Chances are, you or someone you know has diabetes. It’s fairly common, affecting 1 out of every 10 adults around the world. However, it’s estimated that nearly half (44%) of those living with diabetes don’t know they have it.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month in the United States, and November 14 every year is World Diabetes Day, which falls on the birthday of one of the two scientists who discovered insulin. This November, take time to learn more about the disease, your risk factors and get some tips for living well with diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Simply speaking, diabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. Usually it is diagnosed from a blood sample taken after you’ve fasted (not had anything to eat or drink) for at least 8 hours or overnight. Normal fasting blood sugar levels should be at or below 99 mg/dL. If it’s slightly higher than that, you might have prediabetes (a precursor to type 2 diabetes). You are considered to have the disease if your fasting blood glucose levels are 126 mg/dL or higher.
Diabetes Risk Factors
Your risk for getting diabetes is greater if you are:
- 45 years old or older
- Not physically active
- Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- African-American or Hispanic
It’s true that you can’t change your age or family history, but things like losing excess pounds or being more active can have a real effect on reducing your risk.
Living Well with Diabetes
If you’re worried about your risk, or if you recently were given a diagnosis, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Managing diabetes takes a serious commitment. It’s true that diabetes can lead to other health conditions or complications, but that’s often when it’s not properly managed. It’s common to feel overwhelmed when first faced with a diagnosis but remember that success in many ways is in your hands. Many people are able to manage their blood sugar levels without medication. Often good diabetes care is involves following an overall healthy diet, making positive lifestyle modifications, and being aware of changes in how your body responses to certain foods and activities.
- Self-care is not selfish. It’s important to pay special attention to your body and how it manages blood sugar. That means monitoring how your food choices, exercise, stress levels and sleep patterns all affect your blood sugar levels. You deserve to carve out time for yourself for rest and relaxation, healthy meals and enjoyable physical activities.
- A team approach is a winning strategy. Diabetes care isn’t something for you to figure out alone – work with your healthcare team, including a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator so that you get the tools and support you need. They are there to help you find ways to manage the disease within your food and lifestyle interests.
- Trusted sources should be your guide. There is a ton of information online, but not all of it is credible. Some of the best sources of the latest information and guidelines are the American Diabetes Association, the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What Can I Eat?
The first question people often ask when faced with a diabetes diagnosis is what foods and drinks they can and can’t have. The good news is, very little is off the table! It’s a myth that people with diabetes can’t enjoy higher-carbohydrate foods like bread or chocolate – they can, within a balanced eating plan. Often this comes down to managing portion sizes and eating a mix of fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats to help minimize blood spikes.
A good diet for diabetes is a healthy diet overall. That includes eating plenty of protein, limiting saturated fat, and looking for fiber-rich food sources like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It also means maintaining a healthy weight and getting some heart-pumping physical activity.
Think of it this way: a diabetes diagnosis is a sign from your body to give it a little more attention. Explore different strategies, from changing some of your eating habits to figuring out how exercise affects your blood sugar levels. It’s all about working with your healthcare team to learn what works for you and making adjustments as needed.