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October 1999 Issue
Diet and Diabetes
by Ronda L. Halpin
Table of Contents | Single-page view

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What You Can Do

Treating diabetes is all about keeping food, body and medication in balance, in order to maintain normal blood sugar levels. The following are specific goals of diabetes treatment:

  1. Control the symptoms of high blood sugar.

  2. Achieve a state of physical well-being and reduce the risk of complications.

  3. Reach and maintain a near-normal blood sugar level, between 70 mg/dl and 150 mg/dl.

  4. Achieve a normal long-term blood sugar level as measured by a glycosylated hemoglobin test. This test measures long-term glucose control over 60-120 days; an acceptable measure would be 4-7 percent.

  5. Foster patient responsibility for self-monitoring blood sugar levels.

  6. Achieve and maintain a desirable weight.

  7. Keep up a healthy level of physical activity.

Why so much emphasis on blood sugar in the treatment plan? The Diabetes Control and Complication Trial, a 10-year nationwide study, demonstrated that by keeping blood sugar as close to normal as possible, people with Type I diabetes were able to reduce their risk of serious long-term complications by 50 percent or more.

Although diet does play a critical role in controlling diabetes, it is by no means the only treatment tool available to people with diabetes. A complete diabetes management plan must include all three of the following fundamentals of treatment:

  1. Meal Planning
    To help manage blood sugar levels through meal planning:
    • Select the right foods, while taking weight goals and food preferences into account.
    • Eat the right number of calories to reach or maintain a healthy weight.
    • Schedule meals and snacks appropriately.
    • Time meals in relation to medication times, exercise levels and weight goals.

  2. Physical Activity
    Exercise does much more than help improve overall health for people with diabetes. It also:
    • helps the body use insulin more effectively
    • plays an important part in reaching weight goals
    • preserves and improves muscle tone and strength
    • improves circulation
    • increases lung capacity

  3. Medication
    Treatment of diabetes may include insulin injections or oral medications, depending on the type of diabetes and its severity. For instance:
    • People with Type I diabetes need insulin injections to stay alive.
    • Some people who need injections may be able to use an insulin pump instead.
    • Others with Type II diabetes must take pills to help their body produce more insulin or use insulin more effectively.
    • Still others with Type II diabetes may need insulin injections to control blood sugar levels if they do not produce enough insulin on their own.

Patient self-monitoring of blood sugar levels is an important step in treatment. By using a glucose meter to test blood sugar at specific times of the day, someone with diabetes can tell immediately when to take action to correct a blood sugar level that is too high or too low. Self-monitoring also enables patients to keep thorough, accurate records of blood sugar levels and dietary intake that their doctor and dietitian can use to assess and adjust the treatment plan.

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