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American Diabetes Month: Staying Healthy With Diabetes

American Diabetes Month: Staying Healthy With Diabetes

American Diabetes Month: A Focus on Staying Healthy

November is American Diabetes Month, and whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes your entire life, it’s the perfect time to get a refresher on the best ways to stay healthy. By eating a balanced diet and getting regular physical activity, you can live your best life after a diabetes diagnosis.

Adapt Your Diet

The good news for people with diabetes is that their diet may not have to change as drastically as they might think.

“Most people think that once they're diagnosed with diabetes, they can never have any sugar or starches, such as bread and potatoes,” said Josefina (Josie) Ibarra, RD/LD, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. “But that’s not the case. The keys are consistency and variety.”

This means not skipping meals and snacks, as well as eating a variety of healthy choices from all food groups, including:

  • Vegetables, especially non-starchy veggies such as broccoli, peppers, carrots, and green, leafy greens
  • Fruits, such as oranges, berries, bananas, and grapes
  • Grains, with a focus on whole grains, including wheat, oats, barley, and cornmeal, found in foods such as bread, pasta, and cereal
  • Protein, especially lean meat, poultry without the skin, fish, eggs, nuts, dried beans, and tofu
  • Dairy, including nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese

However, every person’s goals and meal plans will look different.

“Meal plans can be tailored to a person’s goals and lifestyle,” said Shauna Erramouspe, MS, RDN/LD, Clinical Dietitian at MHSC. “We talk to patients first about their individual goals. Do they want to lose weight, lower their glucose, or just eat healthier? Then, how much physical activity do they get, and what do they like to eat? We tailor it so they can still have a brownie or pizza once in a while, but also show them how to make healthy changes.”

In addition to choosing balanced meals and healthier foods, dietary changes include watching portion sizes, eating more non-starchy vegetables, and eating an equal number of carbs at each meal.

“It’s very important for people with diabetes to eat close to the same amount of carbs at each meal,” Erramouspe said. “This is to avoid spikes in blood sugar, either going too low or too high. Both can make people feel terrible.”

It can also be helpful for many people to begin slowly when changing the way they eat. “We don’t want people to overhaul their diets all at once because it’s too easy to fail,” Erramouspe said. “We might start by working on carbs before looking at portion size or adding in more veggies. We just start making changes according to the person’s individual needs.”

But there are certain guidelines everyone should follow.

“People with diabetes should not have sugary drinks,” Ibarra said. “This includes soda, juice, and sweet tea. It’s also best to cook more at home rather than eating out. These things can be difficult, but we work on it step by step.”.

The Importance of Physical Activity

In addition to diet, another critical part of staying healthy is getting enough physical activity on a regular basis. This includes how much you get up and move during the day, as well as planned exercise. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, everyone should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week.

“People are busy, and the hardest part about exercise is just developing a routine,” Erramouspe said. “Even just starting by walking around your house or doing some standing or chair exercises makes a difference.”

Incorporating a variety of activities into your routine over time, including cardio and strength training, is also a good idea.

“Different exercises work different muscles as well as help the insulin in your body work better,” Erramouspe said. “In addition to helping with weight loss, exercise makes your muscles more metabolically active, which helps you burn calories at a quicker rate. As you get older, it also helps with things like balance, coordination, and mobility.”

Additional benefits of exercise include:

  • Boosting mood
  • Improving blood flow
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Lowering blood sugar levels

Exercise with Care

People with diabetes should always talk to their healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine. Because physical activity lowers blood sugar levels, you could develop hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. If you take insulin or certain diabetes medications, you are at higher risk for hypoglycemia. Skipping a meal before exercising can also trigger this health condition.

Your healthcare provider can advise you on how to stay healthy when exercising. You might need to take less insulin or eat a small carb-filled snack before you work out, especially if you are doing an intense activity.

People with type 1 diabetes need to be aware of hyperglycemia, which means your blood glucose level is too high. Having ketones in your blood or urine is a sign of high blood glucose. Ask your healthcare provider what level your ketones should be and how to test them.

But remember that if you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s OK to start slowly.

“Even starting with five minutes a day of an activity, like stretching or walking, is helpful,” Erramouspe said. “Just developing a routine and trying to get your body stronger and more mobile is a big thing, and it's just as important as diet.”.

Have questions about diet and nutrition? Learn more about MHSC’s Outpatient Medical Nutrition Services