Facing a diabetes diagnosis can be stressful, overwhelming and leave people uncertain what foods they should be eating.
People with diabetes still can eat most of their favorite foods if they do so in moderation, says MaryBeth Robinson, a registered dietitian with the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Coastal Bend Health Education Center. She adds that the same eating habits helping control diabetes also will help those at risk for developing diabetes defer it.
Healthy eating starts with getting full on non-starchy vegetables. The habit of having a salad before a meal is an ideal way to get needed nutrients from vegetables and fill up before eating more calorie-rich foods, Robinson says.
People also must learn to limit fattening and carbohydrate-rich foods. It helps to make simple substitutions, such as corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas, or a small baked potato instead of french fries. Eliminating sugary drinks from the diet is also critical, Robinson says, as they can cause blood sugar to spike without adding nutrients.
Many newly diagnosed diabetics don’t understand the basics of carbohydrate counting – a foundation of diabetes management – because they often have only a vague concept of what carbohydrates are, says Manuel Guajardo, a registered nurse with TAMHSC-Coastal Bend Health Education Center. They have heard the term but do not always realize that beans, tortillas, baked potatoes and fruit count as carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates affect blood sugar more than anything else, so they must be monitored closely. Carbohydrate consumption varies for each person, so identifying and tracking it is an important step.
It also helps to get moving – even if activity starts small.
“People don’t have to start out running five miles a day,” Guajardo says. “They can start by walking around the neighborhood for 15 minutes.”
Exercise videos targeted toward diabetics can be a good way to ease into an active lifestyle. There are other ways to increase activity levels without dedicated time for exercise, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away at stores or walking to neighborhood stores instead of driving.
Diabetic patients should aim to see a drop in A1Cs, which measures the average plasma glucose concentration in blood. After intervention, some patients who start a level above a chart-topping 12 come back below prediabetic levels from implementing diet changes and increasing activity.