Diabetes Education

Diabetes Treatments
Diabetes control through treatment and good self management

How diabetes is treated depends on varying factors. The type of diabetes a person is diagnosed with, the progression of the disease prior to diagnosis and accompanying complications will factor into the treatment equation early on. Living with diabetes is a matter of learning to control blood sugar levels through lifestyle and medication. The basics of diabetes treatment are the same for all patients once baseline sugar levels are determined and target sugar levels are in control.

Two things are basic to treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes: 1) Maintaining a healthy diet and physical activity are key basic steps, and 2) Testing to monitor blood glucose levels, so adjustments can be made to diet and exercise when called for. In addition, insulin therapy may be required. Insulin injections are a necessity for type 1 diabetes patients, and may or may not be needed to treat patients with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes patients may take additional oral medications (with or without insulin) to help control blood glucose levels at target rates or they may control their blood sugar with meal planning and exercise only.


People with diabetes require no more special diet than the average person who eats healthy. Advancements in the understanding of diabetes have revealed that while a healthy diet is vastly beneficial to people living with diabetes, there are no special diet foods required by diabetics. What is healthy for anyone is healthy eating for people with diabetes.

The difference in diet for a person with diabetes is creating a consistent diet routine, balancing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in particular. Carbohydrates turn to sugar in the blood, so limiting carbohydrates and being aware of carbohydrate intake is essential to good diabetes control.
Follow these tips for developing a healthy diet to aide in diabetes control.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods including fruit, vegetables, meat and proteins (nuts, dairy, grains).
  • Choose foods high in fiber.
  • Moderate portion sizes according to your meal plan. Learn to recognize portion sizes at a glance (for example, 1 cup of cooked rice is the size of your fist).
  • Eat smaller snacks and meals more frequently throughout the day (especially for women with gestational diabetes).
  • Do not miss meals or your blood sugar will fluctuate.
  • Be consistent in meal times, snack time, and portion sizes. This makes blood sugar levels more consistent and predictable.
  • Choose leaner protein like fish, shellfish, poultry and lean meats.
  • Choose unsaturated fat found in nuts, nut butters, olive or canola oil and avocado.
  • Limit intake of table sugars (it is no longer held that diabetics cannot have any sugar; rather, sugars must be moderated and factored into a healthy diet plan).
  • Understand labels on 'sugar-free', 'no-sugar added', and artificially sweetened products.
  • Seeking the counsel of a registered dietitian who will assist you with a practical plan to guide you toward the best blood sugar and diabetes control. You will benefit dramatically from educational information provided by doctors and educators while you learn how to read labels and learn the differences between foods and their components, healthy or otherwise.

Don’t know what to cook? Get healthy diabetic cooking tips and browse our diabetic recipes.


The benefits of exercise for people with diabetes are many, and are not entirely different from the benefits enjoyed by those who do not have diabetes. It is beneficial in the short-term and the long-term. Short-term benefits are such that glucose is lowered due to the energy expended or used during the time of exercise. Long-term benefits are such that your insulin works more efficiently.

For diabetics, exercise helps improve the body's ability to use insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes with low or poorly functioning natural insulin can increase their body's ability to access the insulin they do have and improve overall blood sugar levels.

Additionally, physical activity and exercise decrease body fat. Lower amounts of body fat increase the body's sensitivity to insulin, improving the function of insulin whether natural or injected. Other benefits of exercise for diabetes patients include improved muscle strength, bone density, higher energy levels, and improved circulation. Coincidentally, cholesterol levels are positively affected, another complicating risk enhanced by diabetes. As many of the complications of diabetes are directly attributed to poor circulation and hardening blood vessels and arteries, exercising to improve these factors overall contributes to longevity and quality of life.

While exercise is an essential component in maintaining diabetes, it is important to get educated about how the body works and reacts to physical activity. Continuous moderate exercise improves sugar consumption and results in lowered glucose levels. Short, strenuous activity on the other hand, can trigger stress responses and increase glucose levels. There are also times when glucose levels may be high and exercising could contribute to the problem.

For these reasons, regular exercise regiments and limitations need to be discussed and planned with the help of a treating physician and diabetes educator. Staying well hydrated and monitoring sugar levels before and after exercise are important. Careful record keeping of sugar results help plan appropriate exercise routines, while predicting when a particular activity may necessitate meal or insulin adjustments.


People living with diabetes may require daily insulin therapy. This will depend on the type of diabetes a person has and how well their body is able to process insulin .
There are different kinds of insulin , but all serve the same basic purpose. Insulin is a blood hormone that is needed to move blood sugar into cells where it is used as fuel energy. Without insulin, sugars remain in the bloodstream and cause a variety of physical complications. When a person with diabetes either does not produce insulin or cannot use their own, insulin must be injected to continue the job of sugar processing.

Insulin may be rapid-acting, short acting, intermediate, long-acting, or pre-mixed. Which insulin is taken is determined by factors such as how the individual patient's body reacts to insulin , how quickly the reaction is, the frequency and ability to take multiple injections, age, target glucose levels, and lifestyle and activity. Only a doctor can determine the right insulin to take, and adjustments are likely to be made to achieve maximum benefits. Insulin dosing schedules will vary similarly, and are also dependent upon the type of insulin being taken.

Diabetes research and development continues to strive towards easy living and disease maintenance. Alternative insulin delivery systems, like oral medications and insulin pump systems (continuously pumping insulin through a catheter in the abdomen) show promise towards lessening the burden of diabetes insulin therapy on patients. Open dialogue with treating physicians is recommended as a means of determining if the time is right for an individual diabetes patient to pursue new insulin options.

Oral Medications

Not all diabetes medications are insulin. In fact, oral medications are taken by a number of diabetes patients whose bodies still produce some natural insulin (majority of type 2 patients).

Oral diabetes medications may stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, or improve the ability of insulin to move sugar and function in the body. Oral diabetes medications may also help break down starch components and slow glucose levels. Other medications combine one or more medications.
As type 2 diabetes progresses, oral medications may be continued to support insulin injections if they become necessary.

Emerging Treatments

Diabetes treatments evolve rapidly. In addition to insulin pumps and painless testing procedures, Islet cell transplantation is showing promise in reducing insulin dependency (although unlikely to eliminate the need at this time). Alternative supplements and medications are being explored as well, but are less well regulated, so alternative options should only be pursued in collaboration with treating physicians.
Importance of Diabetes Treatments

Living with Diabetes

Living with diabetes is a balancing act of sorts. Learning to balance exercise, medication, testing, and diet can be overwhelming, but the result is well worth the effort. With good control of diabetes, the quality and longevity of life can soar to great heights. Complications are prevented and lessened with good continuous blood sugar control, maintaining health of body systems.

As living with diabetes becomes an accepted lifestyle choice, life for diabetes patients is close to normal as compared to those without the disease. In fact, the quality diet and lifestyle choices made may mean diabetes patients live better than many average people who pay no heed to good health practices. Diabetes is a lifestyle more than it is a disease when managed through good habits and effective treatments with the collaboration of well trained medical professionals.

Marci Sloane, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

Article was reviewed by Marci Sloane, a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Marci graduated with a degree in Nutrition and Physiology from Teachers College at Columbia University. Marci manages a Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center in South Florida and is the author of The Diet Game: Playing for Life! More about Marci Sloane

The goal of Destination Diabetes is to be a useful and credible resource for the more than 20 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. and their families. Destination Diabetes provides information on a wide range of diabetes health and wellness topics. Articles are written or reviewed by diabetes advisors who have experience in diabetes education.