Diet Comes First: How to Manage Your Type 2 Diabetes
According to the CDC, more than 30 million Americans currently suffer from diabetes, 90-95 percent of whom have type 2 diabetes. It’s important to understand that medication is not the only treatment for this disease. A healthy diet and physical activity play a significant role in both reversal and prevention.
In support of the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Alert Day®, Stephanie Biggs, RD, LDN, CDE, Director of Nutrition and Diabetes Education at Jefferson Health New Jersey, explains why the first step in prevention or treatment of diabetes is always healthy lifestyle changes, as well as what foods are most beneficial.
“When a patient chooses to rely on their medication, they improve for a while,” said Biggs. “However, over time, their blood sugar slowly progresses. It’s best to implement lifestyle changes when you’re first diagnosed, instead of waiting until you get worse.”
Biggs also noted that 1 in 3 Americans are pre-diabetic, and nearly 90 percent of them have no idea, which is just one reason why it’s so important to have routine blood work done.
“When we see a patient, we do a full diet assessment to understand what they typically consume for lunch, dinner and snacks,” explained Biggs. “While we offer similar tips to certain patients, it’s essential that everyone has an individualized plan. Recommendations vary based on different medications, and whether or not someone is pre-diabetic or newly diagnosed.”
Carbohydrate education is necessary to properly treat diabetes, although this does not mean completely removing carbs from your diet.
“We focus on introducing healthier carbs, as well as portion control (or not eating carbs in isolation),” explained Biggs. “Whole foods, complex carbs and dietary fibers offer a lot of benefits in comparison to refined carbs and simple sugars. Processed snacks, such as potato chips, cereals and cookies, are what really need to be limited.”
“Sugary beverages, such as iced tea, fruit juices and sodas, should also be avoided,” continued Biggs. “If you don’t want water all the time, you can drink anything unsweetened or naturally sweetened.”
It’s important to pair your complex carbs with lean protein and heart-healthy fats too, even if these have less of an effect on blood sugar. Below are a few examples of each:
- Whole foods/complex carbs: fresh fruit; breads made with whole grains; starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash; and beans and lentils.
- Heart-healthy fats: unsalted nuts/seeds; whole eggs; extra virgin olive oil; oily/fatty fishes, such as salmon; olives; and avocados.
“A balanced snack might be an apple with a handful of almonds or some natural peanut butter,” said Biggs. “The apple is a complex carb and a great source of fiber, and the nuts or peanut butter contain healthy fats and lean protein. Instead of drinking a glass of apple juice, which would cause your blood sugar to spike, this snack will help counteract that glycemic effect and help you feel fuller a lot longer.”
In addition to diet, an increase in physical activity, at your own comfort and pace, will help improve your metabolism and aid in weight loss. In order to manage and reverse type 2 diabetes – or prevent it if you’ve been diagnosed pre-diabetic – these healthier choices should become a part of your everyday lifestyle.
“Remember, everyone is different,” said Biggs. “Some patients see results quicker than others; don’t let this ruin your motivation to take control of your health.”