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Treating Diabetes with Food & Physical Activity

What, how much and when you eat are all important in keeping your blood glucose level in range.
When you have diabetes, nutrition and physical activity become important parts of a healthy lifestyle.
Eating well and being physically active constantly can help you keep your blood glucose level, blood pressure, and cholesterol in the target ranges, lose weight or stay at a healthy weight, prevent or delay diabetes problems and have more energy.

What can I eat if I have diabetes?
• Vegetables: non-starchy veggies: broccoli, carrots, greens, peppers, and tomatoes and starchy veggies: potatoes, corn, and green peas
• Fruits: oranges, melon, berries, apples, bananas, and grapes
• Grains: wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, and quinoa (for ex: bread, pasta, cereal).
Note that at least half of your grains for the day should be whole grains.
• Proteins: lean meat, chicken or turkey without the skin, fish, eggs, nuts and peanuts, dried beans and certain peas (such as chickpeas), meat substitutes (such as tofu)
• Dairy (low fat or 0 fat): milk, yogurt and cheese
• Heart-healthy Fats: oils that are liquid at room temperature (such as canola and olive oil), nuts and seeds, fish (such as salmon and tuna) and avocado. Instead of butter, cream, shortening, lard or margarine, use oils when cooking food.

What foods & drinks should I avoid if I have diabetes?
• Fried foods and foods high in saturated fat and trans fat
• Foods high in salt
• Sweets like candy, ice cream, baked goods
• Beverages with added sugars like juice, regular soda, and regular sports or energy drinks
-Drink water instead of sweetened beverages.
-Consider using a sugar substitute in your coffee or tea.

What about alcohol?
Women: not more than 1 drink/day
Men: 2 drinks/day
• Alcohol can make your blood glucose level drop too low if you use insulin or diabetes medicines that increase the amount of insulin your body makes which is very common if you haven’t eaten in a while.
• It’s recommendable to eat some food when you drink alcohol.

When should I eat if I have diabetes?
• Some diabetic people need to eat at about the same time each day.
• Other diabetics can be more flexible with the timing of their meals.
• Depending on your medications or insulin, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day, or else your blood glucose level can drop too low.
• You need to know when you should eat and whether you should eat before and after physical activity.

What about quantities?
2 common ways to plan how much to eat if you have diabetes are the plate method and carbohydrate counting:

Plate method:
• Helps you control your portion sizes without counting calories
• Shows the quantity of each food group you should eat
• Works best for lunch and dinner

To prepare your plate, you need to:
-Put non-starchy vegetables on half of the plate.
-Put a meat or other protein source on one-fourth of the plate.
-Put a grain or other starch source on the last one-fourth.
-You also may eat a small bowl of fruit or a piece of fruit, and drink a small glass of milk as included in your meal plan.

Carbohydrate counting:
• Helps you keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat and drink each day
• Helps you manage your blood glucose level
• Helps you know how much insulin to take (if you take insulin)

Most carbs come from starches, fruits, milk, and sweets.
Try to avoid carbs with added sugars or those with refined grains, such as white bread and white rice. Instead, eat carbs from fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or nonfat milk.
The amount of carbs in foods is measured in grams. To count carb grams in what you eat, you’ll need to:
-Learn which foods have carbohydrates.
-Read the Nutrition Facts food label, or learn to estimate the number of grams of carbohydrate in the foods you eat.
-Add the grams of carbohydrate from each food you eat to get your total for each meal and for the day.

Why is physical activity important?
• lowers blood glucose levels
• lowers blood pressure
• improves blood flow
• burns extra calories
• improves your mood
• helps to sleep better
-Even small amounts of physical activity can help.
-Aim for at least 30 min of moderate or vigorous physical activity 5 days/week.
-Aim for 60 min of physical activity 5 days/week if you want to lose weight.

How can I be physically active in a safe method if I have diabetes?
• Decide the best time of day for you to do physical activity based on your daily schedule, meal plan, and medications.
• Make sure you drink enough water before, during & after physical activity.
• Prevent low blood glucose (Hypoglycemia): It can occur after a long intense workout or if you have skipped a meal before being active.
• Prevent high blood glucose (Hyperglycemia) if you have type 1 diabetes: It can occur due to vigorous physical activity.
• Take care of your feet because of poor blood flow and nerve damage that can result from high blood glucose levels; wear comfortable and supportive shoes.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon


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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian