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Saving Dollars with Diabetes

We all know that diabetes is one of most expensive diseases. But the greatest cost of diabetes is treating the complications that come when we don’t keep our blood glucose levels low enough.

When we manage diabetes well, the cost goes way down. The four cornerstones of diabetes management are diet, exercise, stress reduction, and — if necessary — medication. Two of these cornerstones are inexpensive.

We can get a lot of exercise with just a pair of shoes or boots. In a pinch I once bought an adequate pair of sneakers at a Wal-Mart for $10.

Stress reduction can be even less expensive. The best way that I know to control my stress is meditation, which is free. The title of one book on meditation speaks to me, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.”

But medication is a different story. If you have type 1 diabetes and no insurance, the cost of insulin can be substantial. If you use an insulin pump and/or a continuous glucose sensor to manage your diabetes, the cost can be tremendous, even if you have otherwise excellent insurance coverage. Otherwise, the maximum dose of one of the best diabetes drugs, metformin, is available as a generic for as little as $32 per month.

People with type 2 diabetes can also manage the disease without any drugs or supplements. I do that the only possible way, by following a very low-carbohydrate diet.

But quality low-carb food isn’t cheap. The cost challenge of diabetes management is the diet cornerstone.

But we do have some things going for us. When we weigh less, we eat less. After losing 150 pounds a few years ago, I know now that I have to eat very little to avoid gaining back even a little bit of that blubber.

Some people have a greener thumb and more room for a garden than I do. They can get the freshest ingredients at the lowest cost by growing them.

When we eat well we also eat out much less often, because good restaurant food is so hard to find. Eating meals that we prepare for ourselves at home can be a huge saving for many people.

When we eat at home, we have the choice of preparing our own meals or eating food that we buy already prepared. Not only is food that we prepare ourselves from fresh ingredients healthier and tastier it can also be free of unhealthy additives and considerably less expensive.

I’ve found some food that I prepare myself to be reasonably priced. Ground grass-fed beef is one. Another is chicken, if you can find any that isn’t corn-fed.

But I am resigned to having to spend a lot for the quality food that my body requires. This is the inevitable result of the huge subsidies that we have for crops like corn, sugar, and soybeans.

Not everyone can afford to eat quality food. Loren Cordain forcefully makes this point in his book, The Paleo Diet, which shuns all grains and other foods to which we aren’t genetically adapted.

“The starchy foods of the Agricultural Revolution are the world’s cheap foods,” he writes. “Grains, legumes, and tubers are the starchy foods that have allowed our planet’s population to balloon to more than 6 billion. Without them, billions of people worldwide would starve. The foods decreed by our genetic heritage and the foods we all ate before the Agriculture Revolution have now become the elite foods of wealthy, privileged countries.”

People like us who have diabetes are among the privileged class even if we have little money. We are privileged because we have to eat healthy food that people who don’t have diabetes think is a luxury.

To manage our diabetes well we have to eat well. We may have to sacrifice real luxuries for the benefit of our health. We know that our health is priority number one.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Dale Neff at

    I found I had much better control with metformin extended release rather than regular metformin. I get 60 500mg pills from target for $15.

  • Michael Jay at

    Great information David, Thank You! We at teststrips4kids collect boxes of unopened, unexpired diabetic test strips by donation and resell them at a huge discount for those that are under and un-insured. Our proceeds go to the JDRF for research. I have just started this project but fine that the demand for quality test strips far exceeds our donations. Thank you for your great info on keeping cost down, staying healthy and eating right.

  • Maureen at

    Generic metformin is available at Walmart for $4 for 30 pills. Several other generics are $4 as well. I have been able to get Lantus insulin and Victoza from the manufacturer for free. You can find patient assistance for prescription info online at http://www.rxassist.org