With a healthy diet, smart lifestyle and planning, diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down

The Basics

Diabetes, which affects 25.8 million Americans, is a disease in which people have high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels due to the body’s inability to produce or use insulin.

  • Insulin is a hormone that converts the sugars and starches that you eat into glucose, the fuel for your cells.
  • In Type 1 (often called juvenile) diabetes, the body does not produce insulin from birth. With Type 2 diabetes, over time the body either stops producing enough insulin or does not respond properly to insulin (insulin resistance).
  • Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, a risk factor for heart disease, nerve damage, vision loss and other problems.
  • Poor disease management can also lead to low blood sugar, which can cause dizziness, irritability, heart palpitations and confusion.
  • Obesity and physical inactivity are key risk factors for developing diabetes.
  • Diabetes = a consistent fasting blood glucose level higher than 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
  • Prediabetes = a fasting glucose level consistently between 100 and 125 mg/dL.

Whether you have diabetes or have been told you’re prediabetic, knowing the links between risk factors, choices and solutions can help you better manage the disease or prevent it.

Visit diabetes.org or eatright.org for more information on tips for living with diabetes.

Live well by managing your lifestyle, risk


Problem: Missing meals
Risk: Low blood sugar levels lead to nausea, trembling, weakness, headache and other symptoms.
Solution: Eat portion-controlled meals at regular intervals (example: every two to three hours) to maintain your blood sugar levels. Keep healthy snacks with you at all times in case of sudden drops in blood sugar.


Problem: Simple carbohydrates
Risk: Simple carbs like white bread, white rice, candy and sugared soft drinks digest quickly, leading to high blood sugar levels followed by rapid drops that can spark hunger, binge eating and weight gain.
Solution:The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that 55 to 65 percent of your daily calories come from complex, fiber-rich foods that digest slowly, such as oats, barley, brown rice, lentils, dry beans, fruits and vegetables.


Problem: Saturated fat and cholesterol
Risk: Junk food, fast food, deep-fried foods and red meat can raise your already elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.
Solution: Enjoy more foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol: baked or broiled fish, skinless poultry, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Cook with canola, olive, safflower or sunflower oils.




Problem: Obesity
Risk: Being overweight or obese can worsen Type 2 diabetes. Abdominal fat releases hormones and other chemicals that both alter how the body responds to insulin and promote higher levels of fats in the bloodstream. Consuming excessive sugars and fats can also contribute to obesity, setting up a vicious cycle of increasing insulin resistance.
Solution: Make lifestyle changes that will steadily reduce your weight: Control food portions, eat smaller meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism steady and get regular exercise.


Problem: Sedentary lifestyle
Risk: Lack of exercise contributes to obesity, impairs the body’s ability to use insulin and increases the risk of heart disease and hypertension.
Solution: Get moving. The ADA recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, such as walking, gardening or cycling. Physical activity lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels, helps maintain healthy blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity.



Cheating on your diet or getting careless about weight control can lead to higher blood sugar levels and serious long-term health problems.

Work with your physician to develop a disease management plan. It should include:

  • Diet: what to eat, when to eat it, portion sizes
  • Exercise: types of exercise, workout schedule, desired pre- and post-workout glucose levels, always keeping a snack with you in case your blood sugar drops too low
  • Medication: type, dosage, when to take it, how to store it
  • Medical care: wearing a patient ID bracelet, providing your workplace and gym with contact information for your physician
  • Goals: what you want to achieve, whether its preventing diabetes, managing it or getting off insulin

Chrystle Fiedler is an author and health and wellness journalist based in Greenport, N.Y.