Diabetic? Dieting? They Must Be Carefully Balanced

Grilled steak with fresh vegetables and herbs


Diabetes is a disease that causes a person to have high blood sugar for one of two reasons – either the person produces too small an amount of insulin or the cells within that person’s body fail to respond to the insulin that the body produces.   The three main types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational.  Those who deal with diabetes often deal with the symptoms of frequent urination (polyuria), greater thirst (polydipsia), and greater hunger (polyphagia).

All types of diabetes can be managed with insulin, which first became available in 1921.  Type 2 diabetes can usually be controlled via medications as well.  It is important to note that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are considered chronic conditions, meaning that they normally are not cured.  There have some been attempts at more permanent treatments, including pancreas transplants to treat type 1 and gastric bypass surgery to treat type 2, with varying degrees of success. These extreme treatments are only used in extreme cases though.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a type of diabetes that usually occurs in children and young adults.  It was once known as “juvenile diabetes.”  This type of diabetes is distinguished by the fact that the body ceases to produce insulin.  The hormone insulin is needed in order to utilize sugars for the energy that is needed by the body for normal functioning.  Only about 5% of the total cases of diabetes involve type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is fatal if it is not managed with insulin.  Insulin treatments must be given regularly.  This is usually done via injections, though inhaled insulin and insulin pumps can also be used.  Pancreatic transplants and pancreatic islet cell transplantation are possible long-term solutions for those who have type 1 diabetes, though these transplantatison are considered experimental, since they are  relatively new procedures.

Many people find the injection of insulin very troublesome, but it is necessary as part of treatment to prevent high blood sugar.  If too much insulin is given in a particular instance, blood sugar levels can become very low and the patients can experience periods of unconsciousness and seizures, either of which requires immediate medical attention.  Diabetics also have to worry about having high blood sugar levels, as this can lead to an increasing level of fatigue, as well as long-term damage to their organs.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a type of diabetes that is caused by high blood glucose levels due to the presence of insulin resistance and a deficiency in the ability of the body to use the insulin that is produced.  As with all types of diabetes, patients must constantly measure their blood sugar levels.  In many cases, modifications to diet and exercise routines can keep diabetes in check, but in some cases, medications may be needed to help maintain control of diabetes.

Long-term complications of type 2 diabetes can lead to patients having a higher risk of strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation due to the loss of circulation in the limbs.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a condition that affects women during pregnancy.  It occurs in women who were not previously diagnosed with having diabetes, but who show elevated blood glucose levels during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimester.  This is caused by the placenta releasing a hormone that causes a relative insulin resistance, similar to type 2 diabets. This can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, a condition known as “hyperglycemia.” Gestational diabetes affects about 3-10% of total pregnancies.

Babies who are born to mothers dealing with gestational diabetes can experience several complications, including weighing larger-than-average at birth (this can lead to babies having trouble fitting through the birth canal), having low blood sugar after birth, and having jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).  The best way for women to prevent their babies from dealing with these complications is to make sure that they keep their glucose levels at acceptable levels.

Pregnant women who continue to struggle in controlling their glucose levels when they give birth will have a greater chance of delivering via Caesarean section and of developing type 2 diabetes after delivery.  Their children will have greater chances of being obese in childhood and of dealing with type 2 diabetes themselves later in their lives.

The best way for women to control gestational diabetes and keep it from developing into type 2 diabetes is to modify their exercise routines and diets to promote better health.  A meal plan should limit sweets, include evenly spaced 3 small meals and 3 snacks on a daily basis, and include plenty of fruits, grains and vegetables. 1

Diabetes Must  Be Managed

At one time, type 1 diabetes was a universal killer to those who developed this condition.  Fortunately, the administration of insulin has made the mortality rate of diabetes much lower.  It can be an inconvenience to inject oneself with insulin on a regular basis, but by doing so, along with a proper diet and regular exercise, most people dealing with diabetes can live a mostly normal life with few restrictions.

If you are dieting to lose weight, it’s important manage your diet in a way that complements your diabetes management strategies. For example, diabetics must manage their carbohydrate consumption very carefully. Diabetics should also not skip meals, so the meal plan should include regular small meals and snacks to prevent blood sugar drops and spikes.2 The diet should include whole grain breads, fortified cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables and low glycemic index foods.3

The good news is that some people actually get to the point where they can manage their type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and no longer need insulin.  The other good news is that a diet good for diabetics is also good for weight loss or weight maintenance.


1 How can I take care of myself if I have gestational diabetes? (2011) Retrieved from Womenshealth.gov at www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/diabetes.cfm#j.

2 What I need to know about Eating and Diabetes (2011) Retrieved from National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC): diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/eating_ez/index.aspx

3 Diabetes and Health Eating (2011)  Retrieved from Better Health Channel – Victorian Government Department of Health: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Diabetes_and_healthy_eating


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