Happy National Diabetes Awareness Month! Did you know that 12.3% of Americans over the age of 20 have diabetes? This may not seem like a high percentage, but it adds up to 29.1 million people in our country who suffer from this growing disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). I’m sure you can name at least 1, 2, maybe 5 close friends or relatives that have diabetes. This month our goal is to empower you to make decisions that will decrease your risk of not only diabetes, but heart disease and obesity.
Those affected by diabetes are not as receptive to insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas. Insulin normally transports sugars from our blood into our cells to fuel our bodies. If our body becomes resistant to insulin or our pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, diabetes may result. Follow along to find out why simple sugars may not be the “sweetest” thing to fuel your body and what exactly causes diabetes. Hope you enjoy!
I’m just going to start off by clearing the stage of a common nutrition myth that misleads much of us Americans… Carbohydrates are not your enemy. Yes, some carbohydrates are better sources of fiber and nutrients than other sources, but cutting carbohydrates out of your diet will not improve your health. Everyone needs carbohydrates, including people with diabetes. All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the simplest sugar, and all carbohydrates will affect your blood sugar to some degree.
There are complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. Simple Carbohydrates mostly consist of simple sugars. What is a simple sugar you may ask? Simple sugars are sugars that are quickly digested and absorbed by the body to create energy. Because they are broken down so quickly by our bodies, simple sugars result in a larger, shorter spike in blood sugar than complex sugars which are slowly absorbed into our blood after eating.
Tip 1: We are not recommending that you completely cut out all of your favorite desserts and soft drinks which are high in simple sugars. Everything in moderation is the motto we stand by. However, making a few easy swaps in the foods you eat everyday may decrease your risk of chronic disease and you may even lose a few pounds!
Tip 2: Little changes can make a big difference. Here are some easy food swaps that you can make to increase the amount of fiber and complex carbohydrates in your diet. Overall, aim to choose foods that are high in fiber (3+ grams per serving) and whole grains (“whole grain” instead of “refined” grains in the ingredients list).
- choose brown or converted rice over white rice
- choose steel-cut oats over instant oatmeal
- choose bran flakes over corn flakes
- choose 100% whole-grain bread over white bread
- hint: “whole grain” should always be the first 2 words on the ingredients list if the bread is truly whole grain
- choose bulgur or whole grain pasta over baked or mashed potatoes
- choose peas or leafy greens over corn
Now that you know more about what foods may help to prevent and treat diabetes, did you know that there are 3 main types of diabetes? Types of diabetes include Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), and Gestational Diabetes.
- T2D is the most common type of diabetes. T2D is characterized by insulin resistance to glucose (the most simple sugar). Insulin normally transports glucose from our bloodstream into our cells. We need glucose to replenish our cells and fuel our bodies.
- People with T1D do not produce enough insulin to transport glucose into the blood and are normally diagnosed as a child. This type of diabetes is rarer than T2D. Individuals with T1D either give themselves insulin injections or have an insulin pump.
- A woman who has gestational diabetes, high blood sugar during pregnancy, is at high risk for developing T2D. 5-10% of women with gestational diabetes continue to have high blood sugar after delivering their child and are diagnosed with T2D. Babies born to a woman with Gestational Diabetes are at higher risk for obesity and T2D.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). National diabetes statistics report: estimates of diabetes and its burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services.
2. Harvard Medical School. (2012). Choosing good carbs with the glycemic index.
3. Atkinson, F. S., Foster-Powell, K., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2008). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care, 31, 2281-2283.