Managing Diabetes: What You Should Know

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too high.

When the condition is not managed properly, blood glucose stays elevated, which can lead to kidney damage, limb amputations, and vision loss. 

Although there is no cure yet for diabetes, managing diabetes through lifestyle changes and taking your medication as prescribed can help you stay within your target glucose range and prevent negative health consequences.

This article will discuss how to manage diabetes through diet, exercise, medication, and regularly checking blood sugar to help you live a long, healthy life.

Woman checking blood sugar

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Understanding Diabetes

The foods we eat are broken down and converted to glucose—or sugar—and released into our bloodstream. As the levels of sugar in the blood rise, it signals your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin.

Insulin works to allow sugar in your blood from the food you eat to be used by cells throughout your body for energy. It also allows extra sugar to be stored as energy for future use.

A person with diabetes either cannot make enough insulin, or their body cannot use the insulin it produces, leading to high levels of glucose circulating in the blood.

Over time, high glucose levels in the blood (hyperglycemia) can lead to health problems. It is important to take steps to manage diabetes and control the levels of glucose circulating in the blood to stay healthy.


Managing Blood Sugar

Managing your blood sugar to maintain consistent glucose levels and control high blood sugar levels is one of the most important things that you can do to prevent or delay long-term health problems.

Although medication plays an important role in diabetes management for some, diet and exercise are also key factors in managing blood sugar.

Healthy Diet Plan

What you choose to eat, when you eat, and the amount of food you eat all play an important role in keeping your blood sugar within your target range. While there is no "one size fits all" meal plan for a person with diabetes, eating a well-balanced diet filled with whole, natural foods is important.

Everyone's body responds differently to different foods and diets, so it may take some time to find out what works best for you to help manage your blood sugar.

The key to managing diabetes is eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups.

This includes:

  • Vegetables: Eat more nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, carrots, spinach, zucchini, and bell peppers that are low in carbohydrates. These vegetables do not have as much impact on your blood sugar levels. Limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and green peas that can cause your blood sugar to rise faster than nonstarchy types. 
  • Fruits: Choose fresh, frozen, or canned fruits without any added sugar. Although fruit does contain carbohydrates and counts as a carbohydrate food, it is packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Grains: At least half of your daily grains should come from whole grains such as wheat, oats, and quinoa. Look for wheat bread or whole-grain cereal with at least three grams of fiber per serving.
  • Lean protein: Skinless chicken and turkey, eggs, nuts, chickpeas, beans, and fish are all great sources of lean protein. Keep in mind beans and legumes are good sources of plant-based protein, but they are also fairly high in carbohydrates.
  • Low-fat dairy: Aim to consume low-fat or reduced-fat milk and dairy products. 

The Diabetes Plate Method

The Diabetes Plate Method is considered one of the easiest ways to manage your blood sugar while creating tasty, healthy meals. In short, the plate method helps you control portion sizes without counting carbohydrates or calories.


The Diabetes Plate Method involves taking a nine-inch plate and filling half of it with nonstarchy vegetables. Next, you'll fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein and the remaining quarter of your plate with carbohydrates from whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, fruit, yogurt, or milk. Pair with a zero-calorie or low-calorie beverage to complete your meal.

Counting Carbs

Though it is not always necessary, some find counting carbs or keeping up with the number of carbohydrates eaten each day helpful with managing blood glucose and keeping up with their insulin.

The good news is, there are many different diet plans to help you manage your diabetes. The key is finding what works best for you and your lifestyle. Whether you choose vegetarian, Mediterranean, or low carbohydrate, it's important to eat minimally processed foods and limit foods that can cause spikes in blood sugar.

Foods and Beverages to Limit for Glucose Control

If you have diabetes, you may want to limit these foods:

  • Fried foods
  • Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat
  • Sugary beverages and sports drinks
  • Baked goods
  • Food with added sugar
  • Foods high in salt (sodium)
  • Alcohol

Exercise

Exercise is important for everyone, especially for people with diabetes. Physical activity helps manage diabetes by making your body more sensitive to insulin. It also helps control blood glucose and reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage. 

Moreover, exercise promotes weight loss. If you are overweight, losing about 5% of your total body weight—which is about 10 to 15 pounds in most cases—can make a huge difference in the amount of sugar circulating in your blood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends most healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

This can be accomplished by exercising for at least 30 minutes five days per week. You can also break it up into smaller or longer sessions if needed to fit your lifestyle better.

If you do not enjoy certain exercises, don’t force yourself. Instead, make exercise enjoyable and choose an activity you look forward to.

Examples of Moderate-intensity Exercise

Exercises that are good for managing diabetes include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Swimming
  • Playing sports
  • Hiking
  • Rollerblading
  • Jumping rope

Be sure to check your blood glucose before exercising. If it's below 100 milligrams per deciliter, you may need to have a snack consisting of 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates. This can help prevent your blood sugar from falling too low during exercise.

In contrast, if your blood glucose is above 240 milligrams per deciliter, check your urine for ketones. If ketones are present, do not exercise as this can make your glucose levels rise even higher.

Medication

Some people may manage their diabetes with diet and lifestyle changes combined with oral medications, while others may need insulin, oral medications, or a combination of both.

With type 1 diabetes, you’ll be required to take insulin. However, for type 2 diabetes, there are a wide array of treatment options available.

The main goal of both insulin and oral medications is to lower the glucose circulating in your blood.

It’s important to always take your medications as directed by your healthcare provider and report any problems while using the medicine to your healthcare provider.

If you consider adding a natural supplement to help manage your diabetes, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider beforehand. This will ensure there are no interactions with your current regimen.

Can Oral Diabetes Medications Help Me?

For people with type 2 diabetes, diabetes pills can help manage their condition. However, for oral medications to effectively lower blood sugar, they should be combined with diet and exercise.

Checking Blood Sugar

It’s vital to keep your blood sugar within your target ranges or as close as possible to improve your overall health, boost energy levels, and improve mood.

Checking your blood sugar is the best way to know if your levels are within your target range. 

If your blood sugar is too low, it can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness

If your blood sugar is too high, it can lead to frequent urination, excessive thirst, and the development of other health conditions.

It’s also important to keep a log of your blood sugar. This allows you to keep up with your response to your medications and meal intake. You can also take it with you to your healthcare provider's appointments to help them understand how your current regimen is working.

Recommended Blood Sugar Target

For most nonpregnant people with diabetes, these are the typical glucose targets recommended by the American Diabetes Association:

  • Before meals (preprandial plasma glucose): 80-130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
  • Two hours after the beginning of your meal (postprandial plasma glucose): less than 180 milligrams per deciliter


Working With Your Health Care Team

For people with diabetes, working closely with your healthcare team is vital. Since you are the one who lives with the condition daily, it’s essential to be open and honest with your healthcare team to help develop a plan that is doable for you.

Consider writing down any questions or concerns that may arise between visits to address at your appointments.

Coping

Managing diabetes can cause you to feel overwhelmed. After all, you are continuously having to monitor your blood sugar, watch the foods you eat, be physically active, remember to take medications, and make other decisions about your health throughout the day.

It's important to have a good support system to help you cope. For some, having friends and family to talk to might be enough. However, others may benefit from talking to other people with diabetes or speaking with other health care providers about any negative feelings that persist.

Finding Support

To connect with others who have diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association's online support community.

Summary

Diabetes is a chronic disease that is common in the United States. It’s important to keep glucose within target ranges to prevent health complications associated with consistently elevated glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes requires insulin, but type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed through diet and exercise alone. For some, however, medication may be required even if you make the recommended lifestyle changes. 

A Word From Verywell

A diagnosis of diabetes can be scary. It can be challenging to make exercise and dietary changes to help control your diabetes. It’s important to give yourself grace throughout the process and take small, gradual steps to achieve a long-term solution without depriving yourself.

Over time, your diabetes management plan may change. Your healthcare provider may add or adjust medications to help you feel better. Although this may feel frustrating, at the end of the day it will help you feel your best.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I control my diabetes without medication?

    If you're interested in controlling type 2 diabetes without medication, it's important to closely monitor your blood sugar levels, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. Always speak with your healthcare provider before making any medication changes.

  • How can I reduce my blood sugar immediately?

    The quickest way to reduce blood sugar immediately is by taking fast-acting insulin. One of the best ways to naturally reduce your blood sugar immediately is by exercising.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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