Diabetes and Nutrition: Tips for Keeping Blood Sugar In Check
Diabetes is one of the most common metabolic disorders, affecting more than 37.3 million Americans. There’s no cure for diabetes, but you can take steps as a caregiver to reduce your loved one’s risk of more serious health problems, like diabetic neuropathy, slow-healing wounds, and peripheral arterial disease.
One of the easiest ways to do that is by keeping your care recipient’s blood sugar in check. But what exactly does that entail? To help answer some common questions, we recently conducted an email interview with Holly Smidt, RD, LDN, a Clinical Dietician and Licensed Dietician Nutritionist at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
You’ll find our questions and Holly’s answers below. Some responses were lightly edited for clarity:
1) Diabetes affects people of all ages...but children and adults have different needs. Could you please explain how diabetes affects these groups differently?
“Type 1 diabetes is more likely to be diagnosed in children and Type 2 diabetes is more likely to be diagnosed in adults. Each type is managed differently,” said Smidt. “For children, making sure a parent or guardian understands how to manage the disease and administer insulin is important. Some adults can manage type 2 diabetes without any medication, which is why diet and exercise are crucial. Regardless of which type of diabetes someone is diagnosed with, education is important for proper management.”
2) Since you mention education…what are some resources family caregivers can use to educate themselves? Are there any books, websites, or other resources you’d recommend?
“The American Diabetes Association website is a great place to start,” said Smidt. “It provides an overview of Diabetes for patients and loved ones as well as a variety of tools to help patients get the proper care they may require”
3) Outside of education, what are some lifestyle changes someone can make to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications?
“Once you’ve been diagnosed with Diabetes, the best way to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications is getting your blood sugar under control. Uncontrolled blood sugar is the most common reason as to why complications happen,” said Smidt.
She continued, “blood sugar levels can be controlled in a few ways such as:
Eating a balanced diet that consists of lean proteins, colorful vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercising for 150 minutes per week.
Take diabetes medication on time and the appropriate dose. Medication can have a direct effect on blood sugar.
Taking these steps can reduce the risk of diabetics developing cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and neuropathy.”
4) Speaking of diet, are there any foods or beverages people with diabetes should avoid? Is moderation okay? Why or why not?
“Consuming foods and beverages that contain sugar have a direct effect on blood sugar levels,” said Smidt. “Carbohydrates are of particular interest for diabetics. Carbohydrates can be broken down into three categories; starch, sugar, and fiber.”
“Diabetics are encouraged to consume non-processed starches such as whole grains, potatoes and legumes. Fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains all provide fiber which slows digestion and helps with blood sugar maintenance,” said Smidt.
“Candy, cake, regular soda and fruit juice are all refined sugars and should be avoided as much as possible. These items don’t provide nutrition and have a direct link to high blood sugar and obesity.”
5) Outside of nutrition...what else should caretakers focus on? I.e. What can a family caregiver do to help someone with diabetes stay healthy and problem-free?
“The best way for caretakers to help someone with diabetes first and foremost is checking their mental health,” said Smidt. “Diabetes can be an overwhelming disease and it can feel isolating for the person. Check in with your loved one regularly and offer support when necessary.”
“Otherwise, make sure your loved one keeps up with annual visits to the Endocrinologist, Podiatrist, Eye Doctor, Dentist, and any other specialists who are helping manage the disease.”
6) Is there anything else you'd like to add about living with diabetes or caring for someone with diabetes? Please share!
“Having diabetes is life-changing but it doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life,” said Smidt. “Learning about the disease and how to properly manage it can mean the difference in staying healthy or not.”
A HUGE thank you to Holly Smidt, RD, LDN, for taking the time to answer our questions! If you’re interested in reviewing more diabetes-related content, check out the articles linked below.
If you’re a family caregiver for someone with diabetes, and you have questions about compression garments, glucose strips, lancets, or any of the other diabetes-related materials we carry, reach out to our friendly Care Specialists during normal business hours. Call (855) 855-1666 or send an email to email@example.com.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.