Frequently Asked Questions About Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is needed to convert food, such as sugar, starches and other food components, into energy needed for daily life. When insulin does not work properly, blood glucose levels rise.
- What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, but can also be diagnosed through the early adult years. Only 5 to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes therefore require insulin shots.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, affecting 90 to 95% of those with diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not create enough insulin or cells are resistant to the action of the insulin the body does make. Diet and exercise are an important part of treating type 2 diabetes, and with the advice of a physician, medications may also be prescribed for blood glucose control.
- Why is blood glucose so important?
Glucose is the basic fuel for the cells in the body, and insulin takes the glucose from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of into cells, it can cause problems:
- The cells of your body become starved for energy.
- High blood glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart over time.
- What causes type 2 diabetes?
The cause of diabetes is unknown. There are, however, several factors that increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, such as: being overweight, being physically inactive, and genetics.
Blood sugar, more accurately called blood glucose, is the main source of energy for our bodies and the body makes it from the foods we eat. "High blood sugar" is a condition in which glucose builds up in the bloodstream. The medical term is hyperglycemia and it is the main factor used to diagnose diabetes. Hyperglycemia can only be determined by a blood test. Hyperglycemia can have some serious side effects, however. Prolonged hyperglycemia may contribute to changes in vision or damage to the eyes, kidney problems, heart disease, or stroke.
- What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced by our bodies, specifically our pancreas. Among its many functions, insulin helps with the movement of glucose from the blood into body cells where glucose is used as a source of energy or stored as a fuel source. Without insulin, body cells can "starve", even though there may be plenty of glucose ion the bloodstream.
- What is hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)?
Hypoglycemia occurs when there is an imbalance between insulin and glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone produced by our bodies that raises the level of glucose in the blood, and is an important factor in hypoglycemia. To keep diabetes under control, it is important to test your blood glucose frequently. Ask your physician how often you should test and what your blood glucose levels should be, and what to do when they are low. Good diabetes control, including an appropriate diet, is the best way to prevent hypoglycemia.
- What can I do to help treat type 2 diabetes?
The most important thing is to work with your physician and possibly a registered dietitian to help develop an overall healthy lifestyle plan.
- If you are overweight, try to lose some weight. Even a small reduction in body weight can have a major effect in helping to control blood glucose.
- Be sure to eat regularly throughout the day. Choose foods that are good sources of fiber, such as oats and beans and try to include vegetables with each meal.
- Lower your fat intake to help protect your heart health.
- If you do not currently have one, find a registered dietitian. A dietitian can help you choose a diet that will work for your specific nutritional needs. Your physician may also prescribe medication and/or insulin depending on your blood glucose levels, your overall health, how long you’ve had type 2 diabetes, and other issues.
- Is it possible to have "borderline" diabetes?
People who have impaired glucose tolerance—blood glucose levels that are higher than normal after an overnight fast—are sometimes referred to as being on the "borderline" for diabetes. Improving your lifestyle habits, such as eating a more healthful diet, losing weight, and exercising regularly may help prevent the development of diabetes.
Diabetes and Nutrition Questions
- What are the health benefits of oats for people with type 2 diabetes?
Eating foods that are a good source of fiber, such as Quaker Oatmeal, may help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels already within the normal range. Oats may also help lower blood cholesterol levels, which may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, which is one of the long-term complications found in people with diabetes.
The good news is that almost any food can fit into your diet. Controlling your diet is an important aspect of your treatment plan, and your physician will make specific recommendations, which may include referring you to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian can help you develop a healthy eating plan that fits your lifestyle habits and health goals. You will also need to learn how to keep track of what you eat so that you stay in control of your blood glucose.
- Now that I have been diagnosed with diabetes, do I have to give up all the foods that I love?
While you may have to adjust your serving sizes and how often you eat them, most foods can fit into your eating plan. The key to following a healthy diet is moderation, which everyone, whether they are diabetic or not, should follow. Consult with your physician or a dietitian to help you develop your own personalized healthy eating plan.
- Do I have to completely eliminate sugar from my diet?
People with diabetes can fit sweets into their meal plan by substituting for other carbohydrate foods, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). It's the total amount of food and type of food consumed that really matters. Consult your health care provider or registered dietitian to find out what is the right amount for you.
- Should I try to eat at the same time each day?
It is helpful to have a regular eating schedule. This will help keep your blood glucose level better balanced. Also, don’t miss out on breakfast.
- Why should I consult a registered dietitian?
Registered dietitians have special training and knowledge on how the body handles food. Dietitians who understand diabetes can show you how the foods you eat affect your blood glucose level. Understanding this helps to coordinate your medications and eating habits. Your dietitian will also work with you to create a healthy diet that incorporates your favorite foods.
- Did I get diabetes because I ate too much sugar?
Eating too much sugar is not a good thing, but it doesn't cause diabetes. Eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise can lead to being overweight, however, which has been found to be a leading contributor to developing type 2 diabetes.
- Since I'm taking insulin, does that mean I can eat anything I want?
The pills or insulin shots are more effective when they don't have to work as hard to lower your blood glucose levels. Combining your medication with a healthy diet and exercise program will give you the best results.
Exercise and Diabetes Questions
- I have been diagnosed with diabetes – does that mean I shouldn't exercise anymore?
Just because you have been diagnosed with diabetes doesn't mean you should stop exercising – far from it. In addition to reducing your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity, exercise may also be able to help improve your blood glucose control.
- Can exercising cause low blood glucose?
Exercise can cause low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, in people who take insulin or certain medications to help control their diabetes. It possible to develop hypoglycemia while you are exercising, immediately after you finish exercising, or sometimes up to a day later. You may become sweaty, have a headache, and feel weak, disoriented, irritable, or hungry. Your physician may recommend that you adjust your medication, carry snacks or drinks, or modify your diet to help prevent this from happening. No matter what your health conditions are, it is important to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.
- What are some good types of exercise for people with diabetes?
There are many different forms of aerobic exercise that are appropriate for people with diabetes, including walking, swimming, dancing, aerobics, basketball, and tennis. Be sure to consult with your physician before you begin any exercise routine. You can also add physical activity to your daily routine by walking or riding your bicycle instead of driving, doing housework, gardening, or walking the dog, for example.
- Are there any forms of exercise I shouldn't do?
There are certain types of physical activity that you should avoid if you have specific diabetes complications. Exercises that involve heavy weights aren’t recommended for people with diabetic eye problems since these exercises increase the pressure in the blood vessels in your eyes. Diabetes-related nerve damage can make if difficult to tell if you have developed blisters or injured your feet during exercise, which can lead to other serious health problems if left untreated.
- What precautions should I take?
There are a few safety precautions you should take before you exercise, including:
- Check your blood glucose levels before and after you exercise and every 20 to 30 minutes during periods of prolonged exercise. Wear proper footwear, especially if you have poor circulation or numbness in your feet. Shoes with gel inserts and socks made of polyester or a poly-blend will help keep your feet comfortable, dry, and free of blisters.
- Stay well hydrated. Dehydration can affect your blood glucose levels, so you need to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. In addition to water, you physician may recommend you bring along some fruit juice or sports drink if you are at risk for hypoglycemia.
- Wear a Med-Alert bracelet that shows you have diabetes, in the event you are injured or lose conscious due to hypoglycemia.
- Try to avoid exercising during times of peak insulin activity. Exercising in the morning is ideal.
*3g of soluble fiber daily from oatmeal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.