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If you have diabetes, you already know the drill. What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat can send your blood sugar skyrocketing -- or make it plummet. For better or worse, "diet and diabetes" go together like salt and pepper.

So if you need a little motivation to eat better - and who doesn't? - consider this: with diabetes, you're at high risk of the nerve pain and damage called diabetic neuropathy. What can start as a little tingling or numbness in your feet can turn into major problems with walking, working, and leading an active lifestyle. Diabetic neuropathy can also wreak havoc with your digestion, your sexual response, and make it hard to feel normal body sensations - like the signs of plummeting blood sugar or a heart attack.

Fortunately, a balanced diet that helps treat nerve pain is really no different than the standard diet advised by the American Diabetes Association, says Dace L. Trence, MD, an endocrinologist and director of the Diabetes Care Center at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. "The emphasis is really on blood sugar control," she says. "Certainly, if a dietary change might facilitate that, of course, it would be advisable."

Good glucose control can protect the health of your nerves - and may even help prevent diabetic neuropathy, says the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC). You see your doctor only every once in a while, but you eat several times every day. No matter what medications you may be on, your diabetes diet has a constant - and colossal - impact on your health and well-being, with every bite you take.

Tip 1. Eat a Balanced Diet

Why? Remember the good-old food pyramid you learned about back in school? A balanced diet includes a variety of foods: carbohydrates (starches), fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and healthy fats. Eating a balanced diet helps you keep your glucose within target levels, control your weight, and reduce the risk of complications like neuropathy, heart disease, and stroke.

The goal. Step out of any food ruts you're in. Try new foods, and include all of the major food groups in your diabetes diet.

How? The shape of your diet will depend on how active you are, whether you're a man or a woman, and whether you're trying to lose weight. The American Diabetes Association offers these general guidelines, but check with your doctor to fine-tune your specific plan: 

  • Choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages among the basic food groups.

  • Balance calories from foods and beverages with physical activity to manage an ideal body weight.

  • Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.

  • Eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily (for someone eating 2,000 calories)

  • Make at least half the grains you eat whole grains.

  • Decrease saturated fats and trans fatty acids by choosing lean meats and poultry, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

  • Substitute monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils) for saturated and trans fat fats.

  • Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners.

  • Eat less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium.

  • Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men.

  • Regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes for children.


Exercises to Ease Nerve Pain

Simple moves and tips to help you avoid pain and falls.
View slideshow

Know Your Nerve Pain Risk

Is your diabetes putting you at higher risk?