Fast Facts about Diabetes

Diabetes is a growing health concern, currently affecting about 2 million Canadians. Having diabetes means that the body cannot properly use energy from food. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems. For many people, certain types of diabetes can be prevented or delayed by understanding its risk factors and making important lifestyle changes.

Diabetes Primer

When you eat, your body breaks down foods into various components and converts them into a sugar called glucose. The glucose travels around your body in your blood. Your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin that is required to “unlock” your body’s cells so glucose can enter and be used for energy. In diabetes, insulin is either not produced by your pancreas or does not work properly in your cells. Over time, consistently high levels of glucose in the blood can damage various parts of your body, including eyes, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys. Having diabetes also greatly increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Types of Diabetes

There are several types of diabetes. All are managed with proper food choices, physical activity and, in some cases, oral medications or insulin injections. The four types are:

  • Pre-diabetes: This describes a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Changes in your diet and level of physical activity can delay or even prevent pre-diabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes: This type of diabetes is the most common. It occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or cells cannot use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes affects both children and adults, and is most often found in those who are overweight. If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s important to follow your recommended meal and medication plan and closely monitor your blood glucose levels.
  • Type 1 diabetes: Most often, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood. It occurs when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are damaged, so little or no insulin is produced. Persons with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections and closely monitor blood glucose levels.
  • Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes develops during pregnancy. Most often, the diabetes disappears after pregnancy, but it can increase a woman’s risk for diabetes later in life.

Assess Your Risk for Diabetes

Knowing your risk for diabetes gives you a chance to prevent or delay diabetes from developing. If you have diabetes, early detection can help prevent serious health problems. Doctors are advised to screen everyone at risk for diabetes. This includes anyone over 40 years of age and anyone with at least one of the following risk factors:

  • Overweight or obesity and carrying most of the weight around your waist.
  • Family history of diabetes
  • High cholesterol or other fats in the blood.
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes during pregnancy, or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 8 pounds
  • Being a member of a high-risk population (e.g. people of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent)

Take Steps Now

Small changes in what you eat and how much you exercise can make a big difference in lowering your chances of developing diabetes. If you are overweight, losing 5% to 10% of your body weight (e.g., 10 to 20 pounds for a 200-pound person) by eating healthier and getting 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 days a week may reduce your risk of diabetes. To get started, add one new healthy living strategy each week.

Put less on your plate. Reduce all of your portions by a small amount and skip second helpings. This simple strategy adds up to eating fewer calories for gradual weight loss.

Eat regular meals. Keep your body fueled and hydrated so your hunger or thirst doesn’t cause unplanned snacking or overeating at meals. If you need a snack, try fresh veggies or fruit, a handful of nuts or whole grain crackers.

Choose for health. Every day, try to eat a variety of healthy foods from every food group—whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry and fish, and fat free (skim) or low fat dairy products.

Trim the fat. Stir-fry, broil or bake with non-stick spray or broth. Cook with less oil and butter. Compare food labels of similar foods and choose products with less fat, especially saturated and trans fat.

Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’re full. Take the time to enjoy every bite and listen to your body’s cues.

Move each day. Add 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity to your daily routine. Get started by getting off the bus a few stops early, parking the car further away or taking the stairs instead of the elevator to add a few more steps to each trip. Also try walking, an exercise class or move to an exercise video or DVD.

Working to prevent diabetes is well worth the effort! Small changes can have big payoffs in how you feel and for your quality of life.

Check out these delicious healthy living recipes to see if they can fit into your healthful eating plan to prevent or help manage diabetes.

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