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Expert Q&A: A Healthy Diet for Type 2 Diabetes

An interview with Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD.

Can people with diabetes drink alcohol?

Yes. Generally, the recommendations for people with diabetes are the same as they are for everyone else. For women it's one drink a day, for men it's two. However, the amount of alcohol you drink -- and whether you drink alcohol at all -- should be affected by how you manage your condition, what medications you're on, and your overall health.

One precaution: some diabetes medications can increase the risk of hypoglycemia when you're drinking alcohol. So if you're at higher risk of hypoglycemia, practice caution.

What impact does physical activity have on type 2 and prediabetes? How much and what types of exercise are recommended?

Physical activity is crucial for people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. It helps lower blood pressure and boost levels of good HDL cholesterol, which reduce your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. It lowers blood glucose and decreases insulin resistance. Studies show that while exercise doesn't help much with weight loss, it's critically important for maintaining weight loss.

As for what and how much, start with small steps -- literally! Walking is easy. Find time to walk a few times a week for 20 minutes. Work your way up to 30 minutes five times a week. You need to find physical activities that you enjoy, since you need to incorporate them into your life permanently. Using weights and resistance training can be a good idea too. The higher the percentage of muscle and the lower the percentage of fat in your body, the better your insulin sensitivity.

Do you have any other tips on successful weight loss and control for people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes?

If you're thinking about losing weight, the first thing you need to do is assess whether you're really ready to make some big, permanent changes. If you are, start by looking at what you're doing now. What are you eating and how much physical activity do you get? Do some self-monitoring. Then once you have a sense, target specific things you want to change. Don't try to fix your whole life at once. You've got to focus on small changes to what you're doing now.

You also need some support. As a dietitian (and person who works hard to manage my weight) I know how hard it is to follow a healthy eating plan and be physically active day after day. So, it's my belief that if people are going to be successful in maintaining weight loss, they need to be connected and supported. For people who are comfortable online, I think the most cost-effective and efficient approach is joining an online program that fits your needs. Today there are a variety of them, from Weight Watchers to Vtrim to the Cardiometabolic Support Network.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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