By Sandy Andrews RN CDCES, Diabetes Education Program Coordinator, Southwest Health
The numbers don’t lie. According to 2018 CDC data, over 34.2 million people of all ages, or 10.5% of the US population, have diabetes. 1 in 3 adults have prediabetes and are at risk for type 2 diabetes. Yet nearly 85% don’t know they have it, and are not aware of the health risks that may occur from high blood sugar over time.
Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is actually a group of metabolic disorders that cause your blood sugar level to be higher than it should be, and therefore prevents your body from properly using energy that comes from food and beverages.
The major types of diabetes are:
- Type 1 Diabetes—an autoimmune disorder that typically begins before adulthood, in which the immune system destroys cells within the body that make insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
- Type 2 Diabetes—a disease that more commonly begins in middle age, which results when the body isn’t able to use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar.
- Gestational Diabetes—a condition during pregnancy in which the body may not produce enough insulin and doesn’t use the insulin properly.
Learning about diabetes and how to prevent, delay, or manage it, is the first step toward living a longer, healthier life. Since 1975, November has been designated as Diabetes Awareness Month, but it wasn’t officially recognized until the early 1980s. This month is recognized as a time where organizations, people with diabetes, caregivers, loved ones, and other advocates rally and shine a much-needed spotlight on diabetes. These efforts help drive research and potentially saves lives.
Throughout the past twenty years of my forty-five year career at Southwest Health as a certified diabetes care and education specialist, I have been privileged to provide diabetes education to the people of Southwest Wisconsin. Participating in community events, diabetes camps, school events, diabetes support groups, and individual provider referrals have allowed me to help others understand and manage this chronic disease.
There are several myths about diabetes that are frequently addressed at many of these visits. Providing accurate information on diabetes self-care and management allows the person with diabetes, in many cases, to embrace a healthier lifestyle and live life to the fullest.
Following are common questions and answers concerning diabetes myths:
Q: If you’re overweight, will you always develop type 2 diabetes?
A: Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but other risk factors such as how much physical activity you get, family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Unfortunately, many people think weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
Q: Do sugary drinks cause diabetes?
A: Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and switch to water whenever possible to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks also raise blood sugar and can provide several hundred calories in just one serving. Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda has about 150 calories and 40 grams a sugar, which is a type of carbohydrate (carb). This is the same as 10 teaspoons of sugar!
Q: Is diabetes a serious disease?
A: Yes. Diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDS combined and was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2017. Having diabetes also doubles the risk of having a heart attack. The good news is that managing your diabetes can reduce your risk of complications.
Q: Do people with diabetes need to eat special food?
A: No, you don’t need special food. Packaged foods with special “diabetes-friendly” claims may still raise blood glucose levels, be more expensive, and/or contain sugar alcohols that can have a laxative effect. A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as healthy eating for anyone. This includes lots of non-starchy vegetables, limit added sugars, swap refined grains for whole grains and prioritize whole foods over highly processed food when possible.
Try www.diabetesfoodhub.org for some simple-to-make healthful recipe ideas!
Q: If you have diabetes, can you eat starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes, and pasta?
A: These foods can be part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is key. They tend to have more carbs and eating them will raise your blood sugar.
Q: Do people with diabetes need to avoid carbs?
A: There is no evidence to suggest that people with diabetes need to avoid carbs, though some people choose eating plans that avoid them. In fact, the evidence suggests that including the right amounts of carbs, protein, and fat can help manage your blood glucose levels. Working with your health care team can help you find the right balance for you.
Q: Not sure where to start…?
A: Aim for a portion no bigger than a quarter of a 9-inch plate.
Q: Can people with diabetes eat sweets or chocolate?
A: If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on healthier foods. Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) will help you determine an individualized meal plan that takes into account your goals as well as your likes and dislikes.
Q: Can you catch diabetes from someone else?
A: No. Although we don’t know exactly why some people develop diabetes and others don’t, we know diabetes is not contagious. It can’t be caught like a cold or flu.
Q: Are people with diabetes more likely to get colds and other illnesses?
A: You are no more likely to get a cold or another illness if you have diabetes. People with diabetes are advised to get flu shots because any illness can make diabetes more difficult to control, and potentially develop serious complications.
Q: If you have type 2 diabetes and your provider recommends you start insulin, does it mean you’re failing to take care of your diabetes properly?
A: Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. However, over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually, oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
If you or someone you know have been recently diagnosed with diabetes, or you feel you need help understanding or managing this condition, I encourage you to reach out to the providers at the Diabetes Education Department at Southwest Health by calling (608) 348-4709 or asking your provider for a referral. By working together as a team, we can assist you in living a healthy life with diabetes.
For additional resources and information, please visit www.diabetes.org.