I have begun calling diabetes the “not me” disease. We may know someone with diabetes, have a grandmother or a parent who struggles with controlling high blood sugar or have a friend just diagnosed with pre-diabetes, but if you aren’t the one with the disease you probably think it could never happen to you. 25.8 million Americans or 8% of the population have type 2 diabetes, and 78 million more have pre-diabetes. The numbers seem unbelievable: 25% or 1 out of every 4 people in the US has pre-diabetes. If we look only at those aged 40 to 74 years the number jumps to 40% of that population. As a nutritionist working in a busy clinic, I sometimes see 5 or 6 patients per day who struggle to keep blood sugars under control. Diabetes is an epidemic and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be extremely obese to be at risk.
Did you know that having an immediate family member with diabetes and simply being ‘overweight’ increases your chances of eventually developing diabetes? I see many patients in my office daily who thought that they would somehow cheat the disease, thinking “not me” while their weight slowly increased in their 30’s and 40s and they became less physically active. Diabetes is a complex disease that results from a number of factors, including genetics, diet and lifestyle. As the US has slowly become more overweight and more sedentary, diabetes has also become more widespread.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this is no better time to take a hard look at our diets and ourselves. It is no coincidence that the US’s increase in sugar and high fructose corn syrup consumption has increased along with our weight, and in turn has produced a surge in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a blood sugar disease, and the first step in prevention is to look at what is on our plates, in our lunchboxes and on our menus.
Refined sugar and carbohydrates like white flour spike blood sugar and leave us with calories, but very little fiber and other nutrients. We’re then set up in a cycle of craving as our body craves nutrition and our blood sugar begins to rollercoaster. We crave more food and carbs, and our body responds by retaining fat. The excess weight and blood sugar spikes begin causing blood sugar regulation problems.
High blood sugar can do incredible damage to the body, destroying capillaries in the kidneys and eyes and the nerves in hands and feet. Uncontrolled diabetes can result in kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations. Scary stuff, and scarier to think that 1 out of every 4 people in the US already have pre-diabetes, and will develop diabetes in 10 years or less.
So, how do you know if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes? There are symptoms but not everyone will experience them, especially if blood sugars haven’t increased to the level of full-blown diabetes. Increased thirst, urination and fatigue are the most obvious signs. Going to your doctor and getting a simple blood test is all you need. The hemoglobin A1C test is a measure you can request, and is the most revealing for indicating a blood sugar problem. The A1C is a single number that refers to your average blood sugar over a 3-month period. A “normal” result is <5.8. Pre-diabetes is 5.8 – 6.4 and full-blown diabetes is 6.5 or greater, which indicates an average blood sugar of 135mg/dl. A healthy blood sugar average should be somewhere around 90mg/dl.
If you’re still thinking “not me!” then I trust you’re caring for your health by making good dietary choices – lots of vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other low-glycemic foods and exercising daily. Diabetes prevention begins first by eating close to nature – food and ingredients you can pronounce, balanced nutrition that leaves your body balanced too.
Help us spread awareness about the diabetes epidemic this month and share your story here. How has diabetes affected you or someone you love?
American Diabetes Association
Department of Health and Human Services news release on pre-diabetes
Christine Weiss MS, RD is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues. She enjoys working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media. She can be found at Eating It Up online.