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Take Charge of Your Diabetes

There’s good news for people with diabetes. Studies show that keeping your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) close to normal helps prevent or delay some diabetes problems.

Through careful control, many problems such as eye disease, kidney disease, heart disease, nerve damage, and serious foot problems can be prevented or slowed. People who have type 1 diabetes, as well as people who have type 2 diabetes can also benefit by keeping their blood glucose levels closer to normal.

You can learn more about diabetes and ways to help you control your blood sugar by calling National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) at 1-800-438-5383.

Image of a health fair exhibit booth displaying diabetes information.
You may find that your community supports your efforts to control your diabetes.

Keeping a Balance

Image of a turtle.

As the turtle makes steady progress, so too must those with diabetes continue to maintain healthy lifestyles and stick to daily routines that involve regular exercise, good nutrition, glucose monitoring, and regular visits to health care providers.

To keep your glucose at a healthy level, you need to keep a balance between three important things:

  • What you eat and drink.
  • How much physical activity you do.
  • What diabetes medicine you take (if your doctor has prescribed diabetes pills or insulin).

This book gives you only some of the facts you need. Your health care team can give you more.

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A Few Things About Food

Here are some tips for making healthy eating choices:

  • Eat regular meals. Ask your health care team to help you choose a meal plan. Your dietitian may suggest you eat three meals and a snack or two every day at about the same times. Eating every 4 to 5 hours can help control blood sugar.

  • Eat a variety of foods. Choose a variety of foods to eat so that your body gets the nutrition it needs.

  • Eat less fat. Avoid fried foods. Foods that are baked, broiled, grilled, boiled, or steamed are more healthy to eat. Eat meats that have little fat. When you eat dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, and others), choose those that have little or no fat or cream.

  • Eat less sugar. You may find that eating less sugar helps you control your blood glucose level. Here are some things you can do to eat less sugar:
    • Eat more high-fiber foods, like vegetables, dried beans, fruit, and whole grain breads and cereals.
    • Drink water and other drinks that have no added sugar.
    • Eat fewer foods that have extra sugar, such as cookies, cakes, pastries, candy, brownies, and sugared breakfast cereals.
    • Talk with your health care team about ways to sweeten food and drinks without using sugar.

    Image of a batch of fruits and vegetables.
    Choose to eat a variety of healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables.

    Image of 2 women infront of a food market table displaying squash, beans, and cabbage.
    Ask your market to carry more heart-healthy foods.

See Keeping Track of Your Blood Glucose for more on ways to prevent problems when your blood glucose levels are too high or too low.

  • Eat less salt. Eating less salt may help control your blood pressure. Here are some ways to eat less salt:

    • Use less salt when you prepare foods.
    • Cut down on processed foods, such as foods you buy in cans and jars, pickled foods, lunch meats (“cold cuts”), and snack foods, such as chips.
    • Taste your food first before adding salt. You may not need to add any.
    • Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your food.

  • A word about drinking alcohol: Alcohol can cause health problems, especially for people with diabetes. It adds calories and doesn’t give your body any nutrition. Drinking alcohol may cause dangerous reactions with medicines you take. Your blood glucose can go down too low if you drink beer, wine, or liquor on an empty stomach. If you want to include a drink in your food plan once in a while, ask your health care team how to do so safely.

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A Few Things About Physical Activity

Image of a man jogging.
Brisk walk is an activity almost everyone can do.

  • It's important to be active. Physical activity has many benefits. It can help you control your blood glucose and your weight. Physical activity can help prevent heart and blood flow problems. Many people say they feel better when they get regular exercise.

  • Start with a little. If you haven’t been doing any physical activity, talk to your health care team before you begin. Walking, working in the yard, and dancing are good ways to start. As you become stronger, you can add a few extra minutes to your physical activity. If you feel pain, slow down or stop and wait until it goes away. If the pain comes back, talk with your health care team right away.

  • Do some physical activity every day. It’s better to walk 10 or 20 minutes each day than one hour once a week.

  • Choose an activity you enjoy. Do an activity you really like. The more fun it is, the more likely you will do it each day. It’s also good to exercise with a family member or friend.

If you’re already active now, but want to become more active, talk to your health care team about a safe exercise plan.

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A Few Things About Diabetes Medicine

Image of an insulin bottle.
Be sure you know how and when to take your diabetes medicine.

If you take diabetes pills or insulin injections to control your diabetes, ask your health care provider to explain how these work. It’s important to know how and when to take diabetes medicine. If you take other medicines that are sold with or without a prescription, ask your doctor how these can affect your diabetes control. When you take insulin injections or diabetes pills, your blood glucose levels can get too low. See Keeping Track of Your Blood Glucose for how to prevent levels that are too low or too high.

If you inject insulin, your health care team should be able to tell you

  • How to give yourself injections.
  • When you need to change your insulin dose.

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