Changing Your Lifestyle
If you are living with diabetes, lifestyle is an important part of your care. It is very important that you eat a good balance of real foods every day and exercise regularly. Managing your diabetes also means taking medicine, if needed, and testing your blood sugar levels each day.
Diabetes does not require special foods. A healthy, balanced diet can come from everyday foods. If you have diabetes, you should:
- Choose foods that are low in salt
- Choose food that might contain healthy fats which usually come from plants
- Choose foods that are high in fiber (such as beans, vegetables, and fruit)
- Eat foods from all food groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has plenty of information about choosing a balanced diet
- Lose weight if you need to by cutting down on how much you eat.
Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian who can help you plan meals that taste great and are good for you.
If your diabetes is under control and you do not have high blood pressure, your doctor may allow you to drink alcohol in moderation. Keep in mind that if you drink alcohol while taking insulin or other diabetes medication, your risk of having low blood sugar may increase.
If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink a day if you are a woman and two drinks a day if you are a man. Avoid sugary mixed drinks. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
Smoking greatly increases your risk of heart disease, eye disease, and blood vessel disease, which are major complications of diabetes. Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do to lower your chances of developing heart and blood vessel disease.
Always see a doctor before starting an exercise program. Your doctor may have good ideas about types of exercise that would be best for you. Exercise is important for people with diabetes because it:
- Helps insulin work better to lower blood sugar
- Helps keep weight down
- Is good for the heart, blood vessels, and lungs
- Gives you more energy
Exercise affects your body's need for sugar. When you exercise, be sure to:
- Have a snack with you in case you get low blood sugar.
- Wear a tag or carry a card that says you have diabetes.
- Eat a snack, such as milk or an apple, before exercising if your blood glucose is less than 100 mg/dL.
- Avoid exercising if your blood sugar is over 300 mg/dL.
- Do not take insulin to lower your blood sugar before exercising. This may result in severe low blood sugar.
If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or poor diabetes control, check with your doctor about whether or not you need a stress test before beginning an exercise program.
If you have nerve damage to your feet, be careful to wear well-fitting shoes and socks to avoid blisters. Talk with your physician and/or podiatrist about your exercise program.
Ramon Martinez, MD
Edited: July 2018