Living with diabetes blog

A day in the life of diabetes

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. November 5, 2013

The theme for this year's American Diabetes Month is "A Day In the Life of Diabetes." Chances are that either you or someone you know has diabetes.

The statistics in the U.S. are striking:

  • About 1 in 400 people under age 20 has diabetes.
  • More than 1 in 10 adults age 20 or older have diabetes.
  • This number more than doubles in adults age 65 or older.

These numbers mean that many Americans spend time every day trying to manage their blood sugar levels, and worrying about whether they're doing a good job of it. Non-diabetic family and friends are also affected, as they watch loved ones struggle with medication, diet and exercise, not to mention diabetic complications, such as nerve damage and pain, and decline in vision, kidney and heart function.

Because diabetes affects so many people, I asked some of my dietitian colleagues who specialize in diabetes to recommend a few steps people can take to prevent diabetes — or to better control it. Here are their recommendations:

  • Down-size portion sizes. Two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Even modest weight loss of 5 to 7 percent can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent, delay onset and prevent complications. Dietitians recommend getting a 9-inch plate and filling half with vegetables, a quarter with whole grain and the other quarter with lean protein. The protein portion should be no bigger than the size of a deck of cards. Add a salad on the side, a small piece of fruit and a glass of low-fat milk, and you have a nutritionally balanced meal. (Men may want to double up on the veggies and whole grain.)
  • Don't eliminate carbs. From a nutritional standpoint when you eliminate carbohydrate, you're left with only fat, protein and alcohol. This skews your diet heavily toward animal-based foods that are the major sources of cholesterol and saturated fat. Heart disease and stroke are linked with diabetes. In addition, a high protein diet taxes the kidneys, and kidney failure is also a complication of diabetes. Instead, follow the above.
  • Going sugar-free can fool you. It's great that more of us are reading labels and are making the effort to avoid sugar. However, food labels can fool us. Grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label include natural and added sugar. Consider a label for skim milk. A serving has 12 grams of carbohydrate, and 11 of them are sugar. Does this mean you should avoid skim milk? No. Some processed foods are low in sugar — or have no grams of sugar — like salad dressing. They may be higher in calories (or even fat and salt). Choose according to calories.

Choose one day this month and participate in "A Day in the Life of Diabetes." The foods you choose will make a difference for you and your loved ones. Together we can fight diabetes one day at a time.

Jennifer

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Nov. 05, 2013