• Healthy Eating

    What you eat plays an important role in managing diabetes. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin properly. Insulin is necessary to take glucose (sugar) from the food you eat and move it into cells, where it’s used for energy. When there’s not enough insulin to do the job, glucose builds up in the blood, a situation that can eventually lead to diabetes-related complications throughout the body. Some foods affect blood sugar more than others, so to manage diabetes and keep your blood sugar in your target range, it’s crucial to understand how to eat properly.

  • The Basics of a Diabetes-Friendly Diet

    There’s no such thing as one specific “diabetes diet.” The best diet for people with diabetes is the same basic diet that’s healthy for everyone — one that is well balanced and includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. When you eat, your body breaks down the nutrients in your food into carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Balancing these three nutrients, and watching portion sizes, can help you keep your blood sugar in a healthy range. Other keys to eating healthfully with type 2 diabetes include:

    • Eating meals and snacks on a regular schedule
    • Eating about the same amount of food at each meal or snack from day to day
    • Choosing a wide variety of foods to get the nutrients you need
    • Reading food labels carefully
    • Limiting your intake of sodium, saturated fat, refined carbs, and processed foods, and avoiding trans fat
  • Understanding Carbs

    Carbohydrates — found in grains, bread, pasta, milk, sweets, fruit, and starchy vegetables — have the greatest impact on blood sugar because they are broken down into glucose more quickly than other foods. Your body needs carbs for energy, but too many can quickly raise your blood sugar. The key is to balance your intake of carbs with protein and fat, and to choose the healthiest carbohydrate foods, such as those rich in fiber, a type of carb the body can’t digest, which helps slow the rise in blood sugar after eating. Follow these tips when choosing carbs:

    • Choose whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa
    • Limit refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, and sugary cereals
    • Eat whole fruit instead of drinking juice
    • Choose nonstarchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower
    • Avoid sugary drinks like soda

    The amount of carbohydrate you need depends, among other things, on how active you are and what medicines you take. Eating 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal is a good place to start, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

  • Creating a Healthy Plate

    An easy, foolproof guideline to eating right with type 2 diabetes is to practice the plate method. Fill at least half your plate with nonstarchy veggies, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and carrots. Divide the other half of the plate into two sections. One section is for a lean protein source, such as fish, chicken, or turkey. The other is for an appropriate portion of whole grains or starchy foods like brown rice, quinoa, corn, or potatoes. Complete your meal with a serving of fruit or dairy — or both, if your meal plan allows.

  • Choosing Healthy Snacks

    It's a good idea to have healthy snacks on hand to help you keep your blood sugar steady, maintain your energy level, and avoid overeating at your next meal. Think of snacks as an opportunity to fit another serving of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into your day. A few smart options are:

    • Low- or no-salt mixed nuts, preportioned to save on calories
    • Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt with berries
    • Carrot sticks and hummus
    • Sliced apple and peanut butter
    • Hard-boiled egg
    • A veggie-based smoothie — try mixing avocado with leafy greens, banana, almond milk, and ice
  • Dining Out

    Yes, you can enjoy a meal out and still eat well for type 2 diabetes. Make life easier by checking out the menu ahead of time, if possible, so you can select healthy foods. Eating out is all about compromise: Skip the fried appetizers so you can share a dessert, and consider portions carefully. Avoid dishes that are breaded, fried, or covered in cream sauce, and look for dishes that are baked, broiled, steamed, or poached. Pass on the bread basket and ask for dressing and sauces to be served on the side. Most restaurants serve more food than you need, so order from the appetizer menu or ask for half of your meal to be boxed immediately and have the rest for lunch the next day. Your stomach and wallet will thank you!

  • Exercise

    Incorporating exercise into your diabetes management plan is one of the best things you can do to keep the condition under control. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level, keep your weight in check (which also has a positive effect on blood sugar), ease aches and pains, and can contribute to a better mood.

  • Simple Ways to Get Moving

    You don't have to join a gym to stay active. Lots of activities count as exercise — just make sure you're doing enough to get your heart really pumping for an average of 30 minutes a day. Some of the things you can do:

    • Take a brisk walk or jog every evening. Bring your dog, if you have one!
    • Wear a pedometer to track your steps throughout the day
    • Hold a "standing meeting" at work, or switch to a standing desk to keep your body active.
    • Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators.
    • Do chores, such as sweeping, mopping, and organizing, at a brisk pace.
    • Ride your bike to work.
  • Aerobic Exercise

    Aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise gets your lungs and heart working double time — brisk walking, jogging, dancing, and swimming are examples. Done regularly, aerobic exercise can help you gain endurance and can lower blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes who get aerobic exercise daily may even stave off the need for insulin therapy, or may be able to have their medication dosage lowered. The ADA recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise at least five days a week. If time is a factor, you can break this into three 10-minute exercise sessions.

  • Strength Training

    While aerobic exercise is often emphasized for the management of type 2 diabetes, you should round out your routine with strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing body weight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups. Using weights to build muscle can help you lose weight and allow you to gradually improve your aerobic performance. Strength training can also improve insulin sensitivity by sending excess glucose to the muscles. The ADA recommends that people with type 2 diabetes do strength training exercises at least two days a week. 

  • Exercising Safely

    Though the effect of exercise on blood sugar is generally positive, you should consider its relationship to your diet and medication schedule. Test your blood sugar before exercise: To prevent it from dipping too low as you work out, you may need to eat a light snack. Test again afterward to see whether you need to adjust your medication. If you exercise for more than an hour, you should also check your blood sugar during your workout. Keep glucose tabs or other fast-acting carbs with you in case your blood sugar drops too low. You should also wear socks and shoes that fit you well; stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise; and wear a medical ID tag or bracelet in case of emergency.

  • Staying Motivated to Exercise

    Perhaps the biggest hurdle to exercising regularly for type 2 diabetes management is the motivation required to stick to your routine. If you need some help with motivation, you may want to consider one or more of the following:

    • Buddy up. Ask a friend to set weekly gym dates or meet for a brisk walk.
    • Sign up for a fitness class. Registering — and paying — ahead will keep you focused and make you less likely to skip out.
    • Work with a trainer. Not only will you learn about proper form, but a trainer also keeps you accountable.
    • Make leisure time active. Plan a weekend bike ride or go for a hike — think active and enjoyable.
  • Lifestyle Habits

    In addition to eating well and staying active, there are many other things you can do to manage diabetes well. Most are simply good general health habits, so don't think of them as more diabetes-related efforts — together, they make up a way of life that would serve anyone well.

  • Manage Your Weight

    Being overweight not only increases a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes but also makes it harder to manage the condition. Excess weight makes it more difficult for your body to use insulin, thereby increasing blood sugar. If you’re overweight or obese, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help lower your risk of diabetes-related complications and improve your overall health. Eating right and exercising, perhaps with the help of a trainer or diabetes educator, can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Reduce Stress and Get Sleep

    Stress can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that can raise blood sugar, and you may also be less likely to take good care of yourself. You may not exercise regularly, follow your healthy meal plan, or get the rest you need to keep blood sugar under control. Finding stress-reducing activities can make a world of difference for your overall health; consider meditation, yoga, gardening, listening to relaxing music, or talking to a therapist.

    Sleep also plays a role in managing blood sugar. Your body works to repair and restore itself during deep sleep, so if you're not getting enough — seven to eight hours daily is recommended for the average adult — your body will feel the effects. Too little sleep can cause symptoms that mimic those of insulin resistance. It can also lead to weight gain and prevent you from exercising and eating right because you're too tired to plan. To improve sleep, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid exercising, drinking caffeine or alcohol, or using electronic devices right before bed.

  • Get Regular Medical Exams

    Managing a chronic condition like type 2 diabetes means changing your lifestyle and regularly checking in with your medical care team to monitor your progress. Your doctor will want to see how your medications and lifestyle habits are affecting your blood sugar levels over time and may make adjustments and suggestions as needed. Regular exams can also help you catch early signs of complications so you can treat them as early as possible. Here are some of the exams you need:

    • Your weight, blood pressure, and feet checked at every doctor’s visit
    • An A1C test every three to six months
    • A dental exam every six months
    • A cholesterol test once a year
    • An eye exam once a year
    • A complete foot exam once a year
    • A urine test to check for albumin — a sign of potential kidney damage — once a year
  • Monitor Your Blood Sugar

    In addition to regular visits with your doctor, be sure that you yourself keep a close eye on your blood sugar. Testing your blood sugar regularly is the best way to evaluate how diet, exercise, and other factors affect your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor about when and how often you should test. Your care team can help you understand the numbers on your glucose meter and offer suggestions on how to keep track of them. Monitoring your blood sugar can help you and your doctor decide whether you need to make any adjustments to your management or treatment plan. You may find, for example, that your blood sugar decreases after exercise, and this may affect the amount of medication you need.

  • Find Support

    Managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment that can sometimes feel overwhelming and stressful. To keep your best foot forward, you need resources for support. Consider joining a diabetes support group, or talk to a knowledgeable therapist. Even simply setting a weekly walking date with an understanding friend can give you a big boost. The point is to cultivate a place and state of mind that allow you to feel safe talking about the challenges of life with a chronic condition.