November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and of the more than 13 million Americans who have or have had cancer, eight to 18 percent also have diabetes. It’s an eye-opening statistic and a reminder about why it’s important to be proactive about our overall health and well-being during and after cancer treatment.
“Because of the huge link between insulin resistance and cancer, it is critically important for people who have diabetes to manage their blood glucose during cancer treatment,” adds Brooke McIntyre, a clinical oncology dietitian and diabetes program coordinator at CTCA in Tulsa.
McIntyre recommends the following tips to help manage cancer and diabetes:
- Never eat a “naked” carbohydrate. Funny statement, but people remember it! Rather than eating only an apple, eat a handful of nuts or one to two tablespoons of nut butter too. This helps decrease the rise in blood sugar and makes you feel more satisfied.
- Eat fewer carbohydrates. Decreasing carbohydrate intake not only lowers blood sugar, but can also help lower blood pressure.
- Eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains. Eating cancer-fighting foods high in fiber can help regulate blood sugar. Foods to add to your diet include: Asian pears, raspberries, blackberries, bananas, blueberries, beans, broccoli, spinach, lentils, peas, corn, flax seeds and whole-grain breads or crackers.
- Exercise regularly. The American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Diabetes Association recommend 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week to lower risk of cancer recurrence.
- Add healthy fats to your diet. Say “no” to doughnuts and fried chicken and “hello” to healthy fats such as avocado, salmon and walnuts. Good fats contain antioxidants, help you maintain a steady blood sugar level and feel full longer.
- Follow a lower carbohydrate, higher healthy fat and protein diet during cancer treatment. This can help keep your blood sugar in check and may have anti-cancer benefits too.
- Lose weight/maintain a healthy weight. Weight loss, as directed by a physician or registered dietitian, is one of the best ways to stop diabetes as well as reduce risk of cancer recurrence.
- Know your numbers! If you get tested for diabetes and your blood glucose levels are high, but not high enough to be considered diabetes, it means you have prediabetes. This puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Tests results indicating prediabetes are: A fasting blood glucose level of 100-125 mg/dl; an OGTT 2-hour blood glucose level of 140-199 mg/dl; or an A1C of 5.7-6.4%. Receiving a prediabetes diagnosis can be a wake-up call to start making changes to lead a healthier life.
- Involve your family. Ask family members to make lifestyle changes with you. You’ll significantly increase your chances of getting and staying motivated.
- Seek help from a registered dietitian. Ask your physician to refer a registered dietitian who is trained specifically in diet and lifestyle to help control your diabetes during cancer treatment.
Learn more about cancer and diabetes and get more nutrition tips. And for meal ideas and nutrition tips for diabetics, check out the American Diabetes Association’s collection of diabetic cookbooks and 101 Nutrition Tips for People with Diabetes.