention to what and how much you eat. Making smart food choices is the secret to proper diabetes management. So, take medications as prescribed and follow a sensible diet.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to focus on lowering your blood sugar and maintaining it at an acceptable level. You can achieve this by paying attention to what and how much you eat, getting regular exercise and losing weight if you are overweight. Keep in mind that registered dietitians are the healthcare professionals most qualified to help you create a diet and nutrition program that is uniquely suited to your needs. So, ask your doctor for a referral if he hasn't given you one.

What I need to know about Eating and Diabetes
Diabetes and Diet - Disease Management and Prevention Information brought to you by the American Dietetic Association