The foods you eat are broken down by the digestive process. The carbohydrates in the foods are broken down into glucose, which your body uses for energy. This glucose enters and is absorbed by the bloodstream. Insulin is released by the pancreas in response to the glucose. The purpose of insulin is to let the glucose into your body's cells so that you have energy. The amount of glucose in the bloodstream is lowered as glucose moves into the cells.
In people with type 2 diabetes, the body is insulin resistant and doesn't produce enough insulin for its needs. The result is that the glucose doesn't get into the body's cells, and instead remains in the bloodstream. That means that there's too much glucose in the bloodstream and too little in the cells to be used for energy.
Continually elevated blood sugar can lead to many diabetes-related complications including:
A dietitian experienced with diabetes can assist you in planning an appropriate eating plan. Generally, the goal is to consume approximately the same amount of carbohydrates in each of your meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar levels as stable as possible throughout the day (proteins, fats, and dairy are all part of a healthy diet but they do not effect blood sugar as much as carbohydrates). Some people find it easier to manage this by having several smaller meals throughout the day.
Stick to a regular schedule of meals and snacks too -- again, this helps to stablize blood sugar, as well as make it easier to manage your food intake with any medications or insulin. Eating too little for the amount of medication or insulin you take can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Eating too much can make your blood sugar spike and cause hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Both conditions can be dangerous.
And finally, watch portion control. Eating more calories than you expend will result in weight gain. Excess weight leads to increased insulin resistance. The Diabetes Food Pyramid is a good starting point to learn which foods are classified as "starches", and to get a feel for appropriate portion sizes.
A regular exercise routine is just as important as making dietary changes. Exercise helps to control blood sugar levels because it helps your body become more sensitive to the effects of insulin. Your muscles also use the glucose for energy while you exercise. As a result, blood sugar levels decrease. Exercising also has other health benefits such as improved circulation, lowered blood pressure, improved cholesterol, and can even improve your mood.
Check with your doctor first before you start an exercise routine. Most exercises are fine to do, but if you have complications as a result of diabetes, your doctor may suggest other alternatives. Exercise on a regular schedule for the most health benefits. A routine will also help you manage your medications or insulin. Check your blood sugar before and after exercise. Become familiar with the signs of hypoglycemia. Talk to your doctor to make sure that dosages for your medication or insulin is appropriate for your activity level and schedule. Recording your glucose readings on log sheets or in a log book is helpful too - it makes it easier to remember how your body reacts to meals, exercise, and medications, plus it's a simple way to show your doctor your blood sugar readings.
You will need to monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure they stay in the target range provided by your doctor. Target ranges will vary depending on your age, any diabetes-related conditions or complications you may have, and whether you are pregnant. A general guideline is:
Your doctor will advise you on how often you need to test your blood sugar. Blood glucose monitors are readily available and will let you do the testing at home. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator for information on choosing a monitor, and make sure that you know how to use it properly. Keep a log of your readings. Mark any diabetes blood sugar levels that are outside of your target range and discuss them with your doctor. Your treatment plan such as medication or insulin dosages may need to be adjusted if your blood glucose levels are repeatedly outside your target range.