The most important aspect of managing diabetes is maintaining an awareness of one’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level, Sara Nelms, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Womans hospital said.

“Checking your blood sugar level is the key,” Nelms said. “If you don’t monitor your blood sugar it is hard to know how well your diabetes is being managed”.

Not knowing what blood sugars are on a daily basis does not allow the person with diabetes the information needed to determine if the current level of physical activity, meal plan and type/dose of medication is being effective.

Nelms said that a person with diabetes must work closely with his or her diabetes management team -- which should include a physician/endocrinologist, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator. Working collaboratively with the diabetes management team, a person with diabetes can set goals for achieving a healthy body weight and optimal blood glucose control. A diabetes education program will include meal planning, physical activity and medication (if needed).

Learning how to eat healthy is an essential part of managing diabetes. Nelms noted that there is no such thing as a set diabetes meal plan anymore.

“People with diabetes should adhere to what would pretty much be a healthy meal plan for everyone. It’s all about balance and moderation,” she said.

A healthy meal plan includes a variety of foods that contain carbohydrates, protein and fat. Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein and unsaturated fats are recommended.

Nelms also said that there is no set list of foods that people with diabetes should avoid.

“Absolutely none, with respect to the amount of total carbohydrates and fat recommended for your individualized meal plan” she said. “A person with diabetes can work all foods into their meal plans, including sweets and desserts, in moderation. The key is portion control. Making an appointment to meet with a Registered Dietitian is the first step in developing an individualized meal plan catered to meet the patients’ diabetes self management goals.

“Along with healthy eating, physical activity is an extremely important part of managing diabetes,” Nelms said.

Physical activity can help control your blood sugar levels, assist in maintaining a healthy body weight, boost energy and keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Nelms said.

“The best physical activity for your heart, blood vessels and lungs are aerobic exercises,” she said.

Examples of aerobic exercises include jogging, brisk walking, biking and swimming.

Nelms stressed the importance of discussing physical activity goals with one’s physician before implementing a plan.

Baton Rouge native Nelms earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology from LSU. She went on to the University of Tennessee where she obtained her master’s degree in Family & Consumer Sciences. She specializes in pediatric and adult diabetes education, pediatric nutrition and eating disorders.