Diabetes Tips From a Pharmacist

Diabetes is a chronic condition that impacts people’s ability to naturally control their glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar, usually at a young age. Type 2 diabetes occurs when a person’s cells stop responding to insulin, either over a period of time or during pregnancy.  

Q&A With a Hawthorne Pharmacist

Below, one of our own pharmacists offers advice for living a healthy life with diabetes including diet strategies, physical health, and general habits. 

What are healthy habits for people with diabetes? 

  1. Stay up-to-date on your immunizations
    1. Annual flu shot 
    2. COVID booster 
    3. Tetanus every 10 years 
    4. Pneumonia  
    5. Shingles shot for people ≥50 years old 
  2. Schedule follow-up appointments with your doctors
    1. Primary care physician (annual) 
    2. Dentist (6 months) 
    3. Eye doctor (annual) 
  3. Try to increase the amount you exercise. Per the 2023 American Diabetes Association guidelines, you should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise.  
  4. Make healthy food choices! Try and limit your sugar intake to keep your blood sugar and A1c down.  
  5. Take your medications as prescribed. 

What do people not know about managing diabetes? 

When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, they often think they can never have sweets, starchy foods, or carbs. That is not necessarily the case.  

The key is choosing a balanced meal and monitoring your portion sizes. Don’t forget to be patient with yourself—changing your diet can be difficult. It takes time to discover healthy food options you like. 

What should my diet include? 

Maintaining your diet is integral to managing diabetes and lowering A1c. There is no “one-size-fits-all” eating pattern for all people with diabetes. Healthy choices should be individualized based on your preferences.  

Ideally, you want to follow the My Plate Method. This creates a diverse, balanced meal and appropriate portion sizes based on a standard 9-inch plate: 

  • Fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Think of nonstarchy vegetables as your “greens.” This could include brussels sprouts, okra, spinach, and a variety of other choices.  
  • The remaining half of your plate should be split into two. Fill half of this side with your choice of protein such as chicken, fish, or pork (or around 3 ounces, the size of the palm of your hand). The remaining section should include starches or grains, which can be potatoes, rice, or corn. Try to avoid fried foods in these groups. 
  • Finish off your meal with a glass of water or milk. Fruit is also a great option to include in your diet (in moderation to avoid increasing your blood sugar). 

When modifying your diet, make sure to identify healthy food options that you also enjoy eating.  

What foods should I avoid with diabetes? 

Monitoring what you eat helps to manage your diabetes and lower your A1c.  

  • Start by avoiding sweetened beverages. Instead of drinking soda, switch it out for a glass of water.  
  • Examine the nutrition labels before you purchase food to determine how much sugar is added. You want to choose foods low in added sugar.  
  • It is also important to avoid fried foods. Instead of asking for fried chicken, ask if you can get it grilled or broiled for a healthier option.  

What are common mistakes people with type 2 diabetes make? 

People with diabetes often forget to take their medication! This is a common mistake, but is very important to remember. If you have to, set an alarm on your phone to remind you when it is time to take your medication.  

Another common mistake that occurs with people with diabetes is they often do not realize how much diabetes affects their overall health and can lead to serious complications. This is why it is important to keep your follow-up appointments even if you physically feel great. 

What diabetes complications should I watch out for? 

Uncontrolled diabetes may lead to complications like retinopathy, neuropathy, and amputations.  

Retinopathy can lead to vision loss or blindness, which is why it is important to see your eye doctor at least once a year.  

Neuropathy can feel like a burning or tingling sensation which could lead to numbness or loss of sensation. When this occurs, you may not be aware of sores or ulcers that could develop on your feet. Left untreated, these infections could lead to gangrene and amputation. It is important to check your feet at home daily and have your feet checked by a doctor at least once a year.  

Is diabetes reversible? 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body is either not responding to your body’s natural production of insulin, or your body is not making enough insulin. Normally, as you eat, your body breaks down the food into glucose, which your cells need for energy. Insulin is secreted from your pancreas and helps move the glucose into the cells. 

As a person with diabetes, your insulin is no longer helping the cells get their energy; therefore, you have glucose hanging around in your bloodstream causing your A1c to rise. There is no cure for diabetes.  

However, if you take your medications daily as prescribed, choose healthier food options, and exercise regularly, you may be able to lower your A1c. Under guidance from your physician, you may be able to slowly stop taking your diabetic medications once you reach your A1c goal of <7%. This is a conversation you must have with your doctor. 

Hawthorne is Here for You 

Do you have more questions about managing diabetes? Our pharmacists care about taking the time to help you pursue a healthy life. Visit us at one of our locations and speak to one of our local experts today. 

Special thanks to our PGY-1 Community-Based Pharmacy Resident Tate C. Owens, PharmD for contributing to this article.

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