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8 Lifestyle Changes to Help you Manage Diabetes

Written by 
Karlee Hehemann
Reviewed by 
Katy Brodski-Quigley
Article at a glance
  • What lifestyle choices help manage diabetes?
  • Healthy food choices to improve symptoms of living with diabetes
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Healthy food choices to improve symptoms of living with diabetes

Diabetes management can be supported with a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods. By incorporating these delicious foods into your diet and avoiding those that will spike your levels, you can reduce the risk of complications caused by diabetes. 

To help support healthy blood glucose levels, consider the following food tips:

1. Eat more vitamins, fiber, and mineral-rich foods like fish

Studies find that consuming foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber helps to support your digestive system. There is little science supporting the need for supplements, so it’s recommended to focus on foods as your main source of nutrients. 

2. Enjoy more fruit and vegetables during meals and snacks

While fruit does contain natural sugar, it also provides plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Vegetables are naturally high in fiber, which helps to control glucose levels. Reaching for a plate of fruits and vegetables between meals will provide a balance of nutrition and help prevent spikes in glucose throughout the day. 

3. Choose healthier carbohydrates like whole grains and brown rice

Whole grains are beneficial when managing diabetes because healthy carbohydrates containing fiber help to support a healthy digestive system — which results in lower cholesterol and regular blood glucose levels. Whole grains, brown rice, nuts, seeds, oats, fruits, and vegetables are some examples of healthy carbohydrates. In contrast, processed carbs like white sandwich bread and sugary cereals are high in starch, which increases glucose levels. 

4. Reach for healthier fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil for cooking

Saturated fats found in red meat, butter, cheese, lard, and baked goods increase cholesterol levels in the blood. Unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial alternatives that help to provide sufficient energy for the day. While it’s recommended to limit fat intake, moderate amounts of oil, nuts, and seeds help to support a strong heart.

5. Limit red meat and avoid processed food

Red meat can be a good source of protein, iron, zinc, and B12, but it should still be consumed in limited amounts. Processed meats like bacon, ham, salami, and hot dogs have been linked to cancer-causing agents likely because of the chemicals used while processing the product. When consuming red meat, prioritize options that are unprocessed or consider swapping out for white meat instead. Healthier alternatives include chicken, fish, and turkey.

6. Limit sugary foods and drinks

While fruit juices, smoothies, and other drinks may sound like a healthy option, they’re often made with added sugars. Instead, reach for juices with no added sugar or homemade smoothies so you can manage the ingredients. For a soda alternative, consider sparkling flavored waters for a refreshing experience without the risk of spiking glucose.

7. Limit alcohol consumption

Frequently drinking alcohol is not recommended for people with diabetes. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, especially if you’re taking diabetes medication. It’s recommended to limit alcoholic beverages to a few drinks per week. This helps to avoid binge drinking and additional caloric intake that may lead to increased blood sugar.

8. Avoid processed food marketed as healthy”

Always read the ingredients label — even when food items are advertised as being healthy”, low fat”, or low sugar”. Processed foods are sometimes disguised as healthy by removing sugar and fats, but replacing them with additives and chemicals. A good rule of thumb is to only eat foods when you can understand all the words listed in the ingredients description. Instead, try reaching for whole ingredients to create a balanced meal. Preparing your meals and planning your snacks ahead of time can also help keep your health goals on track. 

Physical activities for beginners self-managing diabetes

Along with a healthy diet, staying active is a great way to help take control of your diabetes. Raising your heart rate for at least 150 minutes a week through moderate or intense activity is recommended for most adults. This can be easily accomplished with short intervals of just 10 minutes of exercise throughout your day. Gentle activities like walking, yoga, and tai chi are great exercise options for beginners who have diabetes. You can then move on to more intensive training like running, biking, and weight training if you want to. These simple exercises can help you maintain a healthy weight and gain muscle mass, which is proven to encourage regular blood sugar levels.

Living with diabetes shouldn’t limit your life. Adopting healthy routines like daily walks and choosing nutritious foods are examples of simple changes you can include daily that will help to support healthy blood glucose levels. If you’re having trouble planning the best routine for your daily life, consult your PCP who will help find a personalized approach that works for you.

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