By Lisa Zarny, MS, RD, CD-N, Clinical Nutrition Manager and Jane Wynne, Nutrition Volunteer
The month of November was first established as Diabetes Awareness Month 40 years ago in 1975. Diabetes, a disease that leads to high levels of blood sugar in the body, is a growing problem in the United States. Today, 29.1 million people or 9.3% of Americans have diabetes. It is estimated that 27.8% of diabetics are undiagnosed. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes is an unpreventable autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, inhibiting the body’s ability to use glucose for energy.
- On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but either does not make enough for the body or it is not used properly. If insulin does not get into the cells, it increases in the blood, resulting in higher blood sugar levels. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and can be addressed with a few simple lifestyle changes.
- Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is defined as carbohydrate intolerance that is first recognized during pregnancy.
Diet is extremely important when discussing Type 2 diabetes. It is important to follow a healthy meal plan, which includes fruits and vegetables. It is essential to control your weight and if overweight, to lose weight. Studies have shown that weight loss is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and an increase in High Density Lipoproteins (HDL), which is the good cholesterol. We at Stamford Hospital encourage you to discuss with your physician or dietitian the ideal meal plan for you based on your sex, age, weight, height, and activity level.
Other good dietary habits to develop are to choose complex carbohydrates and watch fat, salt, and sugar intake. Carbohydrates should constitute 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. It is essential to choose carbs that are high in fiber since these are digested more slowly, which keeps blood sugar levels stable. High-fiber carbohydrates include vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains.
In addition, watching fat and salt intake are key to controlling Type 2 diabetes. Fat calories should make up 20 to 35 percent of daily calories, while sodium should be limited to 1,500 to 2,300 mg a day. Too much fat and sodium leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. People with diabetes are at risk for these two conditions. Choosing heart-healthy fats like nuts, avocado, and olive oil instead of butter, cheese, and animal fat is highly advised. Lastly, research shows that good control of blood sugar can help avoid serious health complications related to diabetes.
So, remember, make healthy lifestyle choices now to minimize your risk of health issues related to diabetes later in life!