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Dieting and Weight Control: Why it is Important for People with Diabetes to Watch What They Eat

About 90 percent of people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight, so it's no surprise that many diabetics are encouraged to lose weight.

For many, that's easier said than done. But a balance of diet and exercise can help do the trick, experts say.

Get off the couch and go to the gym, join a Pilates class, walk the dog, take the stairs. And reach for something healthy when you're hungry instead of empty calories.

"Lifestyle changes can help control your blood pressure as well as your blood glucose and blood lipids (cholesterol) levels," advises the American Diabetes Association. The ADA suggests eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting down on calories and fat, and becoming physically active to help control problems with diabetes as well as hypertension (high blood pressure).

Losing weight, experts say, can have a tremendous impact on a diabetic's ability to keep his or her blood glucose under control. And that is true for a simple reason: The heavier you are, the harder it is to keep your glucose levels under control.

Marian Marcella, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator, encourages diabetics to take a series of steps with their diets to help regulate their blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and, of course, their weight.

She recommends mono-unsaturated fats from foods such as almonds, which can help increase good cholesterol; high-fiber, whole-grain foods-such as whole wheat breads and, instead of regular pasta, the whole wheat variety; some protein, but not too much; milk or soymilk, because calcium is thought to help with weight control and blood pressure levels; and a multi-vitamin supplement.

"People with diabetes need to remember that they still need 40 to 50 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates," says Marcella, who works at the Northern California Diabetes Institute at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, California. "They should not go to a low-carb or no-carb diet."

She says more of the carbohydrates eaten by people with diabetes should be complex carbs, not simple carbs. In other words, you should get your carbohydrates from sources like vegetables and brown rice instead of cakes and cookies.

Consistency also is important. That doesn't mean eating the same thing every day-indeed, Marcella and others say a diet enlivened by variety is very important. But it does mean eating at roughly the same time and similarly sized meals each day.

"Your blood glucose goes up after you eat. If you eat a big lunch one day and a small lunch the next day, your blood glucose levels will change too much," according to information from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.

Eating right and losing weight isn't just important for regulating blood glucose levels, but also for improving levels of blood fat and blood pressure. Lowering those levels, in turn, helps diabetics reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. And since cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death among people with diabetes, reducing the risk is an excellent reason for people with diabetes to start losing weight.

Adapted by Editorial Staff, January, 2005
Last update, August 2008


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