Meal planning for diabetes does not necessarily mean cutting out all of your favorite foods But rather, it involves eating your favorite foods within the context of a balanced meal and in appropriate portion sizes. By getting a variety of types of food at each meal, you can help your body process the sugar better and take some of the burden off of your organs.
There is no meal plan that will work for everyone, but here are a few helpful tips as you are getting started:
Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables whenever possible. Non-starchy vegetables include options like spinach, carrots, lettuce, greens, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, beets, okra, mushrooms, peppers, celery, and more
Include a high-fiber carbohydrate choice at each meal. These would include whole grains (like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and quinoa), whole pieces of fruit (including the skin), pastas made from chickpeas or other legumes, beans or lentils, etc. If you are looking at a nutrition label, aim for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
Make sure to include a protein source at each meal. Protein helps slow down the digestion of the meal, which slows the impact on your blood sugar. Protein options include animal products like meat, fish, or dairy, as well as plant options like beans, nuts, seeds, and lentils.
*Sometimes your high-fiber carbohydrate and your protein choice may be found within the same food. For example, lentils and beans contain both.
If you struggle to remember which foods fall into which groups, print the handout below for an easy reference guide.
Most people are aware that exercise is good for us. But do you know how it helps with blood sugar management? Exercise is a key tool that you have in your toolbox for keeping your blood sugars in range and preventing long-term complications of diabetes.
Whenever you move your muscles, your body has a greater need for energy than if you were simply sitting on the couch. Guess where your body gets energy from? Sugar (glucose)! So when you exercise, your body is literally just using more of the sugar so it doesn’t stay in your bloodstream.
Although any type or level of exercise can be beneficial, moderate-intensity exercise (ex. fast walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, playing tennis, mowing the lawn, etc.) has been shown to actually improve insulin sensitivity. In other words, your body becomes more efficient at using the sugar for energy. This benefit can last for up to 72 hours from one bout of moderate-intensity exercise. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck!
Below are some helpful tips for incorporating exercise into your routine:
Start small: If you aren’t used to exercising, don’t feel like you have to go all in right away. Start at a level/frequency that feels comfortable for you and build up from there.
Have fun: Try to find a form of exercise that you enjoy! You don’t have to have a gym membership to be active. Activities like gardening, dancing, swimming, and yoga also count as exercise.
Find an exercise buddy: Sometimes exercise can be more enjoyable if you have a friend to do it with. Not to mention the accountability it provides. Try asking a family member or friend to join you in your fitness journey.
For further information and inspiration, check out the following resources:
You may be wondering what stress has to do with blood sugar. We know that chronic stress is not great for our overall health, but did you know that stress can also raise your blood sugar? A consistently high level of stress may be a hidden contributor to your high blood sugar readings.
The body’s reaction to stress is called the “fight or flight” response. Basically, when your body encounters anything that it would consider a threat, this “fight or flight” response is triggered. A bunch of hormones are released, and your body prepares to confront the threat (“fight”) or run away from it (“flight”).
Part of this response involves your liver releasing sugar into your bloodstream to provide you with the energy that you may need. If the threat is physical – encountering a grizzly bear in the woods or being chased by a mugger – you would certainly appreciate that extra energy to help you escape the situation. However, for most of us, our stress is more emotional or mental, and we don’t really need the extra sugar.
So what do we do about stress? We likely can’t eliminate it all together, but we can take steps to reduce our stress level. Consider the following tips:
Remove yourself from the situation: We can’t always eliminate the source of stress, but sometimes walking away for a few minutes to regroup is enough to get our body out of “fight or flight.”
Be proactive with self-care: Take time for yourself on a regular basis. Whether that means doing hobbies that you enjoy, taking a daily walk, or setting personal boundaries, self-care can go a long way toward improving your blood sugars.
Identify a support system: No matter how independent you are, we all need support from time to time. The specific form of support will look different for everyone, but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Examples of support could be family and friends, various healthcare workers, a therapist, or even an online community.
Here is a resource to help you identify and keep track your healthcare support team:
Not everyone needs to check their blood sugars at home. Your doctor will likely be monitoring a number called “hemoglobin A1c” on a regular basis to see how well your diabetes management is working. However, if you want to be able to make adjustments to your meals, exercise, etc. without waiting until your next check-up, monitoring your blood sugars at home can be very helpful.
The tool used to check blood sugar at home is called a glucometer. For step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting tips, check out this handout on glucometer use.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Always wash your hands or use an alcohol swab before poking your finger. This reduces the risk of infection and improves the accuracy of your reading.
Most devices will come with a lancing device that needs a lancet, or needle, to be inserted before it can be used. You will need to insert a new needle each time you check your sugar. The device often needs to be “triggered” before you can press the button to poke your finger.
A strip needs to be inserted into the meter to collect your blood sample. Make sure that your strips are the same brand as your meter, as they do need to be compatible.
The main goal of checking blood sugar at home is to look for patterns or trends. There is no point in checking your sugar several times every day if you don’t know what to do with that information. For more information on strategies for glucometer checks, check out this blog post on checking in pairs.
Short and Long-Term Complications
Diabetes does put you at a higher risk of having complications, both short-term and in the long run. The closer you can keep your numbers to target (through building healthy habits), the lower your risk for complications.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Certain medications, including insulin, can put you at a higher risk of having a low blood sugar. Check out this handout on preventing and treating hypoglycemia for more information.
Because diabetes has the potential to cause many serious complications, it is important to catch and treat any issues early. Other than developing healthy diet and lifestyle habits, one of the best ways to prevent complications is to keep up on health screenings and blood tests. Use the following handout to help stay on track with the recommendations:
There are many different areas of your body that can be involved in elevating your blood sugar, and medications are developed to target these different areas:
The beta cells of the pancreas producing less insulin than they used to
A decrease in gut hormones that control how quickly your stomach empties
Greater breakdown of fat cells, providing extra ingredients for your liver to use to create glucose
The kidneys reabsorbing more of the sugar, instead of excreting it
Muscles struggling to take up the glucose so it can be used for energy
A disconnect in the neurotransmitters that tell your brain that you are hungry or full
The liver putting out more glucose when it is trying to regulate your blood sugar
And the alpha cells of your pancreas producing too much glucagon, a hormone that counteracts insulin and raises blood sugar.
If we try one treatment strategy and it doesn’t work, look at all the other areas we could target! The more we know about the different body processes that cause high blood sugar, the more opportunities we have to treat it effectively.
Check out the links below for detailed information on some of the medication and insulin options available: