Living Healthy with Diabetes

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Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you manage your diabetes. It may also improve your critical health numbers, including weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

Managing weight

Being overweight or obese make it hard to manage Type 2 diabetes. It also increases the risk for high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure — risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes. Two ways to help manage weight are to eat healthy and be more physically active. To lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you use up through normal metabolism and physical activity.  

Eating healthy

Making healthy food choices, including controlling portion sizes and reading food labels, is key to maintaining the right weight and preventing or managing diabetes.

With prediabetes or diabetes, you have additional issues with food. For example, it’s important to limit simple carbohydrates that are in foods such as table sugar, cake, soda, candy and jellies. Consuming them can increase blood glucose. 

With so many food options, it can be hard to know which ones are healthy. This chart can help you make the best choices.

Include Limit
Fiber-rich whole grains
(such as oatmeal, barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat and corn)
Sweets and added sugars
(such as table sugars sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups, high-fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, honey, soda, fruit drinks, candy, cake and jellies)
Non-fried fish at least twice per week, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids
(such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel and herring)
Fatty and processed meats
(such as fatty beef and pork, salami and hot dogs)
Chicken or turkey
(white meat without skin)
(Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. An ideal limit is less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.)
Lean meats
(round, sirloin, chuck and loin)
Patients with abnormal cholesterol levels, particularly those with Type 2 diabetes or at risk for heart failure, should be cautious in consuming foods rich in cholesterol.
Fruits and vegetables
(deeply colored such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries)
Partially hydrogenated or trans fats
(banned as a food additive in the U.S. but may still be contained in some hard margarine, shortening, desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and coffee creamer)
Nontropical vegetable oils and margarines
(soft/tub or liquid)
Saturated fats
(contained in dairy products such as butter, whole milk, 2% milk and cheese, fatty meats and poultry, coconut oil and palm oil, hydrogenated oils and foods made with these ingredients).
Fat-free, 1-percent fat and low-fat dairy products Alcohol
(Females should limit to one drink a day; males limit to two drinks a day)
Unsalted nuts, seeds, and legumes  

Keep a food and blood glucose log

By writing down what you eat, when you eat and how it affects your glucose levels, you can track how foods affect your body. Check your blood sugar 1 hour to 1.5 hours after eating to see how your body reacts to various foods.

Healthy eating and a busy lifestyle

Many of us are on the go and don't spend a lot of time at home. But even when your kitchen isn't convenient, eating right should still be a priority. Learn how to prepare healthy meals for the whole family.

With a little forethought, you can properly nourish your body wherever life takes you. Remember these tips for eating on the go:

  • Bring a healthy lunch and snacks to eat throughout the day. This will help you stick to healthy food options and be less tempted by unhealthy ones.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake and stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water handy to drink throughout the day.

Eat healthy on a budget

Check out our Top 10 Tips for making healthy choices without breaking the bank.

Use diabetes-friendly recipes

Our online collection of tasty, diabetes-friendly recipes can satisfy your cravings, whether sweet, savory or somewhere in between.

Regular physical activity

Being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and losing 5% to 10% of your body weight (about 10 to 20 pounds for a 200-pound person) can significantly lower your risk of developing diabetes. And your risk continues to decrease as you lose even more weight. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, physical activity and weight management can help control the disease and minimize negative health consequences.

For good health, healthy adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both. For example, you can meet the recommendation by walking briskly 30 minutes twice during the week and then jogging 20 minutes on two other days. Moderate-intensity aerobic activity is generally equivalent to a brisk walk that raises your heart rate. 

Work with your health care team to customize a plan for you to get moving and get resources about getting active from the American Heart Association.

Other important facets of a healthy lifestyle are:

Quitting smoking

Cigarette smoking is the leading avoidable cause of death in the United States. It's also the most important modifiable cause of premature death.

What people with diabetes should know about smoking

Even for people who don't have diabetes, smoking has serious health implications. Smoking can:

  • Decrease good cholesterol.
  • Temporarily raises blood pressure.
  • Increases the blood clots.
  • Makes it more difficult to exercise.

Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes. If you have diabetes, smoking is even worse because you're:

  • More likely to get nerve damage and kidney disease
  • Three times more likely than nonsmokers to die prematurely of heart disease or stroke
  • More likely to raise your blood sugar level — making it harder to control your diabetes

Get help to quit smoking

Learn how to deal with urges and get resources to kick the habit.

Managing stress

Stress affects people in different ways. It can:

  • Impact emotional well-being.
  • Cause various aches and pains, from headaches to stomach aches.
  • Diminish energy level.
  • Interrupt sleep.
  • Trigger various unhealthy responses, including overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, procrastinating and not sleeping enough.

We can't get rid of stress, but we can deal with it in a healthy way. Find out more about stress management.

Learn how to find a support system.

Download: 7 Tips to Care for Your Heart (PDF)

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Living with Type 2 diabetes?

Get monthly science-based diabetes and heart-healthy tips in your inbox. Know Diabetes by Heart raises awareness that living with Type 2 diabetes increases risk for heart disease and stroke – and that people should talk with their doctor at their next appointment about ways to reduce risk.