Diabetes is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the United States; it’s likely that you know someone whose life has been affected by it. Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how the body produces or responds to the hormone insulin. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin which signals the body to use glucose (sugar) as energy. If you have diabetes, your body’s ability to make or utilize insulin is altered, resulting in abnormal levels of blood sugar in your system.
Chronically high blood sugar is associated with various health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease, while low levels of blood sugar can cause more immediate risks like weakness, fainting, or even seizures.
Diabetes is certainly a serious condition however, there are many steps you can take in your day-to-day life to reduce your risk or manage your condition if you’ve already been diagnosed. In honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, we want to share useful information on the topic to help you stay informed!
Type 1 Diabetes vs. Type 2 Diabetes
You’ve probably heard that there are two types of diabetes, but how do they differ?
Type 1 diabetes does not develop because of lifestyle choices, it is a genetic condition. In most cases, it occurs from an autoimmune system reaction, which means that the body attacks itself by mistake. This reaction affects the cells in the pancreas, impairing the body’s ability to make insulin. Without it, the body can’t utilize glucose for energy. Someone with type 1 diabetes will need to carefully monitor their blood sugar and take insulin injections from a needle/syringe, insulin pen, or automatic pump to ensure their levels stay within a safe range. There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes.
About 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1 and it is most commonly seen in children, teens, and young adults. Type 1 diabetes symptoms usually include tiredness, fatigue, and unintentional weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting over 30 million people in the US. It often develops in older adults because of lifestyle factors that stress the pancreas and cause it to “burn out.” The most common lifestyle factor is a poor-quality diet which results in excess blood sugar causing two effects. The pancreas must produce more and more insulin to keep up and the cells of the body become resistant to that insulin. Over time this means the body cannot fully utilize its natural insulin or may stop producing it entirely.
Like type 1, there is no cure. However, depending on the severity type 2 diabetes can be managed with a good quality diet and other healthful habits, though some people may need to take medications and/or insulin as well.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be missed or fail to be associated with blood sugar control, which means vigilant monitoring is needed. Symptoms can include excessive thirst, blurred vision, wounds that don’t heal, chronic hunger, unintentional weight loss, reoccurring yeast infections, tingling or numbness in hands and feet, and frequent need to urinate.
You may have heard the term prediabetes before and are wondering how it relates. Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than the normal range, but not at the level of a proper diabetes diagnosis. Many Americans, approximately 88 million, have prediabetes and go years undiagnosed because there are no apparent symptoms. Alternatively, they may be diagnosed and without proper education believe that they will inevitably develop diabetes. It’s important to note that a diagnosis of prediabetes simply means higher than normal blood sugar readings and like other conditions (high cholesterol for example), it may be managed with lifestyle changes.
There are several risk factors associated with the development of pre-and type 2 diabetes. Some are unmodifiable like age, family history, and ethnicity. However, there are also modifiable risk factors like eating, exercise, and other lifestyle habits. Consuming a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods, physical inactivity, and smoking increase your risk of developing pre- or Type 2 Diabetes. Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity a week is recommended, in addition to consuming wholesome foods to ensure a well-balanced diet.
How can I tell if I have Diabetes?
Your doctor will often monitor your risk factors and blood test results for you and inform you if there is anything to note. However, if you feel you may have risk factors or symptoms that are not being considered, you can always talk to your doctor about having blood work done.
There are various tests that can be used in conjunction to help determine the risk or diagnosis of Diabetes. Below is a chart from the CDC outlining standard reference ranges, with an explanation of each underneath.
A1C is a measure of how much glucose has attached to your red blood cells and is usually done every 3 months. Fasting blood sugar is a baseline measure of the amount of glucose in the blood. A glucose tolerance test is a measure of how the body responds to the ingestion of sugar. Finally, as the name implies, a random blood sugar test is done at a random point throughout the day and is primarily used for tracking trends.
N4L and Diabetes
When it comes to eating a healthful diet for the prevention and management of diabetes, everyone’s needs will be slightly different. There is an abundance of information available on how to eat for diabetes management (not all of it reliable) but this article from the American Diabetes Association is a good place to start! Begin by following a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein while lower in added sugars and sodium.
At Nutrition for Longevity, we strive to create our meals with this philosophy! Our meals consist of carbohydrates that are minimally processed from natural sources, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, to nourish our bodies with essential nutrients and give us long-lasting energy! The meals we create have about 55-65 grams of carbohydrates per meal to keep blood sugar levels at ease while providing adequate fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Here are a couple of carb-friendly meals we have at N4L!
Blueberry Chia Seed Pudding
Total carbohydrates: 57g
CHO exchanges: 3.8
Pozole Verde with Nicoyan Redfish
Total carbohydrates: 51g
CHO exchanges: 3.4