How to battle diabetes with nutrition

November is National Diabetes Month and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chronic disease affects over 37 million people in the U.S. or about 11% of the country’s population. It’s important to understand what diabetes is and how you can help manage the condition with lifestyle modifications and nutrition. 

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a health condition in which your body has difficulty with insulin, the hormone that helps sugar diffuse into your cells. The insulin either is not used properly by your body, or your body simply does not have the ability to produce enough.

Three types of diabetes include:

  1. Type 1 – This is the type of diabetes that occurs as an autoimmune reaction or when your pancreas does not produce insulin. When diagnosed with this type of diabetes, it is likely that you will need daily injections of insulin. Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age. It is less common than type 2 — approximately 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes, but it can be managed.
  2. Type 2 – This is the most prevalent type of diabetes, and risk factors for developing it can be impacted by lifestyle changes. Your pancreas produces insulin, but your body doesn’t respond appropriately – this is known as insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. 
  3. Gestational – Occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after pregnancy. This affects how your body uses sugar, similar to the other types of diabetes. If you have a history of gestational diabetes, it is important to discuss this with your doctor. People with a history of gestational diabetes can have higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Nutrition Tips for Diabetes Management

Taking care of your blood sugar is key to living a normal life with diabetes. Your doctor will support you through this diagnosis and help create a plan to manage your body’s level of blood sugar. Education of this health condition is one of the main ways of staying on top of it. The more you know about diabetes, the better you can take action to prevent complications.

  • If you are managing diabetes, you can still include a variety of foods each day. Protein and fiber help with blood sugar management. Plan meals and snacks that combine high-fiber carbohydrate foods with protein foods to help prevent blood sugar from going up quickly. Try snacks like peanut butter with apple slices or low-fat cottage cheese with a tablespoon of apple butter to enjoy the flavors of fall.
  • Holidays centered around food can be stressful for people with diabetes. Plan some time to focus on friends and family. Celebrate in ways that put less emphasis on sweet treats and more emphasis on being together with family and friends. Go for a family walk after a holiday meal or plan a family and friends game night to enjoy being together with loved ones.
  • There is an increased risk for heart disease for people with diabetes. Reduce your risk by choosing heart-healthy unsaturated fats most often. In dishes that call for butter, try swapping for flavorful, heart-healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil or pumpkin seed oil.

If you’re having a difficult time in dealing with new lifestyle changes that are necessary to cope with diabetes, there’s additional help available. Classes, events, and support groups are available to provide extra support and education. 


Julie Adams, RDN, CDCES, sees patients at UPMC Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center, UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus, 1100 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport. For more information about diabetes and nutrition services, visit UPMC.com/DiabetesNCPA.

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