November is American Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a group of diseases that affects how the body uses blood glucose. There are two main types – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as a condition called prediabetes. Almost 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and 86 million people have prediabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance or insufficient production of insulin. This type of diabetes can be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes or a combination of medication and diet. Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. It is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Insulin is the hormone needed to allow glucose to enter cells in order to be used for energy. Without insulin glucose builds up in the blood causing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) which can be dangerous. Long term effects of uncontrolled diabetes include cardiovascular problems, neuropathy, kidney disease, retinopathy, skin conditions, and other complications.
There are many reasons why I decided on a career in nutrition and my connection to diabetes has confirmed my decision. In December 2014, my younger sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. A routine blood test found that her fasting blood glucose was extremely elevated. She was taken to the hospital and was admitted with diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a complication that occurs when the body produces high levels ketones from having high blood sugar for an extended period of time.
Seeing my sister go through the experience of being diagnosed with diabetes has been eye-opening. I am extremely proud of her as she has learned to navigate her disease and keep it under control. Type 1 diabetes can be controlled with insulin, but there is still an important nutrition component which is even more important in type 2 diabetes. I enjoy teaching people how they can help themselves through food.
There are three main types of carbohydrates that elevate blood glucose. Starchy foods such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, legumes, and winter squash break down into glucose. All fruits contain fructose (fruit sugar) and all dairy products contain lactose (milk sugar). These carbohydrates need to be monitored throughout the day. In addition to those types of carbohydrates, desserts made with sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, and any sweeteners such as honey, agave, and maple syrup will raise blood glucose levels. Animal protein and non-starchy vegetables do not elevate blood glucose. The basics are simple! People who are educated about proper nutrition are able to control their disease. American Diabetes Month is all about being educated and helping to prevent diabetes.