Diabetic Diets 101

The diabetic diet requires close control of blood glucose levels.
The diabetic diet requires close control of blood glucose levels.
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Diabetes is an increasingly common disease, affecting about 8 percent of Americans -- and nearly a quarter of all Americans older than age 60 [source: CBS]. It's so common that it has made its way into regional dialects; it's known variously as "sugar," "the sugar" and "sugar diabetes" [source: Patrick].

As those nicknames suggest, diabetes affects the body's ability to process dietary sugar. If untreated, it can lead to numerous complications, including blindness, nerve damage, heart and circulation problems, gangrene and amputation of the feet, kidney failure and early death. The good news is that, in many cases, treatment, which usually involves a combination of diet and medication, can greatly reduce the risk of these complications.

There are two types of diabetes. Type I (formerly known as juvenile diabetes) is sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes. That's because Type I patients have to take insulin, either via regular injections or via an insulin pump. Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body process sugar. Type I patients don't make enough insulin on their own.

Type II diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) is almost always a complication of being overweight. Although its causes and treatment are different from those of Type I, its symptoms and complications are highly similar. In type II diabetes, the body stops being able to use its own insulin.

Type II patients may take insulin. They must also change their eating habits. The goal of a diabetic diet is twofold: to get the patient to a healthy weight (thereby reducing the physical causes of diabetes as well as many of its complications) and to regulate blood sugar by regulating the intake of the foods that produce it.

In this article, we'll look more closely at diabetic diets -- what goes into making a diabetic eating plan, which foods you'll need to be careful about, and some tips for sticking to a diabetic diet in our decidedly unhealthful world.