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15 Surprising Tips for Diabetics that Can Help Everyone

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Did you know that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes? Even more frightening, one in four of those individuals are unaware of their condition. Once an individual is diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, it is important that he or she makes lifestyle adjustments to avoid the risk of serious health complications. These healthy lifestyle adjustments for individuals with diabetes can also help non-diabetic people transform their lives and increase overall health and wellness while also helping prevent a variety of health conditions later in life!

Lifestyle tips for diabetics from UnityPoint Clinic

Top 15 Lifestyle Changes From Our Endocrinologists:

1) Eat Slower

Eating your meals slowly allows your body to recognize that it is full faster; therefore, you most likely will eat less while still feeling satisfied after a smaller meal. Since the amount an individual consumes is directly correlated with blood glucose levels, this can be critical for diabetics!

2) Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

Another way to avoid over-consumption is to regulate the portion size of everything you eat. Similar to eating slower, portion control helps individuals recognize how much they’re actually consuming. Knowing the portion size of each food you consume helps you better predict blood glucose levels and allows you to make informed decisions about what and when you need to eat!

3) Drink Plenty of Water

When an individual's blood sugar is high, it takes a lot of water for the high levels of blood sugar to be flushed out and return to a regular level. A basic guideline for adequate water consumption (from the Institute of Medicine) is:

  • About 13 cups of total beverages a day for an average, healthy male adult in a temperate climate
  • About 9 cups of total beverages a day for an average, healthy female

4) Switch to Whole Grains

When a person eats whole grains, his or her body digests them slower than refined grains. This is beneficial in regulating blood sugar and insulin levels because the slower digestion helps keep both blood sugar and insulin lower and more steady.

5) Avoid Smoking and Secondhand Smoke

Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke have many adverse effects on the body, including increasing blood-glucose levels, increased risk of kidney infections, foot and leg infections, as well as nerve and blood vessel damage.

6) Plan Ahead

Start with planning your meals and snacks for the day. Planning ahead (and sticking to your plan) promotes healthy eating, rather than spontaneous decisions to grab a sugar-filled snack. This also makes creating a grocery list easier than ever! Always go to the grocery store with a list and eat a snack before you go to prevent straying from your list because you are hungry.

Our last recommendation for planning ahead is to pack your lunches and snacks for work the night before. If they are ready to grab in the morning, you are more likely to stick to your meal plan and avoid grabbing take out or something on the go.

7) Keep Track of Your Steps

If you wear a pedometer or other wearable technology that records daily steps, it can encourage daily or weekly goal setting. This is especially helpful if you have a sedentary lifestyle or a desk job where you remain still most of the day. Our experts recommend reaching a minimum of 5,000 steps a day; bonus points if you get to 10,000 a day!

8) Treat Your Feet Right

If you have poor circulation in your feet, you may step on something and be unaware that you did. Poor circulation can impede the healing process and cause a small cut or sore can turn into a significant problem.

Start treating your feet right by inspecting your feet daily. This can be easier said than done. Because it’s difficult to check the bottom of your feet, Dr. Kosta Antonopoulos tells his patients to place a mirror on the floor at the side of his or her bed. This way, every morning he or she can easily examine the bottom of his or her feet!

Talk to your doctor about the possibility of using diabetic shoes and compression socks. If you meet the qualifications, your insurance company can cover one pair of diabetic socks and three pairs of inserts per year. Diabetic shoes are specifically designed for diabetics’ comfort. They are wider in the toe box and contoured so there is no rubbing on the toes that could cause problems. Using compression socks can help decrease swelling in the feet and lower legs.

9) Limit Alcohol Consumption

There are many reasons for individuals who are diabetic or watching their blood sugar levels to limit their alcohol intake, including:

  • Low to moderate amounts of alcohol often cause blood glucose levels to rise, but excessive amounts can cause blood glucose levels to drop dangerously low.
  • Various types of alcohol including beer and sweet wines contain high amounts of carbohydrates, which are linked to causing an increase in blood glucose.
  • Alcohol increases hunger levels, which often leads to overeating that should be avoided when attempting to maintain blood sugar levels. 
  • Alcohol is known to interfere with the effect of insulin and oral diabetes medications.

10) Designate Time Every Day for Exercise

Make exercise a priority even if it is a 30-minute walk during your lunch break, or a short walk after work with your family. Setting this time aside allows you to make it a routine part of your day. It is also beneficial to add a light weight training regimen into your workout routine.

11) Think About What You Drink

It is easy to forget to check the calorie, carbohydrate and sugar levels in beverages, but these are just as important as the things you eat! A single can of soda can contain 150 calories, not to mention the high level of sugar. Don’t be fooled by juice either; it is easy to think it is healthy because it comes from fruit, but be sure to check the sugar and calorie count before you decide on a glass of juice.

12) Eat More Nuts (and Protein-Filled Snacks)

Protein-packed snacks are the best kind of snacks! They help keep you full longer so you eat fewer snacks in a day and feel fuller longer in between meals! Protein-packed snacks for you to consider include:

  • nuts
  • low-fat cottage cheese
  • hard boiled eggs
  • peanut butter
  • reduced-fat string cheese
  • edamame
  • chickpeas or hummus
  • nonfat Greek yogurt

13) Get a Full Night’s Sleep

Your body needs proper amounts of rest! We have all heard it before, but it is especially important for individuals who want to regulate their blood sugar. Getting a less than optimal night’s sleep can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate.

14) Use a Support System

Get a little help from a friend! Support systems provide numerous benefits, from having someone to encourage you to having someone to hold you accountable. Individuals who use a support system are more likely to succeed, so encourage your friends and family to be a part of your team and help you reach your goals!

15) Maintain a Consistent Schedule

Consistency is one of the best things you can do for your body. This consistency includes everything from what time you eat to when you sleep and even when you work. Once your body can find a consistent routine and rhythm, it is easier for it to regulate the hormones and blood sugar levels in the body!

Seek Care Early

Diabetes itself isn’t always the problem; most often it is the complications of diabetes that are the most difficult to manage. Since it can be more difficult for a diabetic to heal, something small can turn into a severe infection before you know it. If you are diabetic, it is important to have an established relationship with your doctor and reach out to your provider or his or her team if you have questions or concerns.

This article was originally published on April 21, 2015.