Nutrition Column – Control the Abcs of Diabetes for Your Heart’s Sake

Cardiovascular disease is a major complication and the leading cause of premature death for people with diabetes. In fact, more than 65 percent of all deaths among people with diabetes are caused by cardiovascular disease. If you have diabetes, the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol under control, something most people with diabetes have difficulty doing.

November is American Diabetes Month, and the American Diabetes Association, along with the American College of Cardiology, is urging people with diabetes to learn how to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by taking steps to manage the ABCs of Diabetes, with ‘A’ representing A1C, ‘B’ representing blood pressure and ‘C’ representing cholesterol.

A1C: An A1C test measures average blood glucose level over the past three months. For people with diabetes, the test should be conducted at least twice per year by your health care professional. The recommended target for the A1C test is less than 7 percent. People whose test exceeds recommended levels may be advised to take certain steps to lower their A1C level including:

– Eating the right foods. Ask your health care professional for guidance.

– Getting daily physical activity.

– Testing blood glucose levels regularly.

– Taking medications as prescribed.

Blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the risk for heart attacks, strokes, eye problems and kidney disease. Your blood pressure should be checked at every doctor’s visit. The recommended target blood pressure is 130/80 mm Hg. Key steps for lowering your blood pressure include:

– Eating more fruits and vegetables.

– Reducing the amount of salt in your diet.

– Losing weight.

– Lowering alcohol intake.

– Quitting smoking.

– Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed.

Cholesterol: High levels of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, can cause narrowing and blockage of the arteries. High levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, help remove cholesterol deposits from the body. In addition, high levels of blood triglycerides can raise your risk for heart attacks and stroke. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels should be checked at least once per year. The recommended target for LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL. For HDL cholesterol, the recommended goals are above 40 mg/dL for men and above 50 mg/dL for women. Blood triglycerides should not exceed 150 mg/dL. To help control cholesterol and triglyceride levels try:

– Eating less saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat include fatty meats, high-fat dairy products and tropical oils.

– Eating foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

– Getting daily physical activity.

– Taking cholesterol-lowering medication as prescribed.

For more information about the link between diabetes, heart disease and stroke, contact the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES or visit the Web at

To order the "Be Smart About Your Heart. Control the ABCs of Diabetes" brochure from the American Diabetes Association and the National Diabetes Education Program, call 1-800-438-5383 or visit the Web at

– 30 –

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension