November is American Diabetes Month, and this year the American Diabetes Association is focusing on cooking to stop diabetes. According to statistics on their website:

  • Approximately 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes
  • An additional 86 million have prediabetes
  • The cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. is $245 billion (and that’s just the diagnosed cases!)

When the body is unable to produce or utilize insulin correctly, this condition is known as diabetes. Diabetes is of three types. Gestational diabetes occurs in some pregnant women but is usually resolved after giving birth. Type 1 diabetes is usually genetic and is diagnosed early in life. Type 2 diabetes is a largely preventable condition that can be caused by a number of factors.

Risk factors for diabetes

There are a few risk factors that can lead to diabetes, including:

  • Poor diet. A diet heavy in fat and sugar and light on fresh vegetables and whole grains increases the chances of developing diabetes.
  • No exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main causes of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Obesity. Poor diet and lack of exercise contribute to the number one cause of diabetes of both types in the U.S.: obesity. A person with a body-mass index score of 30 or higher is considered obese.
  • Pancreatic failure. The pancreas is the main vehicle in the body for producing and utilizing insulin. If the pancreas is compromised due to another health condition, then Type 2 diabetes may develop.
  • Genetics. There is a weak genetic link to type 2 diabetes. People with immediate relatives who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop it themselves for a variety of reasons.

The bad news is that diagnoses of type 2 diabetes continue to rise due in part to the rise of obesity in the U.S. The good news is that diabetes can be prevented, controlled, and in some cases even reversed by proper cooking and eating.

Cooking with diabetes

There are a few things to keep in mind when cooking for diabetes. The first is to focus on controlling your blood sugar by eating properly.

Here’s how:

  • Avoid high-sugar foods. Eating too many sweets and foods with added sugars (read labels!) can send your body into a sugary tailspin. Start by cutting out sugary drinks, then eliminate other foods with added sugars as fast as you can.
  • On the other hand, avoid artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are often used to replace the sugar in foods that are eliminated, but they come with their own set of health hazards. Studies have shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners actually gain more weight, which is counterproductive in cooking for diabetes. Additionally, artificial sweeteners have been linked to certain types of cardiovascular disease and other serious health risks.
  • Include plentiful whole-grain foods in your diet. Brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat bread, and oats are delicious, healthy foods that should replace the refined white flours and grains that cause obesity and trigger overeating.
  • Eat several small meals a day instead of three large squares. Eating small meals frequently helps maintain a constant blood sugar level and prevents binge eating that can happen when you get hungry.
  • Practice good meal planning, including snacks. Meal planning is an economical and healthy way to cook for diabetes. By including snacks in your meal plan you can avoid getting “hangry” (hungry and angry!) and thereby reaching for a high-fat, sugar-laden, highly-processed food. There are many excellent websites that can help you budget, plan, and shop for a week’s worth of meals at a time.
  • Cut the fat. As a general rule, fat should not be more than 30% of daily caloric intake. The body stores anything above that as fat, increasing the chances of weight gain leading to obesity. When you do consume fats, look for healthy fats such as olive oil and the kind found in nut butters and avocados.
  • Eat TONS of fresh fruit and vegetables. The amount of vegetables you can eat is unlimited, so pile your plate high with fresh, lightly cooked or raw veggies. Fruit is fine, but keep fruit servings to just two or three daily. Fruit is better than a candy bar but still contains sugar, so be mindful.
  • Limit alcohol, and stop smoking. Alcohol contains sugars that are difficult to process. These sugars (and everything else in booze) can exacerbate pain due to diabetes. Similarly, smokers are less active and more likely to develop diabetes. Smoking constricts blood vessels in the body and contributes to poor circulation, which can lead to pain, numbness, and tingling in the extremities, and in the worst case scenario, amputation of limbs. Make it a priority to quit, and ask your doctor for help.
  • Take your vitamins. B12 is crucial in the fight against diabetes, so eat plenty of eggs, fish, and chicken. If you are on a vegetarian diet, a supplement may be necessary to ensure adequate intake.
  • Drink plenty of water. Not only does water lubricate joints and keep organs hydrated and functioning properly, it is also the key to weight loss. If you have ever had a problem with eating when you are bored, put down the snack and drink a full glass of water, then take the dog for a walk. There is some evidence that people in the U.S. are chronically dehydrated, a condition that can lead to multiple complicated health conditions.
  • Learn to cook. If you have never cooked for yourself, now’s the time to learn. Go beyond just opening a box or a bag and use Pinterest to find delicious and easy recipes for cooking with diabetes. This one simple step can help save your life.

The vision of the American Diabetes Association is a world without diabetes, and the mission of American Diabetes Month this year is to get people cooking to stop diabetes.

If you or someone you love suffers from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, what are some delicious ways you are fighting diabetes in the kitchen? Share your recipes, tips, and tricks with us!

Image by Nicole Abalde via Flickr


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