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SNAP-Ed NY: Diet and Diabetes, What You Should Know November 1, 2021 | 2:34 PM EDT Learn more about SNAP-Ed NY: Diet and Diabetes, What You Should Know

SNAP-Ed NY: Diet and Diabetes, What You Should Know November is National Diabetes Awareness Month by Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN 

There are 7.3 million people in the United States who aren’t aware they’re living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Untreated diabetes can cause medical complications like nerve damagecardiovascular disease, foot and limb injuries, vision problems and kidney damage. That’s why it is so important to diagnose diabetes early and control blood sugar early in the game to avoid complications.

Diabetes is a group of metabolic disorders that causes your blood glucose (sugar) levels to be higher than it should be, which prevents your body from properly using energy that comes from food and beverages. There are three major types of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system destroys cells within the body that make insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. This type of diabetes often occurs in childhood, although it can occur in young adulthood also. Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes do not make any insulin at all and must inject insulin several times a day to control their blood sugar.

Type 2 Diabetes is a disease that usually begins in middle or older age when the body can’t use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar. With Type 2 Diabetes, the body still makes insulin, but it is not used properly by the cells in the body. This is sometimes called insulin resistance. There are several types of medications used to treat Type 2 Diabetes that help the body to use insulin more efficiently. Type 2 Diabetes medications may come in the form of pills or injectable medications, or a Type 2 diabetic might also inject insulin to help to control their blood sugar. Approximately 95 percent of individuals who have Diabetes have Type 2 Diabetes. Many individuals with Type 2 Diabetes have at least one close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with the disease. The risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes increases with the number of affected family members.

Gestational Diabetes is a condition during pregnancy in which the body doesn’t use insulin properly, similar to Type 2 Diabetes. This form of diabetes is usually treated with dietary changes, and the Type 2 Diabetes usually resolves once the pregnancy has ended. However, individuals who have had Gestational Diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

How is Diabetes diagnosed? The following lab values are used when diagnosing diabetes. You might be diagnosed with diabetes if

  • Your blood glucose after fasting (and before a meal) tests at 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher.
  • Your random blood glucose is 200 mg/dl or higher. A random glucose is taken at any time of the day without regard to when you last ate.
  • You receive a result of 6.5 or higher on the hemoglobin A1C test. The A1C test shows how much glucose has attached to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells over the past three months. If your blood sugar is too high a lot of the time, more sugar will attach to your hemoglobin.
  • You may have prediabetes if your fasting blood glucose is 100 to 125 mg/dL; your random glucose is 140 to 199 mg/dL; or your A1C is in the range of 5.7 to 6.4.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that in the United States 88 million people have prediabetes, and 84 percent don’t know they have it.

What can I do? If you have a history of diabetes in your family, get tested regularly to rule out diabetes or prediabetes. Lifestyle changes can help to improve diabetes or prediabetes once it is diagnosed, or they can help to delay the onset of diabetes or lessen the complications of Diabetes. Here are some things that you can do.

1. Lose extra weight Losing weight reduces the risk of diabetes. People in one large study reduced their risk of developing diabetes by almost 60% after losing approximately 7% of their body weight with changes in exercise and diet.

2. Be more physically active Goals for most adults to promote weight loss and maintain a healthy weight include:

  • Aerobic exercise. Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise — such as brisk walking, swimming, biking, or running most days of the week. Just remember to start slow and work up slowly each week, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. Also remember that if you can’t get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, any exercise is better than nothing!
  • Resistance exercise. Resistance exercise 2 to 3 times a week. Resistance exercise is any exercise that increases your strength, balance, and ability to maintain an active life. Resistance training includes weightlifting, yoga, and calisthenics.
  • Limited inactivity. Breaking up long bouts of inactivity, such as sitting at the computer, can help control blood sugar levels. Take a few minutes to stand, walk around or do some light activity every 30 minutes.

3. Eat healthy plant foods Fiber-rich foods such as plant foods promote weight loss and lower the risk of diabetes. Eat a variety of healthy, fiber-rich foods, which include:

  • Fruits and non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta and bread, whole-grain rice, whole oats, and quinoa

4. Eat healthy fats Unsaturated fats — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — promote healthy blood cholesterol levels and good heart and vascular health. Sources of good fats include:

  • Olive, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and canola oils
  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and cod

Avoid saturated fats like butter, pork and beef fat.

5. Skip fad diets and make healthier choices Model your plate after the and try to

  • Make half your plate fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Fruits with naturally occurring sugar and non-starchy vegetables have less of an effect on your blood sugar and they can help to control your weight by making you feel full longer.
  • Make one-quarter of your plate grains. Make half your grains whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber than their white flour or refined grains counterparts. The fiber can help you feel full longer and it will slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood stream.
  • Make one-quarter of your plate protein-rich foods. Vary your protein routine by including lean meats and fish, and plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans.

If you are already living with diabetes, the above actions can help you to control your blood sugar and lessen the complications of diabetes.

For more information about diabetes, check the American Diabetes Association (ADA) web site at

You can take a risk test for diabetes at

To help people living with diabetes thrive, the ADA provides healthy recipes at and a healthy living newsletter.

You can find healthy recipes that will help your overall diet plan at

Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). She has over 15 years’ experience working as a Registered Dietitian in long term care and acute care settings and currently oversees the NYSOFA SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education program for older adults in New York State. This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For more information on how to save time, save money and eat healthy, visit