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Nutrition and Diabetes FAQs


Get the answers from the American Diabetes Association to frequently asked questions about nutrition and diabetes.

Q: Why do I need to see a dietitian if I have diabetes?

Q: Why do I need to see a dietitian if I have diabetes?

A: Registered dietitians (RDs) have training and expertise in how the body uses food. RDs who understand diabetes can teach you how the food you eat changes your blood glucose level and how to coordinate your diabetes medications and eating. Do you know how many calories you should eat each day? How to cut down on the fat in your meals? How to make eating time more interesting? An RD can help you learn the answers to these, and lots of other questions. Your dietitian will work with you to create a healthy eating plan that includes your favorite foods.

Q: Can diabetics eat foods with sugar in them?

Q: Can diabetics eat foods with sugar in them?

A: For almost every person with diabetes, the answer is yes! Eating a piece of cake made with sugar will raise your blood glucose level. So will eating corn on the cob, a tomato sandwich, or lima beans. The truth is that sugar has gotten a bad reputation. People with diabetes can and do eat sugar. In your body, it becomes glucose, but so do the other foods mentioned above. With sugary foods, the rule is moderation. Eat too much, and 1) you'll send your blood glucose level up higher than you expected; 2) you'll fill up but without the nutrients that come with vegetables and grains; and 3) you'll gain weight. So, don't pass up a slice of birthday cake. Instead, eat a little less bread or potato, and replace it with the cake. Taking a brisk walk to burn some calories is also always helpful.

Q: Why does losing weight help my diabetes?

Q: Why does losing weight help my diabetes?

A: Weight loss helps people with diabetes in two important ways. First, it lowers insulin resistance. This allows your natural insulin (in people with type 2 diabetes) to do a better job lowering blood glucose levels. If you take a diabetes medicine, losing weight lowers blood glucose and may allow you to reduce the amount you're taking, or quit taking it altogether. Second, it improves blood fat and blood pressure levels. People with diabetes are about twice as likely to get cardiovascular disease as most people. Lowering blood fats and blood pressure is a way to reduce that risk.

Q: How can I cut the fat in my diet?

Q: How can I cut the fat in my diet?

A: Here are some beginning hints. See a dietitian for more advice. Stir-fry foods in tiny amounts of oil and lots of seasonings. Choose nonfat or low-fat selections, such as nonfat or 1% milk or low-fat cheese. Keep portion sizes on target. Avoid fried foods - bake, grill, broil, or roast vegetables and meat instead.

Q: Are some fats better than others?

Q: Are some fats better than others?

A: Yes. Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest for your body. Nuts - like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and peanuts - and avocados contain this type of fat. Choose olive or canola oil for cooking. Polyunsaturated fat is the next healthiest fat. This is found in corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and mayonnaise. Use small amounts of foods that contain saturated fats like butter, lard and meat fat, bacon, and shortening. There are lower-fat versions of foods that contain saturated fats, like sour cream and cream cheese. A healthy diet includes only about 30% of calories from fat, with less than 7% of these from saturated fat.

Q: What foods can diabetics eat a lot of?

Q: What foods can diabetics eat a lot of?

A: Forget about eating with abandon. The key to healthy living is moderation. Air-popped popcorn may be low in fat, but it still has calories. And calories count. If you can control the portion sizes of the food you eat, you will be able to eat a wider variety of foods, including your favorites, and still keep your blood sugar in your target range.

Q: What can I do if I overeat over the holidays?

Q: What can I do if I overeat over the holidays?

A: Put on your walking shoes and head for the pavement. Being more active helps lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Physical activity uses up extra sugar in your blood and helps your insulin work better.

Q: Can I use low calorie sweeteners?

Q: Can I use low calorie sweeteners?

A: Low calorie sweeteners are safe for everyone except people with phenylketonuria, who should not use aspartame. Calorie-free sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and acesulfame-K won't increase your blood glucose level. The sugar alcohols - xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol - have some calories and do slightly increase your blood glucose level. Eating too much of any of these can cause gas and diarrhea.

Q: How much weight should I lose each week?

Q: How much weight should I lose each week?

A: Limiting your weight loss to 1/2 to 1 pound a week will keep you healthy, and let you enjoy the foods you love in small amounts. A slow steady weight loss is the key to keeping lost weight off.

Q: Can diabetics drink alcohol?

Q: Can diabetics drink alcohol?

A: Yes, in moderation. Moderation is defined as two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce light beer, or 1-1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. Make sure that your medications don't require avoiding alcohol, and get your doctor's okay.

Q: Isn't glucose control easier if I eat the same things every day?

Q: Isn't glucose control easier if I eat the same things every day?

A: Probably, but this method of blood glucose control isn't very nutritious, not to mention boring. One of the keys to nutrition is eating a variety of foods each day. By checking your blood glucose two hours after starting to eat a meal, you can learn how different foods affect you. Over time, you will be able to predict how foods, and combinations of foods, affect your blood glucose level.

Q: What vitamins will help my diabetes?

Q: What vitamins will help my diabetes?

A: If you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it could be causing problems with your glucose control. For instance, one study found that taking the trace element chromium improved glucose control in subjects who had a chromium deficiency. More studies need to be done. If you choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat each day, and keep your blood sugar close to your target range, you probably don't need to take vitamin supplements because of diabetes.

Q: Are there herbs that will help my diabetes?

Q: Are there herbs that will help my diabetes?

A: Many herbs supposedly have glucose-lowering effects, but there are not enough data on any herb to recommend it for use in people with diabetes. Herbs are not considered food by the Food and Drug Administration and are not tested for quality or content. Therefore, products can be promoted as helping health conditions without having to show evidence of this. Discuss the herbal dietary supplements with your doctor or dietitian before trying them. They may interact poorly with your diabetes medication.

Source: American Diabetes Association


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