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How a 'Diabetes Diet' Protects Your Health

Healthy food can help prevent diabetes complications.
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If you have diabetes, a healthy diet does more than keep your blood sugar under better control. A good diabetes diet can also help prevent or delay the onset of complications such as nerve pain or heart disease.

Although some people talk about a "diabetes diet," there's really no such thing, experts say. The same healthy diet recommended for those without diabetes will help you if you have diabetes, too. You may need to then tailor the meal plan to your specific needs, such as lowering your cholesterol. But the general concepts of healthy eating are the same for you as for someone without diabetes.

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About two years ago, when Anne Tierney learned she had type 2 diabetes, it galvanized her. “My diagnosis came as a shock,” says Tierney, who was then about 40 pounds overweight. “I used to eat chocolate all the time. The day I was diagnosed, I quit.” She also consulted a nutritionist and hired a personal trainer. “I knew I had to take action,” recalls Tierney, 51, director of corporate gifts for Halls Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo. Her action plan was in keeping with the latest research on...

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Here, what you need to know about eating to feel better now -- and for years to come.

The Diabetes Diet Myth

"The diet that used to be termed a diabetes diet is now considered just a healthy diet for all Americans based on the healthy guidelines from the Department of Agriculture," says Ruth S. Pupo, RD, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the East Los Angeles Center for Diabetes at White Memorial Medical Center.

One slight difference when she counsels those with diabetes: "We might encourage them to be more cautious with concentrated sugars like juices, candy, cake," she says.

Diet plans for people with type 2 diabetes are also more individualized than in the past. Such diet plans follow good nutrition, but also take into account the individual's specific dietary needs, says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center, in Baltimore.

One person with diabetes may need to lower cholesterol. Another may need to lower high blood pressure.

"One diet [plan] is not going to work for everyone," she says.

Yet, all are based on the same general concepts proven effective for improving blood sugars and controlling diabetes. Eat a diet that is:

  • Lower in calories
  • Higher in complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grain cereals
  • Lower in saturated fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meat
  • Higher in mono and polyunsaturated fat like olive oil or canola oil   

Although experts disagree somewhat on the "ideal" meal plan details, they agree that spreading your carbohydrates over the day, or counting them carefully, are good ways to maintain blood glucose control.  

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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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