Diabetes Nutrition: Tips for Preventing and Managing Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, more commonly referred to as diabetes, is a disease in which the utilization of glucose (sugar) in the body is altered, and blood glucose levels rise. The two main classifications of diabetes are type I and type II, while gestational diabetes may also occur, and many people are unknowingly suffering from pre-diabetes. In consuming food we ingest some level of glucose, depending on what we have eaten. In response to glucose in the blood, the body releases the hormone insulin, which assists in the uptake of glucose into the cells of the body. This system is tightly regulated, and blood glucose levels are carefully monitored.

In Type I diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, the body is unable to produce insulin.

In Type II diabetes, insulin sensitivity may decrease for a number of reasons, and if unmanaged overtime, the ability to produce insulin may be lost. Ninety-five percent of individuals with diabetes suffer from Type II diabetes. The good news is that this is a preventable disease!

Individuals with pre-diabetes, which can progress to Type II diabetes, or those in the early stages of Type II diabetes can make lifestyle changes to reverse disease. While type I diabetes is not preventable, some of the management advice is the same as what is outlined below. Here are some things you can do to prevent or manage diabetes:

Lose weight

  • In overweight and obese individuals, modest weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can normalize insulin sensitivity.
  • While it is a good idea to reduce added sugars and processed carbohydrates, no specific diet for weight loss is required. Make small changes that are sustainable such as reducing portions, and adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate.

Increase physical activity

  • Including 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity not only assists in weight loss efforts, but independently regulates insulin and blood glucose levels.
  • Start small! Add in walks whenever you can. That may mean taking the stairs, parking at the far end of the parking lot, or adding 5-10 minute walk breaks throughout your day. Again, sustainability is important for success.

Fiber and Whole Grains

  • Increase your fiber intake with the goal of reaching 14 g per 1,000 calories consumed, or a total of 25-38 grams per day. To do this, choose whole grain over refined grain foods.
  • Fiber and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk for diabetes. Fiber is also found in fruits and vegetables, which are all around healthy choices.

Whether preventing diabetes, or managing diagnosed diabetes, these recommendations remain. Consume a variety of foods in moderation, choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein and dairy. Avoid excess sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats. These steps can help prevent and manage diabetes!

Resources
American Diabetes Association, Bantle, J.P., Wylie-Rosett, J., Albright, A.L., Apovian, C.M., Clark, N.B., …Wheeler, M.L. (2008). Nutrition recommendations and interventions for diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care, 31 (S1), 61-78. doi: 10.2337/dc08-S061.

About the Author
Dr. Dara Ford is a registered and licensed dietitian with research interests broadly related to health related quality of life, obesity prevention and diet quality. She is particularly interested in dietary patterns throughout the lifetime and potential impacts for length and quality of life. She is also interested in lifestyle changes to improve health and well-being. Prior to coming to American, Dr. Ford was a doctoral student and adjunct faculty at Pennsylvania State University, participating in research examining the impact of diet quality on mortality, health-related quality of life and healthcare resource use in an aging population. Dr. Ford earned her PhD in Nutrition and her BS in Nutrition from Pennsylvania State University.

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