November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. This is a time when people across the country team up to bring attention to a disease that, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, affects about 37 million Americans. The good news: diabetes is manageable. We partnered with Registered Dietitian Erin Pallinski Wade on these 12 tips to make living with diabetes easier.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DIABETES AND YOUR DIET
Managing diabetes can be challenging. But a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean that you have to give up all the foods you love. With a little planning and a focus on balance, you can eat your faves and still improve your overall health. The best part: it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, these simple wellness tips make it easy to implement small changes that can lead to large improvements in blood sugar levels. Please keep in mind that while these tips align with recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, we always advise consulting with your doctor.
12 TIPS TO MAKE LIVING WITH DIABETES EASIER
1. KNOW THAT NUMBERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Diabetes is a silent disease. You can’t always know if your blood sugar levels are in range. That’s why knowing your numbers is so important. Test blood sugar levels frequently and work with your diabetes care team to track numbers such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c (a marker that gives a picture of your blood sugar over about 12 weeks). These numbers offer a window into what’s going on in your body so you can understand when lifestyle interventions are working, or when they need to be adjusted. The more info you have—and the more frequently you have it—the better you can manage diabetes and prevent complications.
2. REMEMBER NOT ALL CARBS ARE CREATED EQUAL
If you have diabetes, you’re no stranger to carbohydrates. Carbs are important to diet and blood sugar management, but not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to digest and breakdown, which means they have less of an impact on blood sugar.
On the other hand, simple sugars digest rapidly, often leading to blood sugar spikes. When looking at food labels for carbohydrate-rich foods like bread and cereal, choose foods that contain 2 grams of fiber or more with little to no added sugars. Often, these are foods made up of mostly complex carbohydrates that will help you to better balance blood sugar.
3. COUNT CARBS TO IMPROVE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Yes, carbs impact blood sugar levels, but it’s the amount of carbs you eat in one sitting that has the greatest impact. This is why counting your carb intake is crucial. Knowing exactly how many carbs you had and monitoring the impact on your blood sugar helps you determine the right amount of carbs for you to eat during each meal and snack. You can use a food and nutrition tracker like MyFitnessPal to know precisely how many grams of carbohydrates are in the food (and portion size) you’re about to eat. Use this data to compare the amount of carbs you eat to your blood glucose levels post-meal to determine your personal carbohydrate tolerance.
4. FOCUS ON PROTEIN, FAT AND FIBER
Want to know the winning combo to curb hunger and keep blood sugar in check? Combining carbohydrates with foods rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber can stabilize blood sugar levels while satisfying your hunger. So if you’re craving an apple, spread on some peanut butter to add protein and healthy fats. Or have some sliced avocado or hummus with your crackers. These slight adjustments allow you to improve your blood sugar while eating foods you love.
5. REDUCE ADDED SUGAR WITHOUT LOSING FLAVOR
Think you need to give up all sweets with diabetes? Think again! With a few simple tweaks you can reduce the added sugar in your favorite recipes while boosting fiber and cutting overall carbs. The next time you make any baked goods, like cookies, swap out the sugar for pureed fruit instead. By using a 1:1 ratio to replace sugar with pureed prunes, mashed ripe bananas, or even unsweetened applesauce, you’ll maintain sweetness while boosting the nutritional value of the recipe.
6. GET MOVING ON THE DAILY
Physical activity helps your body burn off the sugar in your bloodstream as energy—it’s one of the easiest ways to quickly lower blood sugar levels. Plus, the more active you are, the more sensitive your body’s cells become to insulin, which can further improve blood sugar. Try adding 30 minutes of moderate exercise to your daily routine. And remember, exercise is cumulative. Walking for 10 minutes three times a day is just as beneficial as a 30-minute walk. Also keep in mind that incorporating movement after meals can be a great way to help prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes.
7. BE MORE MINDFUL AT MEAL TIME
It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat that matters. Distracted eating can lead to consuming excessive portions, dissatisfaction with meals, and less overall awareness of how the food you select impacts your health. To stay more mindful, put your food on a plate, sit down at a table to eat, and focus on taking small, intentional bites. Avoiding watching TV, using the computer, or scrolling on your phone at meal time. The more aware you are of how the food looks, tastes, smells, and even feels, the more satisfied you will be. This can go a long way to promote portion awareness and appetite regulation.
8. PLAN AHEAD IF YOU’RE EATING OUT
You can enjoy a meal out with family and friends and still keep your blood sugar in a healthy range. Just review the menu in advance. Focus on selecting a balanced meal with a lean protein and a vegetable, and reserve carbohydrate rich foods for 1/3 of the plate. If the meal won’t be served for some time, have a filling snack before heading out, such as veggies and dip or a handful of nuts. A small snack can help with portion control and prevent excessive hunger which can cause you to eat too much, too quickly.
9. FOCUS ON HIGH VOLUME, LOW CALORIE FOODS
Although weight loss does not need to be the primary focus of managing Type 2 diabetes, research has found that improvements in body composition may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar management. By focusing on eating foods that are filling, yet low in calories, you can ensure you are taking in just the right amount of energy your body needs. Foods such as whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and high fiber grains can help you feel satisfied and nourish your body with the vitamins and minerals you need.
10. PRIORITIZE SLEEP AND SNOOZE-FRIENDLY FOODS
Just one poor night of sleep can cause a rise in blood sugar. Add on excess fatigue, and you can see how prioritizing sleep is vital to managing diabetes. For a more restful sleep, set a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. Remove distractions from the bedroom (bye cellphone!), and create a dark, quiet space to promote snoozing. Don’t want to kick your caffeine habit? Try drinking it earlier in the day—at least 6-8 hours before bedtime. Also move your workouts to mornings or afternoons, not right before bedtime, especially if exercise gets you pumped. Finally, add sleep-inducing foods like cherries, poultry, milk, and pumpkin seeds to your evening meal to help you catch more Zzzs.
11. DRINK WATER THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Your blood is made up mainly of water, so even slight dehydration can make blood sugar more concentrated, leading to elevated levels. A lack of fluid intake can also increase appetite and cause you to feel fatigued. That’s why staying adequately hydrated is key. Try sipping water throughout the day and leaving a water bottle out as a constant reminder to drink more. If you struggle to get in enough water each day, try tracking your fluid intake in an app like MyFitnessPal to help you meet your daily goals.
12. FOCUS ON PATTERNS THAT HELP YOU FEEL YOUR BEST
The food you put into your body impacts everything—mood, energy, stress, sleep, and of course, blood sugar. But it can be hard to notice which foods help you feel your best. That’s where tracking comes in. When you pay attention to the food you put into your body and monitor how it impacts your energy, blood sugar, and sleep over the course of several weeks, you can see which foods work best for you. Using an app like MyFitnessPal makes it easy to track the foods and beverages you consume and the nutrition composition of each. You can then easily compare your intake to your blood sugar trends. This data is not only insightful for you, but it can also provide valuable information to your healthcare team to help them make the best decisions for your treatment plan.
Looking for more insights on your eating habits to help manage diabetes? Download the MyFitnessPal app for Apple and Android to make tracking food and hydration a lot easier. If you already have MyFitnessPal, but want to make the most of its features, upgrade to Premium today.
Any information and materials on this site are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider regarding medical conditions.