Relationship Between Diabetes and Nutrition Complex, But Manageable

Health Minute

The relationship between diabetes and nutrition can seem complex especially for those newly diagnosed with the disease.

Suddenly a person who may have never given much thought to what they were eating is faced with counting calories, considering carbohydrates and carefully planning when they have their meals. It can be an overwhelming feeling, but not something that can’t be conquered with the right education, said Miguel Parilo, MD, with Bull Family Diabetes Center

The relationship between diabetes and nutrition is multifaceted and involves our body’s ability to use carbohydrates, protein, and fat for energy. All of these require insulin, but carbohydrates require a more immediate secretion of insulin soon after it is ingested. Carbohydrates are the major source of blood sugar or glucose, a molecular formula found in the blood that helps the brain and nervous system function properly.

“Our lifestyles, which involve exercise, what and how much we eat, and weight gain affects our need for insulin,” said Dr. Parilo, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “The amount of insulin required depends on these lifestyle factors.”

Starting Points

Nutrition can be a key part of managing diabetes successfully. The following tips can be a starting point for those who want to make a positive impact on their disease:

  • Control caloric intake – It’s important to maintain a healthy weight by watching how many calories are being consumed each day. Women should consume between 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day while men should shoot for 1,500 to 1,800 calories each day.
  • Properly plan meals – Always eat three healthy meals a day that include foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Keep a close count of how many carbohydrates are being consumed and limit snacking between meals, especially at night.
  • Stay consistent – Those with diabetes cannot afford to skip meals and should never replace a well-planned meal for “grazing” throughout the day. Create a structured meal plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner and try to space them evenly. A good rule of thumb is to have each meal about three hours apart from one another. 
  • Avoid convenience – Busy lifestyles can make convenient or fast food tempting, but it is vital that these types of meals or snacks are avoided. Diabetes places individuals at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, which means foods low in saturated fats and sodium are important, but often not found in convenient foods.
  • Consider the controllable – Apart from nutrition, be sure to follow-up with your physician every three to six months in an effort to keep the A1c level (the three-month estimated average glucose reading) below seven percent. Record regular glucose readings at home and take those in for the regular checkups.
  • Find good support – There are many resources available including online information provided by the American Diabetes Association. Local educational classes can also be utilized like the ones offered at Bull Family Diabetes Center. Individuals do not have to be a patient of the practice’s physicians in order to attend.

Those newly diagnosed with diabetes can take a good look at their current eating habits and identify ones that are causing weight gain and high blood sugars and then set a goal to change one of those habits.

“Preferably, we want them to pick one that they can change right now because that is the easiest way to get started,” Dr. Parilo said. “It is when a person is overwhelmed with the diagnosis of diabetes and the thought of restricting their food choices that leads to denial of the disease and poor outcomes.”

For more information on diabetes or Bull Family Diabetes Center, visit www.bullfamilydiabetescenter.com.