Neuropathy (nerve damage) affects [nearly 70 percent of those with diabetes][1]. Risks of neuropathy increase if you have poor nutrition habits, such as a diet high in fatty foods, and if you are overweight.

While common symptoms of neuropathy include pain in the legs and feet and muscle cramps, this condition can also cause loss of bladder control, vision changes, and impotence. And it can take years for these symptoms to appear, meaning short-term habits can result in long-term health problems.

The good news is that controlling your diabetes by eating a healthy diet and maintaining a normal weight can help you avoid neuropathy.

Eating a balanced diet

Eat a variety of foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and healthy fats. This is your best means for controlling blood glucose levels and weight.

In terms of carbohydrates (starches), it's important to keep track of what and how much you eat. Carbohydrates have an immediate effect on your blood sugar, and you will find them in a range of foods, such as:

• Breads, pasta, and cereal
• Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products
• Desserts, including candy, cakes, cookies, and ice cream
• Processed foods
• Rice and grains

To help with digestion and slow sugar absorption, eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like those listed below:

• Fresh fruits and vegetables
• Beans and peas
• Whole grain breads and cereals
• Brown rice

Choose lean meats and poultry to help decrease saturated fats and trans fatty acids in your diet. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are also good choices.

Another area to consider—cooking methods and fats:

• Whenever possible, bake, broil, grill, roast, or boil meats
• Avoid fried foods
• Stick with low-fat vegetable cooking sprays, margarines, and salad dressings
• Substitute monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils) for saturated and trans fats.

Other diet considerations

Avoid high-salt foods, which can raise blood pressure levels. And because it can worsen peripheral neuropathy and make it more difficult to control blood sugar, limit alcohol.

Finally, if you smoke, quit. From circulatory problems to a multitude of cancers, studies repeatedly show smoking's detrimental effects on health. For you, that includes increased neuropathy symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about how eating right can reduce neuropathy symptoms and improve your ability to manage your diabetes overall.