Expert Advice from a Certified Diabetes Educator
Having diabetes means the body has trouble using glucose (sugar.) Problems begin with insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Normally, after food is eaten, more insulin is produced to allow the sugar to enter the cells, allowing us to use our food as energy. With diabetes, you may not make enough insulin or may not be using insulin effectively, causing the level of sugar in your blood to rise. High blood sugars for long periods of time can cause damage to your eyes, heart, kidneys or nerves. Managing diabetes can prevent these complications. Blood sugar can be controlled by balancing the foods you eat, being active and taking medications that are prescribed by your doctor.
Meal planning can have one of the biggest impacts on managing your blood sugar. The three major nutrients found in food are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the nutrients that raise blood sugar the most. Examples of high carbohydrate food sources are starches such as: bread, pasta, rice, tortillas, cereals, crackers, fruits, fruit juices, milk, yogurt and sweets. Non-starchy vegetables (such as carrots, green beans, broccoli, salad greens) have a small amount of carbohydrate while starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, green peas, corn) have higher amounts of carbohydrate. For optimal blood sugar control, it’s often better to eat smaller amounts of food over five to six meals instead of eating three large meals. While proteins and fats do not affect your blood sugar the same way as carbohydrates, regulating portions of these foods can help with weight management and heart health. Working with a dietitian is a great way to find out which foods would be the best choices for you and how much should be consumed at meals and/or snacks.
Any activity such as yard work, cleaning your house or going for a short walk can help lower blood sugar levels. Activity can boost your body’s use of insulin, assist with weight management and improve heart health. Adults should set a goal for 150 minutes of activity per week. To assist with weight loss, this goal should be increased to 240 to 420 minutes per week. It’s important to start with a lower goal and increase gradually. Adding strength or resistance training to your routine at least twice per week will also help. It’s a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
There are many medications available to assist with managing blood sugar. Each medication works on different parts of the body. Medication may increase insulin sensitivity by preventing the liver from producing too much sugar or by causing carbohydrates to break down more slowly. Some medications are taken orally and others are given by injection. Your doctor can work with you to decide which choice is best for you.
Diabetes is a chronic disease and the responsibility of managing your blood sugar belongs to you; with so much information available it may be difficult to know what fits your lifestyle best to achieve your health goals. Working with a Certified Diabetes Educator can be an invaluable resource to help you understand diabetes management and help you decrease your risk for complications.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. St. Luke’s Hospital will be hosting Diabetes Update: What You Should Know from Head to Toe on Wednesday, November 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. Activities include vendor booths, an opportunity to speak with certified diabetes educators, a cooking demonstration by St. Luke’s executive chef and a panel presentation. To register for this free program, visit StLukes-StL.com or call 314.542.4848.