Your Guide to Understanding Diabetes

Understanding Diabetes

stephanieauthement Nutrition, The Basics

Diabetes has become an epidemic in America. Obesity and being overweight are risk factors for having diabetes, and we’ve seen an increase in both. There are many complications from having uncontrolled diabetes, which includes blindness, kidney issues, and circulatory problems. The good news is that by living a healthy lifestyle and managing diabetes, you can live a longer and happier life with diabetes!

Understanding Diabetes


The easiest way to put this is that diabetes is a condition that affects the way your body converts sugar and starch from food into energy. I’ve often heard that carbohydrates cause diabetes, and that is NOT the case.

Insulin, the hormone produced from the pancreas, isn’t produced or doesn’t function correctly in your body. Because it cannot function correctly, your body cannot control blood glucose levels. If you were a non-diabetic, your body produces enough insulin to absorb glucose into the body, which keeps your blood glucose in a normal range.

For a diabetic, your body cannot control blood glucose levels because of the lack of insulin or the body not able to use the products from carbs, fat, and protein. This simply means that your body can’t put glucose into your body, so your blood accumulates with glucose and makes your blood glucose level continue to rise. If this continues, the extra glucose is eliminated through urine. This is how you can get kidney issues because this causes them to work harder.

There are different types of diabetes: Type I, Type II, and Gestational Diabetes.


This type of diabetes is when your pancreas cannot make insulin. This is an autoimmune disorder. The causes of type I diabetes aren’t clear, but the cells that produce insulin have been destroyed or damaged. A person of any age can develop Type I diabetes. To manage this type of diabetes, daily insulin is given in addition to a healthy eating plan.


This type of diabetes makes up the majority of most cases of diabetes. This is a metabolic disorder. Type II diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t respond to insulin like a person without diabetes. The body is producing insulin, but it simply isn’t enough. Most times, Type II diabetes can be controlled with food choices, weight control, and physical activity! Some people may take glucose-lowering medication or injections to help the body with producing insulin.


This type of diabetes only occurs during pregnancy. This is screened early on and when a woman is around 24 weeks pregnant. This is caused by hormone changes associated with pregnancy. It usually disappears after pregnancy, but having gestational diabetes puts a woman at risk for Type II diabetes later on.


The main goal for managing diabetes is controlling blood glucose levels to get them to normal or near normal levels. Blood sugar naturally rises and falls, which is why watching what you eat is super important! Eating food and drinking juices/soda/milk/alcohol raises your blood glucose while medication and exercise lowers it.


The best advice for someone with diabetes is to eat about the same amount of balanced food, at roughly the same time everyday. You also want to avoid weight gain and add physical activity to your daily life. There isn’t a single eating plan that will work for everyone, the portions of carbohydrates, fat, and protein depends on your height, weight, and age. It also depends on food items that you enjoy.

You want to spread your meals throughout the day and can use the USDA guidelines as a starting point. A great idea is to see a dietitian or certified diabetes educator to come up with an individualized plan to help manage your diabetes.

Using the plate method is another good option. We use this a lot for my daytime job. Half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables.  This would be things like: cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, spinach, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. One quarter should be protein. This is roughly the size of the palm of your hand. This would be things like: lean meats, low-fat cheese, eggs, or tofu. The other quarter should be starchy foods (carbs). This would be things like: beans, rice, pasta, bread, corn, and potatoes. Eating foods high in fiber is also a great idea because it will help keep you full longer and is slow to digest. Some foods high in fiber are beans and whole grain products.

Ultimately, it really comes down to your portioning and timing of foods. There is no single food that is going to help control your diabetes, it is a lifestyle change! To regulate your blood glucose you should eat about the same portion of food at around the same time every day so your blood glucose doesn’t spike high or low. This means that skipping meals is not a good idea because your blood sugar can drop too low. This also isn’t good because it can cause you to overeat whenever you do eat food, which can cause a spike in blood sugar and weight gain.

I hope this helps you out! Let me know if you have any questions!