Living with diabetes can be challenging, but it doesn't mean your life can't be full. With your doctor, identify your treatment goals. Then make a plan for a healthy diet and exercise regimen to help manage your glucose levels while you continue to take part in work, family gatherings, hobbies-all the activities that enrich your life day after day.
A healthy diet is one of the best tools for managing diabetes. A regular schedule of meals or snacks that includes the right nutrients, in the right amounts, will help keep glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight under control. But consistently eating well can be a challenge. And no single diet is right for everyone. That is why it is important to identify individual needs and preferences and plan accordingly. These tips can help:
- Make a plan – With your doctor or dietitian, create personal guidelines for your daily diet, including amounts and kinds of foods, frequency and times to eat, and whether weight maintenance or weight loss is one of your objectives. Be sure to consider medications, including insulin, and exercise when you make your plan
- Eat a balanced diet – Choose from all of the food groups, including vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish and poultry, beans, low – fat dairy products, and whole grains
- Check portion size – If you are trying to lose weight, cut back on the portion size to help reduce calorie intake
- Increase meal/snack frequency – Spread your calorie intake throughout the day with small, more frequent meals and snacks to help keep glucose levels steady
- Choose low – glycemic index carbohydrates – The glycemic index (GI) is a value assigned to foods based on their effects on post – meal blood glucose levels. For example, foods with a low GI, such as lentils, prunes, or apples, will be digested and absorbed more slowly than white rice, baked potatoes, or other high GI foods. Foods high in mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), such as nuts, cashews, avocados, olive oil and canola oil, also have a low GI. Diets high in MUFA may have beneficial effects on blood lipid levels compared to a high carbohydrate diet
- Monitor your diet regularly – Keep a diary to track the kinds and amounts of food you eat, along with your glucose levels and weight – see how the foods in your diet influence glycemic control and weight management
- Consider including a meal replacement in your diet – Convenient, balanced nutrition can help you stick with your meal plan and help keep your glucose levels under control
Diabetes and exercise
Exercise is an important part of a healthy routine. It doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym and "working out" rigorously. But it does mean getting up from the couch and spending some time every day walking, gardening, riding a bike, or doing anything that keeps you physically on the move.
The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends getting 150 minutes of aerobic activity and three sessions of resistance activity each week1.
Why does exercise matter? One reason is because it helps keep your glucose levels in balance. It also burns calories, especially helpful for weight loss, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Exercise can improve your body's ability to use insulin, strengthen muscles and bones, and even reduce stress and give you more energy.
- Diabetes and exercise: Getting started – People who don't exercise regularly should talk to their doctor about first steps. You should get advice about what exercises may be especially good to meet your individual needs and those you should avoid if you have heart or other health problems. You should also discuss whether exercise could affect the type, dose and schedule of your medications. Generally, it is a good idea to start slowly and gradually build to longer, more frequent, and more intense exercise
- Diabetes and exercise: Take advantage of everyday activities – Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Walk to the store instead of driving. Clean house or wash the car. Along with a regular exercise program, let the activities of everyday life be part of your healthy routine
- Diabetes and aerobic exercise – Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and use of large muscles. Be sure to start slowly, to warm up and stretch before exercising, and to have a "cool down" period and stretch after exercising. That will help prevent stiffness and soreness a day or two later. Experts recommend exercising most days of the week. That may be hard, at least at first. But keep the pattern steady – it's better to exercise for shorter periods each day than to exercise longer just once a week. Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Walking briskly
- Aerobics class
- Diabetes and strength training – Lifting free weights or working on weight machines two or three times a week can help build and tone muscle, increase bone density, burn calories, and improve overall health. Stretching is also important following strength training to prevent soreness and enhance flexibility
Diabetes and weight management
Excess weight can make it harder for the body to use insulin effectively, which affects the level of glucose in the blood. Excess weight and obesity are common among people with diabetes – about 80-90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight – and weight loss is a frequent goal. The advantages of weight loss are numerous, including improved glucose control and blood pressure, more energy, improved cholesterol levels, less stress on joints, and more. But weight loss and keeping it off can be difficult and frustrating. Some tips that might help:
- Consult a professional – A doctor or dietitian can help identify your particular needs and provide strategies that can help achieve your goals
- Be realistic – Set a goal you can achieve; when you get there, set a new goal. You are more likely to achieve long – term success that way
- Review your diet – Try writing down all the foods you eat over a week's time. You may be surprised at how many calories are consumed, or that your diet is not as balanced as it should be. With your doctor or dietitian, identify eating habits that should be changed, and create a diet plan that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish and poultry, low – fat dairy products and limited amounts of saturated and trans fatty acids.
- Reduce portion sizes – You can still eat many of the foods you like just less of them. Reducing calorie intake will help with weight loss.
- Begin an exercise program – Exercise can help with diabetes and weight loss: it will help burn calories, lower your glucose levels, improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and help increase your energy level. Be sure to consult your doctor to identify exercises that are right for you.
Increasing Your Enjoyment of Foods
Eating is a celebration of life for everyone — including people with diabetes. Some people with diabetes shy away from certain foods because they do not know how they will affect their blood glucose levels. Take heart, as there is a way to enjoy healthy portions of your favorite foods. Checking your blood glucose level at regular times throughout the day gives you valuable information to help you fit a wider variety of foods into your meal plan.
Learn more about diabetes and weight management here.
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