Nutrition and Exercise Tips for Type 1 and 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Nutrition and Exercise Tips for Type 1 and 2 Diabetes Mellitus

August 25, 2015

Diabetes mellitus, often called diabetes, makes it hard for the body to control the level of glucose in the blood. Glucose is the main form of sugar in the body.

Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin dependent diabetes and affects 5-10% of people with diabetes mellitus. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of Type 1 diabetes. Individuals who have Type 1 diabetes require external insulin administration.

Type 2 is by far the most common type of diabetes. The person who has Type 2 diabetes might make healthy or even high levels of insulin but obesity often makes his or her body resistant to its effect. People with diabetes frequently need to be more conscious of exactly when and how much they eat, especially if they take medication to lower their blood sugar.

A healthy diet for a person with diabetes is based on a nutritional assessment. This information is then used to prescribe the diet. This diet is based on treatment goals, takes into account what the person is able and willing to do, and is sensitive to cultural, ethnic, and financial factors.

A proper diet for a person who has diabetes focuses on these overall goals:

  • It helps to maintain blood glucose levels as near to a healthy range as possible. Consume regular small frequent meals to help stimulate insulin production.
  • It helps keep blood lipids such as cholesterol at healthy levels to help reduce the risk of complications. This includes total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.
  • It provides adequate calories to keep a person healthy and achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • It helps prevent and treat complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Dietary Guidelines:    

  • 60-65% Carbohydrate (predominantly from complex, unrefined carbohydrates; limit simple and refined carbohydrates)
  • 15-20% Protein (lean sources of animal and plant protein)
  • 20-25% Fat (less than 10% saturated fat; 10% monounsaturated fats; 10% polyunsaturated fats; avoid trans fats)
  • Balanced meals and snacks in controlled portions. 
  • Cholesterol: Less than 300mg daily
  • Fiber: 25-30g per day (5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables)
  • Sodium: Less than 2400mg daily
  • Alcohol: Men no more than 2 drinks per day; Women no more than 1 drink per day


Weight Loss:

Slightly decrease the number of calories eaten each day—250-500 calories less than what the person is used to consuming. To accomplish this, follow a meal plan that contains healthy foods and less total fat. Follow exercise guidelines for someone with diabetes.


  • Your exercise program must be planned with your food and medication routines to produce a stable blood sugar in your desired range of control.
  • If your diabetes is controlled by diet alone, exercise does not put you at risk for low blood sugar reactions. Therefore, it’s not necessary to take extra snacks to compensate for exercise. Instead, try to exercise about an hour or so after meals, when blood sugar levels tend to be the highest.
  • If you take pills to help you control your blood sugar level, there is a chance that it may drop too low during or after exercise. If this happens, stop exercising immediately and consume a quick sugar snack like: 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 banana, small box of raisins, or 2 glucose tablets. Make sure your blood sugar is above 100mg/dl if you want to continue to exercise. If you plan to exercise more than another 1/2 an hour, add in a more long acting snack like a 1/2 a sandwich or a few crackers with low fat cheese.
  • In order to avoid low blood sugar reactions, it is preferable to adjust your medication rather than to eat extra food calories. Always check with your physician before making any adjustments to your medication.
  • Avoid exercise if your blood sugar is above 240mg/dl.
  • Try to exercise for 20-60 minutes at least 3 days a week each week. If you are trying to lose weight daily activity enhances weight loss efforts.
  • Choose aerobic activities like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming.
  • Gradually work up to an exercise level that works best for you.
  • Wear appropriate, well-fitting shoes for each activity and replace shoes after they wear out. Inspect your feet for redness, warm spots, and blisters. Contact your physician if you see any problems.
  • Maintain adequate fluid replacement during exercise.

Low Blood Glucose:

  • Too much time between meals
  • Inadequate food intake at the previous meal
  • Usual or inconsistent exercise/physical activity
  • Too much insulin
  • Inappropriate insulin/food adjustment for exercise

High Blood Glucose:

  • Increased carbohydrate intake at previous meal or snack
  • Illness or infection
  • Unusual inactivity
  • Omission of insulin/diabetes medication
  • Insulin ineffective
  • Inappropriate timing of insulin injection
  • Other medications that affect blood glucose

Inconsistent Lows and Highs with Blood Sugar:

  • Consistency in carbohydrate intake
  • Sporadic exercise/physical activity
  • Inconsistent timing of medications and meals
  • Swing shifts
  • Travel across time zones

Posted In:

Diabetes Mellitus , Diet and Disease