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Small Changes Make a Big Difference for Prevention, Management of Diabetes

For many coping with diabetes, all they need are a few small changes and a little help to make a world of difference in their health.

Judy Pentedemos, MSN, the Clinical Manager of the Diabetes Management Center at Lowell General Hospital, says for diabetes patients, good health is less about sacrifice, and more about smart choices.

“What we try to teach patients is you can have it all, but you can’t have all of it,” she says. “You have to make a sensible choice, look at your plate and decide what stays and what has to go. That makes a huge difference.”

Diabetes comes in two forms: Type 1 is believed to be an autoimmune condition that is not preventable; and Type 2, which is largely preventable through lifestyle changes but is becoming increasingly common. The 2016 Greater Lowell Health Needs Assessment identified diabetes as a top health problem in the region.

In both cases, diabetes can lead to heart disease, circulatory problems, blindness and kidney failure. However, both types can be controlled by adjusting two primary lifestyle areas — diet and exercise.

“What we try to do is identify the patient’s habits, then match what they already do in the correct proportion to what is going to give them a good outcome,” she says.

For most, exercise means finding at least 30 minutes a day to get your heart rate up, whether it’s 10 minutes at a time, or for 30 minutes straight.

As for dietary changes, Pentedemos’ team focuses on three food groups — carbohydrates, proteins and fat. You can take simple steps to lower the fat in your diet by choosing leaner cuts of meat and lower fat dairy products, using whole grains instead of processed ones, using olive or canola oil for cooking, and adding healthy proteins such as nuts, seeds, and avocado to your routine.

“If it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, it isn’t a food today,” she says. “If you can get back to food as close to the natural source as possible, you will have a much better health outcome.”

You can still eat many of the foods you love; you just may need to prepare it differently and use smaller portions.

“The potato is not your enemy. It’s what you do to the potato,” she says. “Many of us dress it up with butter or sour cream or chop it up and deep fry it. We take a healthy piece of nutrition and turn it into an unhealthy option.”

Pentedemos says patients at the Diabetes Management Center are often surprised at how quickly these small changes can make a difference. She says the proof is in the letters she receives. 

“They say, ‘Thank you, you have changed my life,’ and, ‘Diabetes controlled me, now I’m controlling it,’” she says. “Letter after letter, people write and say how their experience here has turned their life around.”

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