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Diabetes: Lower Your Heart Disease Risk - Topic Overview

It's true—diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. That means your risks of heart attack and stroke are higher when you have diabetes. Diabetes is plenty to keep up with as it is. That explains why dealing with both heart risk and diabetes can seem like too much all at once.

But it's also true that good heart-health care has a lot in common with good diabetes care.

  • Most healthy choices that help control your diabetes also help your heart.
  • Add a few heart-healthy habits, and you'll lower your heart disease risk.

How are heart disease and diabetes connected?

When you have diabetes, there are times when you have a higher-than-normal level of sugar in your blood. High blood sugar can damage the walls of your arteries. This damage can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. The plaque buildup can narrow and even block your arteries.

Your risk of having heart disease is even higher if you have:

  • High blood pressure, which pushes blood through the arteries with too much force. Over time, this damages the walls of the arteries.
  • High cholesterol, which plays a key part in the buildup of plaque inside the artery walls, making them narrow.
  • Kidney damage, which shares many of the risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol).

How can you lower your heart disease risk?

You can lower your heart disease risk by:

  • Keeping your cholesterol numbers at healthy levels.
  • Controlling your blood sugar.
  • Lowering your blood pressure if it's high.
  • Not smoking.

This isn't as hard as it might sound. Many of the same healthy habits help control your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.

You're probably already doing more for your heart than you think.

Eat wisely

Plan your foods with diabetes in mind. Then think heart-healthy, and make changes if needed.

  • Start with your carbs.
    • Try to eat about the same amount of carbohydrate throughout the day. This helps keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
    • Use your favorite way to balance your carbs. Do you prefer carb counting or the plate format slideshow.gif?
  • Add a heart-healthy focus.
    • Choose foods that are high in fiber and low in cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, and salt. That means fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat meats and dairy.
    • Cook with oil instead of butter.
    • Limit salty, processed foods such as crackers, chips, cookies, and canned soups.
    • If you need food tips that are healthy for both your heart and your diabetes, work with a registered dietitian.

You can choose from several heart-healthy eating plans(What is a PDF document?) to help control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

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