Nutrition and Exercise

If you are living with diabetes, it is important to manage your condition to stay healthy and prevent complications. Lifestyle can play an important role. At Mount Sinai, we recommend thinking about your eating and exercise habits, as a way to stabilize your diabetes.


Eating well-balanced meals and proper portion sizes is important for everyone. For some people  with type 2 diabetes, making the right dietary changes can keep glucose levels stable without the use of medications. Even if this is not the case for you, eating well is important for maintaining good health and keeping your blood sugar levels under control.

There is no specific "diet" for people with diabetes, but there are some guidelines for healthy eating:

  • Choose whole-grain/high-fiber starches, which have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined grains such as white bread. Whole-grain/high fiber starches include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, lentils, and sweet potatoes. You should try to fill no more than one-quarter of your plate (the depth of a deck of cards) with starchy foods, which is three-fourths to one cup.
  • Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, at least three to five servings a day. One serving is a half cup cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or one cup of raw vegetables).
  • Include fruits, but watch the serving size. Fruits are filled with vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are a great carbohydrate choice. Serving size  for adults, is 1 1/2  to 2 cups fruit/day (one cup = one small apple, one large orange). Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits without added sugars are the best options.
  • Choose low-fat meats and dairy products.
  • Use “good” fats, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as avocados, nuts, nut butters, olives, and olive oil. Be careful with portion size because fats are high in calories.
  • Eat heart-healthy fish at least twice a week.
  • Limit the amount of saturated fats, like hot dogs and bacon, and trans fats, such as those found in processed snacks and shortenings.
  • Limit sodium, aim for less than 2,300 mg/day.
  • Limit added sugars (such as cookies, cakes, and candy).
  • Pay attention to portion size. Even healthy foods make you gain weight if you eat too much of them. One serving of meat is three ounces, about the size of the palm of your hands. A serving of vegetables is a half cup cooked vegetables or one cup of raw vegetables, about the size of your fist.
  • When reading a nutrition label, select items with less than 8gm of sugar and more than 3 gm of dietary fiber.
  • Always pair a starch (such as crackers, bread, or fruit) with a protein/fat (e.g., nuts, nut butter, or cheese) to mitigate rise in blood sugars.
  • Keep the amount of carbohydrates and timing of when you eat them  consistent from day to day, especially if you are taking diabetes medications/insulin.

Physical Activity

Increasing physical activity can help you control your diabetes better by reducing the amount of sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream and by making your body more responsive to insulin. In addition, research has shown that regular physical activity can help:

  • Lower your blood glucose and blood pressure
  • Improve your body's ability to use insulin
  • Decrease your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol  and raise your "good" (HDL) cholesterol
  • Lessen your risk for heart disease and stroke
  • Keep your bones strong
  • Maintain  joint flexibility
  • Help you lose weight
  • Help you lose body fat
  • Boost your energy
  • Increase your strength

There are four basic categories of exercise and physical activity. Each one provides important health benefits: 

  • Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs by making them work harder. To get the most benefits from aerobic exercise, you should get a total of 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.

Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

    • Taking a brisk walk
    • Jogging
    • Dancing
    • Hiking
    • Swimming
    • Taking an aerobics class
    • Playing tennis, basketball or other sports
  • Resistance training, also called strength training, makes muscles stronger and improves your bone strength. Being stronger can make daily activities such as carrying groceries easier and reduces the risk of falls.

Some examples of resistance training include:

    • Lifting free weights
    • Using weight machines
    • Employing resistance bands
  • Balance exercises help prevent falls, a concern among the elderly. You can incorporate certain balance exercises at almost any time and any place. In addition, tai chi can be beneficial.
  • Stretching helps keep your joints flexible and makes it less likely that you will feel sore after a workout. There are specific stretching exercises that target specific parts of the body. Yoga can also help you improve your flexibility and decrease stress.

How To Get Started

You should always talk to your doctor or diabetes educator before starting a new exercise program. Ask whether you should change the amount of medication you take before you exercise. If you have diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, or eye or foot problems, ask if you should take any special precautions.

Safety tips

Regular physical activity helps keep you healthy, but certain exercises can be harmful in some people with diabetes.

If you have diabetic eye problems, for example, you should avoid strength training exercises that increase blood pressure in the eyes. If you have diabetes-related nerve problems, you might need to limit walking or other activities that might create blisters on your feet. Physical activity can also cause low glucose (hypoglycemia) if you  take insulin or certain diabetes medications. If your blood glucose is below 100, having a small snack before or during exercise can prevent hypoglycemia.

Speak with your doctor or diabetes educator so that your level and type of physical activity is right for you. Do not let diabetes stop you from improving your overall health with regular exercise.

Practical Tips and Tools 

The Mount Sinai Health System’s Clinical Diabetes Institute has a number of recommendations for you to manage your diabetes or to prevent type 2 diabetes from developing including:

  • A Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator: Knowing your BMI is one tool in being able to predict whether you will develop diabetes. Click here to access one.
  • Diabetes (type 2) Risk Test: The American Diabetes Association provides a quick online survey to help you assess your risk for diabetes.
  • Tips for Preventing Diabetes: The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provides quick tips for preventing diabetes. Mount Sinai Diabetes experts also have pointers for preventing diabetes.
  • Average Glucose Calculator: Use this free tool to obtain estimated A1c / calculated average glucose (eAG).
  • Control your ABCs: If you have diabetes, or are at risk for developing diabetes, learn how to control your A1c, blood pressure and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol.
  • Diabetes Education: The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides comprehensive information on diabetes including how you can reach a desirable blood glucose level.
  • Trouble paying for all your medications? New York City has partnered with many pharmacies to provide a free discount program called Big Apple Rx another prescription assistance program is Together Rx Access.

Additionally you can turn your smart phone into your daily helper by using it to track your calories, exercise, medications, and more.