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Issues Surrounding Diabetes

Keeping your diabetes under control is important. If it isn’t kept under control, you may get serious health problems. You could go blind or have kidney failure. So you need to keep your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible. That doesn’t just mean taking your medicine. Eating healthily and staying active can also help keep your blood glucose level near to normal.

Your diet

People with diabetes used to be told to stop eating sugary foods. Now the advice is to eat a low-fat, healthy diet. This means eating regular, well-balanced meals, and eating no more than a certain number of calories each day. Eating the right amounts of healthy foods and keeping your weight in the right range for your height will help you manage your diabetes.

The food pyramid. You need to eat something from each group every day, but eat more of the foods at the bottom

The food pyramid. You need to eat something from each group every day, but eat more of the foods at the bottom

There are six kinds of food that fit into what nutritionists call the food pyramid. They are:

  • Fats, oils and sugary foods (desserts, cakes, biscuits and pastries)
  • Protein (meat, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and beans)
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Starches (bread, grains, pasta, cereal, and potatoes and other starchy vegetables).

It’s important to eat foods from each group every day. By doing this, you will make sure that your body has all the nourishment it needs.

But you should eat more foods from the lower rows than from the top rows.
This means you need to include lots of starchy foods, fruits and vegetables in your diet. And you need to eat fewer sweet foods, fats and proteins.

Below are some tips to help you eat healthily and keep your weight down.

Action points for healthy eating

  • Eat regular meals based on starchy foods such as bread, pasta, chapattis, potatoes, rice and cereals. Choose wholegrain varieties wherever possible.
  • Try and cut down on the fat you eat. Choose low fat dairy foods like skimmed milk and low fat yoghurt. Grill, steam or oven bake instead of frying
  • .

  • Eat more fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least five portions a day.
  • Cut down on sugar and sugary foods. This does not mean you need a sugar-free diet. But use sugar free, low sugar or diet fizzy drinks, as sugary drinks cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly.
  • Use less salt. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. Try flavouring with herbs and spices instead.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. That means two units of alcohol for a woman and three units per day for a man. (A unit is a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer). Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely.
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight will help control your diabetes. Aim to lose weight slowly – 1 pound (500 grams) to 2 pounds (1 kilogram) a week – rather than crash dieting.
  • Don’t be tempted by ‘diabetic’ foods or drinks. They are expensive and unnecessary.

Physical activity

If you haven’t exercised much in the past, starting to make exercise part of your life may seem difficult. You may feel you’re too old to change your habits. But remember that getting started is probably the most difficult part of becoming more active. Physical activity has enormous benefits. It will help keep down the levels of glucose in your blood. It will also help keep your weight down, and it can make you feel great.

Most doctors advise their patients to do some kind of physical activity every day. This doesn’t need to be strenuous. Taking a walk for 30 minutes each day may be all you need to do.

If you do any vigorous physical activity, such as taking an exercise class or playing squash, you may find that your blood glucose level changes quite drastically afterward. See the Action points below for some hints on how to avoid letting blood glucose go too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia) during or after exercise.

Action points for exercising

How to get started exercising

  • Taking a brisk walk in the park each day may be enough to keep you fit and healthy.
  • You may enjoy swimming or joining a fitness class.

How to exercise safely

  • Ask your doctor about what type of exercise is best for you.
  • You should also ask your doctor whether you need to change your medicine when you exercise. Physical activity uses up glucose, so you might need to reduce your medicine or take it later.

How to avoid hypos and high blood glucose when you exercise

  • Check your blood glucose before, during and after you exercise.
  • Wait to start exercising if your blood glucose is more than 15 mmol/l. The term mmol/l stands for millimoles per litre. It’s the way doctors measure your blood glucose.
  • Eat a meal one to three hours before you exercise.
  • If you’re going to be exercising for a long time, have a carbohydrate snack (such as a banana or a sandwich made with brown bread) at least every 30 minutes.
  • Take less insulin than normal or have a snack before you exercise. You can talk about this with your doctor.
  • Inject your insulin into an area of your body that you won’t be using. For example, inject into your stomach if you’re going running.
  • Learn how your body responds to different types of exercise, then adapt your eating and treatment.
  • If you’ve done a lot of exercise, eat more over the next 24 hours. This will help replace the glucose you’ve used up.
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