Why managing sugar intake with a type 2 diabetes diet is 'more important than ever' during the pandemic

Reporting by Jacquie Cosgrove

If you’ve been stress eating and working out less during the pandemic, you’re not alone. But fitness and health expert Harley Pasternak warns that getting into the habit of living that way can put you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Americans are not supposed to eat more than 30 grams of sugar a day,” Pasternak tells Yahoo Life. “Usually they consume 70 grams of sugar a day and, depending on what you read right now, Americans might be consuming over 100 grams of sugar every single day.”

That can lead to negative consequences, including type 2 diabetes, he says. “That's why it's so important we manage our sugar intake,” Pasternak says.

Important side note: Eating a lot of sugar can even tamp down on your immune system. “Research shows that after you have a high sugar meal, your immune system is actually suppressed for two to three hours and does not function as well as it normally should,” Pasternak says. “Other studies have shown that viruses are really happy when they find cells covered in sugar. They say that certain viruses, like a coronavirus, has a sweet tooth and over 80 percent of the cells that it attaches to ourselves covered with sugar. So managing our sugar is more important than ever.”

So, what can you do to treat and prevent diabetes during the pandemic?

Pasternak says there are a few things everyone can do to lower their type 2 diabetes risk. And, he adds, these tips can also help if you already have type 2 diabetes.

1. Read labels

“Make sure your meals are less than 10 grams of sugar and snacks less than five grams of sugar,” Pasternak says.

2. Remove trigger foods from your life

Everyone has treats they love, and it can be hard to resist temptation when they’re right in front of you. “Make sure you remove those trigger foods in your house, that late night, sugary cereal in the cupboard or that ice cream in the freezer,” Pasternak says. “Get them out.” He also recommends doing your best to avoid those foods when you’re out too, like bypassing a coffee shop with delicious pastries for one that doesn’t have treats.

3. Eat the good stuff

“Make sure that you're filling yourself up with the right foods so that you don't have a low blood sugar,” Pasternak says. He recommends loading up on healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olives and avocados, high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and quality proteins like seafood, chicken and dairy.

4. Exercise regularly

Exercise is a very important tool in managing our blood sugar,” Pasternak says. “Every time we move, we require energy. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that's used as a fast form of energy. So walking, jogging, dancing, all of these are forms of aerobic activity that help burn carbohydrates, energy and eventually sugar immediately.”

5. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is an important element in making sure that we have stable blood sugars, that we have healthy metabolisms,” Pasternak says. And, he adds, if you don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to poor food choices.

6. Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake

Pasternak recommends removing alcohol from your evening routine. “Alcohol is the most commonly used sleep aid in the United States,” he says. “It also disrupts the quality of our sleep almost more than anything else. So, kick alcohol to the curb.” Caffeine can also disrupt your sleep if you have it too late in the afternoon, he points out.

Ultimately, Pasternak says that making smart lifestyle choices can help your health, whether you have diabetes or not. “All of these combine to help reduce our chances of becoming a type 2 diabetic and to help us manage our diabetes,” he says.