November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes is a growing health crisis; around 35 million Americans are diabetic and up to 463 million people worldwide are affected. Being overweight can contribute to the chances of becoming diabetic, and too much sugar in one's diet is a contributor to obesity. Sugar is not a direct cause, but it can lead to excessive weight gain- a risk factor for diabetes.
Did you know that Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons of sugar a day? That far exceeds the recommended daily intake of sugar, which is 6 teaspoons a day. Sugar is in many of the foods we eat; both sugary and savory. It may be hard to spot on a nutrition label as sugar is listed under many different names. No matter what it may be called, sugar is sugar, and too much is unhealthy for us. A diet too high in sugar can lead to an assortment of health issues, including diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic health condition where the body's ability to regulate blood glucose or blood sugar is impaired. Blood glucose is the body's main source of energy which comes from the food we eat. Insulin, a hormone naturally made in the pancreas, helps convert blood glucose into energy for our cells. Our cells need energy for our body to function properly. Diabetes occurs when your body can't make enough insulin or can't regulate the insulin as well as it should.
There's no cure yet, but the condition can be managed through diet, exercise and medication to control blood sugar levels. Diabetes can be prevented, and your doctor can help you learn how to reduce your risk. For Diabetes Awareness Month, here's some food for thought.
Be Informed: Diabetes Facts
If you're newly diagnosed or just interested in prevention, these credible resources from the CDC and ADA have all the facts.
- What is diabetes? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides an overview of diabetes facts, symptoms, risk factors and healthy strategies for management.
- The American Diabetes Association is a national organization helping to connect the diabetic community with programs and resources for raising awareness and promoting healthy lifestyles.
- Diabetes can be preventable. If you think you're at risk, consider these diabetes prevention tips from the Mayo Clinic to avoid the onset of this serious disease.
Know the Types
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. They are very different from one another.
- Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas, destroying its natural ability to produce insulin. If you share a family history of Type 1 diabetes with a close relative, you may be at higher risk. Type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes, as it mostly develops in early childhood or adolescence.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin or the body stops responding to the insulin produced by the pancreas. It leads to elevated sugar levels in the body. This is the most common form of diabetes.
At Risk? Get Tested
A simple blood test is used to diagnose both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It's known as A1C, or glycated hemoglobin test. The results provide a snapshot of your blood sugar level. A level that's too high indicates a risk of developing diabetes complications. For most adults, a normal level is less than 5.7%, anything higher is getting into the danger zone. Maintaining a healthy A1C level starts with a healthy lifestyle.
Live a More Healthy Life
Before starting any new diet or exercise regimen, consult a medical professional. Here are some ways to reduce sugar naturally from your diet and recharge your energy:
- Start an exercise routine. Speak to your physician first to help set fitness goals safely, and begin slow. If you increase your exercise too fast, it might lead to injury. Daily physical activity boosts weight loss and you'll feel better, even walking 30 minutes a day is a great way to maintain better health. Take a four-legged friend along or grab a buddy to make it fun. WebMD's Fitness 101 article has some pointers for starting an exercise program.
- Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Water is essential for our bodies, yet most of us don't drink enough fluids. The adequate amount is 15.3 cups a day for men and 11.5 cups for women. Hydration helps us think clearly and keeps our body temperature regulated. Water protects and cushions our vital organs, flushes bacteria from our bodies, and aids in digestion. The Mayo Clinic has suggestions for ways to add more water into your daily routine.
- Focus on foods that are low in sugar and carbs, and high in fiber. A healthy diet is important for all of us, but if you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or just concerned about diabetes prevention, choosing the right foods can help keep your blood sugar under control. Losing weight and going on a diet are never easy tasks. You can start to change your mindset by setting goals, like adding more whole grains or vegetables to your meals. Swap a sugary cereal for oatmeal, or instead of a candy bar, grab some almonds and an apple. Take a look at Eat This Not That's compiled list of the 50 best foods for diabetics.
- Get enough sleep. Did you know having diabetes can affect how you sleep? Insomnia can occur if your blood sugar level is too high or too low. To keep your blood sugar in balance, it's recommended to get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep a night. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time reinforces our circadian rhythm, also known as our sleep cycle. To learn more, The Sleep Foundation explains in more detail how sleep and diabetes are interconnected.
- Manage your stress level. Stress takes a heavy toll on our bodies, and it can often come at us from all directions. Stress can make it more difficult to manage diabetes. Take the time to relax, meditate, and try some deep breathing techniques. When we calm our thoughts, the brain sends a message for our body to physically relax. Follow these deep breathing exercises for relaxation and to add mindfulness to your day.