Extra weight is a risk factor for developing diabetes. It’s also a risk factor for some of its serious complications, such as heart disease.
It’s easy to get discouraged if you have a lot of weight to lose. But small steps will make a difference. Studies have found that losing even a little weight — just 5 to 15 pounds — can lower blood sugar levels. Losing weight also will improve your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease, and boost the effectiveness of insulin.
8. Be aware of how diabetes can affect pregnancies.
Doctors once told women with diabetes to avoid pregnancy. That’s not true anymore. With good medical care, women with diabetes can have a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby.
The key is good control of blood sugar levels both during and before pregnancy. To prepare, meet with your doctor three to six months before you start trying to conceive. You’ll learn how to have a healthy pregnancy, which means more attention to diet and blood glucose and more adjustments to your treatment.
9. Realize that if you catch the flu, you’re more likely to be sicker from it.
If you have diabetes, you are not more likely to get a cold or flu than the average person. But if you do catch a cold or flu, you are more likely to be sicker. Your blood sugar may rise, and you’re more likely to have complications. People with diabetes are about three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia.
So protect yourself. During cold and flu season, wash your hands more often and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you’re not near a sink. Always make sure to get your flu shot every year, preferably in September, before flu season starts. Make sure you’re up-to-date on your pneumonia shot, too.
10. Aim for no more than a teaspoon of sodium a day.
Cutting down on salt is important for people with diabetes. It can help keep blood pressure under control, protect the kidneys, and lower the risk of heart disease. People with diabetes should aim for about two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt a day. Unfortunately, the average American eats more than three to nine times that amount.
Reducing salt isn’t as simple as taking the salt shaker off the table (although that’s a good idea.) You also need to cut down on processed foods, which tend to be chock full of salt. When cooking, try using herbs to add flavor to your food instead of salt.
11. Watch your fruit intake.
Yes, fruits are a key part of a healthy diet. But fruits do contain carbs — some more than others — and eating too many carbs could cause your blood sugar to get too high. As with any food, pay attention to the amount you’re eating.
In general, opt for smaller pieces of fruit and choose whole fruit over juices. Also, control servings of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, yams, peas, and corn. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to get a good sense of a healthy meal plan for you.
12. Don’t assume what you can and can’t eat.
People with diabetes can eat anything they want — candy, cupcakes, apple pie, or other sweets. As long as your portions are reasonable, there are no forbidden foods. The key is to eat sweets in moderation, plan ahead, and watch your total carbs. For instance, if you want to have a small piece of cake for dessert, compensate by skipping another food with carbs.
Keep in mind that many “diabetic” candies and other sweets, which are sugar-free, still have calories and carbs that can affect your blood sugar. Even if a product is marketed for people with diabetes, never assume it’s safe to eat an unlimited amount.
13. Eat healthy fats.
Reduce unhealthy saturated and trans fats, such as the kinds found in processed foods, but make sure you’re getting enough healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Reducing saturated fats will lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, a serious complication of diabetes.
So swap a handful of almonds — high in healthy fats — for a slice of cheese. Choose salmon instead of a burger. Moderation is still important because even healthy fats are high in calories. Eat too much and you’ll gain weight.
14. Wear comfortable shoes as often as possible.
People with diabetes can develop serious foot problems. Because of nerve damage, they may not feel a blister or sore. Poor blood flow to the feet can make the injury slower to heal and more likely to become infected. Having diabetes can mean you are more prone to infections and can lower your defenses to healing. Wearing worn-out, tight, or poorly made shoes increases the danger.
You don’t necessarily need to buy special orthopedic “diabetes shoes.” But invest in good shoes and sneakers that fit well and have enough room, especially in the toe box. Every night before bed, check your feet for any new sores, blisters, or irritation.
15. Get the A1c test.
In most cases, it’s fine for diabetics to be tested two to four times a year. A1c tests give you key information about your glucose levels beyond regular blood sugar tests and standard fasting tests. Instead of just a snapshot of how you’re doing at a given moment, A1c tests give you an overall picture of your blood sugar control over the past two to three months.
Because they provide a big picture, you don’t need A1c tests all the time. Two to four times a year is the standard. However, it’s best to consult with your doctor first.