5 Tips to Get Your Diabetes Under Control

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 15, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

Controlling your diabetes is a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly challenge, but the effort is worth it. Right away you'll feel better and have more energy.The payoff? You'll live better longer with less risk of problems from diabetes like heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, even blindness.

The key to managing your diabetes is to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. It sounds tough, but there are simple steps you can follow.

Spot Check Your Sugar

You and your doctor will have set a schedule to test your blood sugar. Add an extra check on top. Maybe at breakfast one day, lunch the next, and so on. It's like popping in unannounced.

"If you're a supervisor and your workers know that you're only going to come once a day to check on them, chances are they're going to be well-behaved during that particular time and the rest of the day you're going to be doing other things," says Sethu Reddy, MD, chief of the adult diabetes section at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "If you spot check, you have a much better sense of how things are going."

Use that information to adjust your eating and exercise to gain even better control if you need to.

Count Carbs

They can quickly send your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride. That's why it's so important to keep track.

Most women need 35-45 grams of carbs per meal while guys need 45-60 grams, says Jessica Crandall, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A cup of rice or pasta is about 45 grams.

To make the most of them, pair your carbs with a protein, like nuts. Opt for high-fiber carbs. Both will slow digestion so you feel full without raising blood sugar.

"Fiber is really important for blood-sugar control, but it's also a Roto-Rooter to clear out cholesterol building in blood vessels," Crandall says.

Good sources of fiber and carbs include whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and dried beans.

Be wary of "no-sugar" products. That doesn't always mean no carbs. Foods that have "sugar alcohols" -- things that usually end in "ol" like xylitol and mannitol -- do contain carbs.

"I typically count them as half the carb," Crandall says. "They may not spike your blood sugar as quickly but they will cause a rise."

Think of Exercise as Medicine

It’s a great way to lower blood sugar, Reddy says, but the effects wear off within a week after you stop.

You need to do it regularly. Try to get 150 minutes a week. You can break that up into smaller chunks, like half an hour a day, 5 days a week. You don’t have to become a gym rat, either. It’s OK to walk, run, or bike. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan before you start.

Physical activity also releases compounds your body makes called endorphins, which boost your mood.

Know Your Numbers

Blood-sugar readings aren’t the only numbers you need to keep track of. Your doctor will also watch your blood pressure and cholesterol.

These numbers will tell you if your health is on track:

  • A1c, which measures blood sugar levels over time. This should be tested at least twice a year.
  • Cholesterol levels, which should be tested at least every 5 years and more often if you have trouble with it.
  • Blood pressure and weight, which will get checked every time you visit the doctor.

Build a Dream Team

Diabetes is a whole-body, whole-person disease and is best treated by a team of experts, headed by you, of course. This can include your doctor along with a nutritionist, dentist, pharmacist, nurse, and others.

"Diabetes is a complex disease. Your doctor can't do it alone," says Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

And don't forget your friends and family. People with social and family support are more likely to stick to their plans.

"There are two parts. There's a health care team but also a home team," Carrasquillo says.

Show Sources


Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, MPH, chief, division of general internal medicine, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

National Diabetes Education Program: "4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life."

American Diabetes Association: "Tight Diabetes Control."

American Diabetes Association: "Checking Your Blood Glucose."

American Diabetes Association: "Checking Your Blood Glucose."

UpToDate: "Patient information: Self-blood glucose monitoring in diabetes mellitus (Beyond the Basics)."

Sethu Reddy, MD, chief, Adult Diabetes Section, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston.

Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Denver.

Joslin Diabetes Center: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?

American Diabetes Association: "Grains and Starchy Vegetables."

University of San Francisco Diabetes Education Online: "Exercise Principles."

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