When you take care of your diabetes, you’ll feel better. You’ll reduce your risk for problems with your kidneys, eyes, nerves, feet and legs, and teeth. You’ll also lower your risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Your doctor may prescribe medication, but you can also take care of your diabetes by being physically active and following a healthy meal plan.
Learning what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat plays an important role in taking good care of yourself if you have diabetes. Making wise food choices can help keep your blood glucose — also called blood sugar — under control, help you lose weight if you need to, and lower your risk for heart disease, stroke and other problems associated with diabetes.
You should eat a variety of foods and know how they may affect your blood sugar:
- Starches, which include bread, cereals, grains, pasta and starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes, have the highest amounts of carbohydrates. These foods have the greatest effect on your blood sugar levels. You should eat starches at every meal, but stick to reasonable portions and choose healthy alternatives, such as whole grains.
- Vegetables also contain carbohydrates but much less than starches. The healthiest way to eat vegetables is raw or cooked with little or no fat, sauces or dressings. You can add flavor with lemon juice, broth, herbs and spices. If you do use fat, choose canola or olive oil.
- Fruits contain carbohydrates, but like vegetables, provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. Avoid fruits or juices with added sugar, buy smaller pieces of fruit, and choose fruit instead of juice because it is more filling and contains more fiber.
- It’s important to include milk products in your diet. Besides carbohydrates they contain calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. Choose fat free or low fat dairy products.
- Meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, fish and tofu are great sources of protein. Healthy portions of these foods are one to three ounces. Three ounces of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
- You should limit the amounts of fats and sweets you eat. Serving size is especially important with these foods. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way: one strip of bacon equals one serving of fat! Sweets should be eaten sparingly. Try sharing a dessert in a restaurant or ordering a child-size portion of ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Being physically active can help lower your blood glucose, improve your body’s ability to use insulin, lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, and help you lose weight.
There are a number of ways you can incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle. You can do aerobic exercise, such as walking briskly or riding a bike. Strength training with hand weights, elastic bands or weight machines will help build muscle, while stretching increases flexibility and lowers stress.
One of the easiest ways to be more physically active is to fit more activity into your daily life. For instance:
- At work, walk over to see a co-worker instead of calling or emailing.
- Stretch or walk around instead of taking a coffee break and eating.
- Walk around while you talk on the phone.
- Walk down every aisle at the grocery store.
- Get up to change the TV channel instead of using the remote control.
- Park at the far end of parking lots.
- Some medications can cause low blood glucose levels, especially during exercise.
Always check with your health care provider before beginning a new exercise program and find out if you should check your blood glucose level before exercising.