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The basics of diabetes and diet

The number of people living with diabetes has risen dramatically over the past four decades. According to the World Health Organization, between 1980 and 2014, the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million to 422 million.

The dramatic spike in diabetes cases in such a short period of time highlights just how big a threat the disease poses to the health of people across the globe. That makes now a perfect time to learn more about diabetes and what individuals can do to manage their disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease related to how the body produces or utilizes insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or cannot effectively utilize the insulin it produces.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The WHO notes that more than 95% of the people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not use insulin properly, whereas type 1 occurs when the body does not produce insulin.

Can diabetes be managed?

It's important that individuals diagnosed with diabetes recognize that both types 1 and 2 can be managed. The ADA reports that diet and routine exercise are vital to managing type 2 diabetes. The ADA urges people who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes to speak with a registered dietitian nutritionist to find foods that are healthy and help them feel satisfied at the end of a meal. Lingering may compel people to make poor dietary choices that could make their condition worse.

The ADA's "Nutrition Consensus Report," published in 2019, is a comprehensive review of 600 research articles over a five-year span conducted by a panel of scientists, doctors, endocrinologists, diabetes educators and dietitians. That review emphasized the significance of working with an RDN, noting that recommendations about diet for diabetes patients must take factors specific to each individual, including their life circumstances and preferences, into consideration.

The review also noted that each person responds differently to different types of foods and diets, so there is no single diet that will work for all patients. Though there is no 'one-size-fits-all' diet for people with diabetes, the ADA created the Diabetes Plate Method as a simple way to help people with diabetes create healthy meals.

The method urges individuals to fill half their plate with non starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, green beans and salad greens. One-quarter of the plate should be filled with lean proteins such as chicken, lean beef (cuts like chuck, round or sirloin) or fish (salmon, cod, tuna). Plant-based sources of protein also count, and these include beans, lentils, hummus, falafel, edamame and tofu, among other foods. The final quarter of the plate should be reserved for foods that are higher in carbohydrates, such as whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pastas), beans and legumes, or even fruits and dried fruit.

More people than ever before are being diagnosed with diabetes. Diet plays a significant role in managing life with diabetes. More information can be found at


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