In 2015, according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 30 million Americans had diabetes. That’s close to 10 percent of the population. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, and it’s increasingly prevalent in children. Being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle are contributing factors.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetics have plenty of insulin, but their bodies don’t use it effectively.
Fortunately, type 2 diabetes can be managed with simple lifestyle changes, medications or both. Even if you’ve been diagnosed, you have every reason to look forward to a long, fulfilling life.
Staying active helps to control blood sugar levels and prevent serious long-term problems. Start a fitness routine to ward off nerve pain, kidney disease, and blocked arteries. Getting to a healthy weight is an added perk.
Here are some important guidelines:
- Talk over your exercise plan with your doctor before you begin.
- Start slowly to build stamina, and gradually increase the frequency and difficulty of your routine.
- Stay hydrated, and keep healthy snacks within reach.
- Stay in a safe blood sugar range by checking levels before and after you exercise.
- Stretch before and after every workout.
Try to work up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. This is more manageable if you think of it in terms of day-to-day activities like walking the dog or vacuuming the rugs.
These exercises are especially good for type 2 diabetics:
- Walking, jogging, or running.
- Weight training.
- Tai chi.
- Stationary bicycling.
There’s no need to deprive yourself. You can enjoy a wide range of healthful, delicious foods. Carbohydrates, proteins, and even fats are on the menu. Eating well is a matter of balance. The idea is to combine foods in a way that keeps blood sugar levels consistent. Preventing dangerous spikes and drops will keep symptoms at bay.
It’s helpful to know how various foods affect blood sugar.
The carbs found in grains, pasta, bread, starchy vegetables, milk, and fruit elevate blood sugar because they’re quickly broken down into glucose. Carbs impact blood sugar more than any other foods, so monitor portions to keep track of your intake.
Proteins and fats don’t directly impact blood sugar, so they’re fine to eat in moderation. Nutritionists recommend filling half your plate with low-starch vegetables. Whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and fresh fruit fill out the other half.
Think fresh, and avoid processed or refined foods. Breakfast cereals, granola bars, crackers, chips, meal kits, frozen dinners, soups, salad dressings, and a host of other processed foods have far more salt or sugar than you would add to fresh foods.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for each food group:
Choose turkey, chicken breasts, eggs, and a variety of fish. These are low in saturated fats. Certain fish, such as salmon, contain omega-3 fats for boosting heart health. You needn’t swear off red meat or dark chicken meat altogether, but they’re loaded with saturated fats. Eat them only rarely.
If you’re vegetarian, beans, lentils, and nuts are ideal sources of protein and good fats.
Hot dogs and processed deli meats are off the charts in sodium and unhealthy fat. Since type 2 diabetics are susceptible to heart attack and stroke, foods that raise blood pressure are off limits.
Eat whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, and English muffins. Brown or wild rice, quinoa, barley, and oatmeal also contain beneficial fiber for good digestion. Blood sugar will rise slowly and steadily rather than spike.
Anything made with refined white flour, like white bread, white pasta, white rice, white bagels and pastries, acts like sugar and interferes with glucose during digestion.
Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt is your best bet. It has just six to eight grams of carbs per serving. Low-fat milk and low-fat, unprocessed cheeses are fine.
Protect your cardiovascular health by avoiding full-fat dairy products. Packaged chocolate milk may be the most harmful choice in the dairy case.
Stick to dark greens, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. They’re low in starchy carbs and rich in nutrients and fiber.
Starchy, carb-loaded vegetables, such as corn, potatoes, and peas, should be eaten in moderation.
Fresh fruit and berries will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing antioxidants and fiber. Stock up on grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupes, and peaches.
Jams, jellies, sweetened applesauce, dehydrated fruits, and fruits canned in syrup are high in concentrated sugar. Fruit juices are also sugary, and they don’t provide much nutrition.
The fats in almonds, walnuts, pecans, avocados, and sunflower oil promote heart health by lowering bad cholesterol. Good fats also help the body absorb vitamins A, D, and E.
Saturated fats should not comprise more than 10 percent of your daily diet. The term “hydrogenated fats” on processed-food labels equates to trans fats. They’re horrible for you.
Common-sense don’ts includes gravy, fried food, syrup, and full-fat, processed cheese. Butter is better for you than margarine, but use it very sparingly.
There is growing interest in dietary supplements for treatment of type 2 diabetes. These have shown promising results:
Early studies have indicated that aloe vera may aid digestion, lower blood sugar levels, raise insulin levels, and relieve symptoms.
This fragrant, spicy substitute for sugar seems to have a positive impact on blood sugar, insulin, and antioxidant levels. It may also help regulate blood pressure.
Bitter melon is a medicinal fruit that’s been used for centuries in Asia. In experiments with type 2 diabetics, the seeds reduced blood sugar levels in 86 percent of the subjects.
Some supplements interact with medications, so be sure to consult your doctor.
Common Treatment Options
If a healthy diet, exercise, and supplemental remedies aren’t fully effective, you may need medications to help you hit targeted blood sugar levels. Here are some examples:
This is the most commonly prescribed drug. It lowers glucose production in the liver and helps your body use insulin more efficiently.
This drug boosts insulin secretion.
Meglitinides also stimulate insulin secretion, but they’re faster-acting in the body, and the duration of their effectiveness is shorter.
Insulin has shown benefits for some type 2 diabetics, so doctors are recommending it more often. In long-lasting form, one injection works for up to a full week. However, many patients complain of harsh side effects. There is an insulin inhaler on the market, but dosage requirements make it somewhat impractical.
SGLT2 inhibitors are the newest drugs on the market. They keep your kidneys from reabsorbing sugar into the blood; sugar is simply excreted in urine. Scientists are also investigating an obesity medication called Lorcaserin. Not only does it regulate how hungry you feel, but it prompts the brain to reduce glucose levels and increase sensitivity to insulin.
Pharmaceutical companies have around 475 other drugs in early stages of research.
Until a cure is found, getting plenty of exercise, eating better and following your doctor’s orders will improve your quality of life.