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Diabetes is a chronic condition caused by high blood sugar levels. Since diabetes is so closely related to what and how we eat, having a proper diet is essential to the diabetic. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed through medication, diet and proper exercise.

The Main Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as juvenile diabetes) is a condition where the body produces very little or no insulin. It usually develops very rapidly, and newly diagnosed patients need prompt medical care. It is commonly diagnosed in children or young adults and only includes about 5-10% of diabetics. It must be controlled with insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common. In this type of diabetes, the problem is that the body does not produce enough insulin. It often develops slowly, and many diabetics don’t even realize they have the disease. It usually develops during adulthood, but it is becoming more and more common in children. Although there are factors that predispose a person to Type 2 diabetes (many ethnic groups have a higher than normal number of diabetics), it is usually related to obesity, poor diet and a lack of sufficient exercise.

Since it is thought that more than 20 million Americans are diabetic, and an additional 40 million are prediabetic, this is obviously one of the major health issues of our times. And since diabetes can lead to such serious and life threatening conditions as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and the amputation of arms and legs, it is definitely something we all want to take seriously.

Proper Diet for the Diabetic

One of the best resources for the diabetic is a registered dietitian. A dietitian can take all of the various factors into account, such as age, gender, physical condition, etc. Then, by developing a personal eating strategy, they can help design a diet plan that takes personal likes and needs into account. Diabetics can eat many of the foods we all eat. In fact, a varied and balanced diet is essential. People with diabetes simply need to pay closer attention to when, what and how they eat.

Since diabetes is caused by high levels of blood sugar, controlling the type of food we eat is critical. Foods can be broken down into three main types: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is the carbohydrates that are of particular concern, because they are the ones broken down into sugars. Obviously, simple carbohydrates and sugary foods may lead to spikes in blood sugar and should be watched very carefully. However, even complex carbohydrates and whole grain foods are eventually turned into sugars, so carbohydrate counting is an essential skill for the diabetic.

A healthy diabetic diet takes the following factors into account:

* Limit sweets and sugary foods that are turned directly into blood sugar.
* Eat smaller meals, more often, to keep blood sugar regulated so huge spikes don’t occur.
* Watch the amount and timing of carbohydrates you eat. Try to keep each meal balanced.
* Eat a lot of whole grain foods, like whole fruits and vegetables. They are digested more slowly and don’t enter the bloodstream all at once.
* Don’t substitute fat for the carbohydrates. In addition to spikes in blood sugar, obesity will make the disease worse.
* Limit alcohol intake. It’s basically sugar and is rapidly absorbed.

Since they are the foods that cause the elevated blood sugar, much of the effort is related to counting and controlling carbohydrate intake. The recommended goal is that carbohydrate calories should account for about 50% of the meal; somewhere between 40% and 60% is generally considered acceptable. Protein should make up about 20% and the remaining 30% should be healthy fats.

A diet in the range of 1500 to 1800 calories per day is often considered the best range. This helps to lower obesity and then to maintain a healthy weight. Since overweight and poor diet are major contributing factors to diabetes, these guidelines are very important to managing the disease.

Watch the Fat

When you lower carbohydrates, one of the challenges is to also control fat intake. While some fat is essential for good health, make sure to follow these guidelines:

* Limit solid fats, like butter, margarine or shortening.
* Use low fat substitutions where ever possible. Use sugar-free fruit spread instead of butter on your toast, or try topping a baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of butter and sour cream.
* Choose healthier fats like olive or canola oils, or nuts and seeds. You still need to be careful since all fats are high in calories – even the healthy ones.

Diabetes is a major health concern today, With an estimated 60 million Americans either diabetic or prediabetic, it’s likely that diabetes affects someone close to you. Interestingly, none of the above recommendations is extreme or radical. They really just spell out how we all should be eating. A proper diet can go a long way toward controlling, or preventing, diabetes.