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Good nutrition choices can help you treat, and sometimes control, diabetes

Holly R. Layer

By Holly R. Layer – Contributing Reporter

With numbers growing of those diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to raise awareness.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, almost 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, with approximately 28 percent more cases undiagnosed in 2015.

Diabetes is diagnosed when blood sugar levels are greater than or equal to 126 mg/dL after a fasting plasma glucose test. If your blood sugar level is 100-125 mg/dL, you may be diagnosed with what is called "prediabetes."  Being diagnosed with prediabetes does not mean you will develop diabetes, but it does place you at greater risk for both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. You can lower your risk for developing diabetes by losing approximately 5-10 percent of your body weight and doing moderate exercise for 30 minutes five times per week.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1, previously known as "juvenile diabetes," is often diagnosed in childhood and affects only 5 percent of those with the disease. It is caused when the body does not produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. It can be managed through diet and insulin therapy. Type 2 is characterized by "insulin resistance," which can increase until the body does not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar properly. Those who are diagnosed with Type 2 may simply take oral medications to help control their blood sugar, or may need to be on insulin therapy as well.

There is another type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, which is diagnosed around the middle of pregnancy. It does not mean that you had diabetes prior to becoming pregnant, or that you will have diabetes after pregnancy.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated with lifestyle changes including diet and weight loss, as well as oral medications and insulin therapy.  In Type 2, blood sugar accumulates in the bloodstream instead of going into our cells, which need to produce energy, and over time can cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. It’s common for Type 2 diabetes to worsen over time; if you have been managing your disease with diet and activity alone, it’s possible you will need medication or insulin therapy down the road.

How does having diabetes affect diet?

For starters, those with diabetes on insulin therapy must match their carbohydrate intake to their insulin. Carbohydrates are found in grains, legumes, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Servings of carbohydrates are measured in 15-gram increments; you can find the amount of carbohydrate in foods on its nutrition label. The amount of carbohydrate servings someone should eat is based on the amount of calories they should eat in one day. Most people should eat three to four carbohydrate servings per meal, with a few more as snacks throughout the day.

Additionally, pairing carbohydrates with food sources of protein, fat and fiber is important to keep blood sugar from spiking and promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness. For example, instead of eating just an apple, diabetics (this goes for everyone, actually) should add a cheese stick or some nuts to temper their blood sugar rise and stay fuller longer.

Instead of worrying about the amount of carbohydrate in everything, it’s often easiest to start with becoming familiar with the amount of carbohydrate in the foods you most often eat. For example, if you like cottage cheese, bananas, apples, mashed potatoes and a specific brand of sandwich bread, memorize the amounts of those items that correspond to approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate. For most items, it’s one piece of bread or a small roll, ½ a banana or 1 small piece of fruit, ½ cup of cut-up fruit, 1/3 cup of pasta or rice.  If you eat an entire banana, that’s two carbohydrate servings.

Lastly, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fat and exercise.  This goes for everyone, obviously, but even more so for diabetics.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, and can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you begin experiencing increased thirst, headaches, blurred vision, frequent urination, fatigue or weight loss, or receive a blood glucose test higher than 180 mg/dL, be sure to see your doctor.   For more information about how to manage diabetes and your diet, talk to a registered dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).  Go to for a list of local dietitians, or send me an email!

Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and also provides nutritional counseling at Weigel Health Center at SUNY Buffalo State, as well as teaching fitness classes at the Southtowns Family Branch YMCA. She lives in East Aurora with her husband, Andrew, a village native. She blogs at and her work appears monthly in the online version of Refresh. Send her nutrition-related questions at  

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