Diabetes affects more than 23 million Americans. By far, the most common is type 2 diabetes, and the biggest risk factor for getting type 2 diabetes is being overweight. The good news is that many people with diabetes can live very healthy lives by closely monitoring food intake, staying active, and properly taking prescribed medications.

Diabetes 101

Diabetes is caused by the body either not producing enough insulin or the cells ignoring the insulin that is being produced. When blood sugar (glucose) is not cleared out of the blood to get to the cells where it is needed, it can lead to numerous complications such as blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy and amputations, skin infections, and heart disease.

Eat Light and Often

The best method for controlling blood sugar is eating light and often. When the body is faced with large amounts of food at one time it is unable to efficiently clear out excess glucose. To prevent this, eat smaller meals. To prevent hunger and dips in energy, have a healthful snack between meals.

Sugar and Carbs

It is a myth that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. It is also a myth that diabetics cannot eat sugar. You can eat everything as long as it is in the proper portion and balanced with other food choices.

Carbohydrates are the main concern for diabetics because of their effect on blood sugar. Keep track of total carbohydrates by reading food labels closely. While watching sugars is important, all carbohydrates will raise blood sugar. The type of carbohydrate can affect how quickly blood sugar rises, but it is the total amount that affects levels more than the type. Carbohydrates come in three main forms: sugars, starches, and fiber.

Consult with your physician or a registered dietitian to find out how many calories and carbohydrates you should be eating each day. Most diabetics can eat between 45 and 60 grams of carbs per meal, but the amount can vary greatly based on your body size and activity level.

Sugars in foods come in two forms: those found naturally in food and those added after the fact. Natural sugars include fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. Added sugars can come from a variety of places such as sucrose (table sugar), dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar, just to name a few. All sugars, whether natural or added, raise blood sugar.

What to Eat

Fill your plate with nutritious foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and heart-healthy oils. Fiber is important to help delay how quickly blood sugar rises. Aim for at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

Lean meats, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, low-fat dairy, and eggs all provide protein, which is necessary to build and repair muscles and cells. Choosing the right types of fat from the right kinds of oils, such as canola and olive, can help keep your heart healthy, too.

Living well with diabetes is possible with the right types and portions of food combined with physical activity.

To learn more about managing diabetes, visit the Diabetes Learning Center