Healthy Eating with Diabetes
Physical Activity with Diabetes
What is diabetes?
Diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus, type 2 diabetes) is a disease where the body can no longer control the level of sugar in the blood. Diabetes is a life long condition meaning once people have diabetes we cannot cure it. Note that in this article we are talking about type 2 diabetes which accounts for 90-95% of cases. For information on type 1 diabetes click here.
How common is diabetes?
Very! Diabetes prevalence among adults in the Pacific region is among the highest in the world; 47% in American Samoa compared with 13% in mainland USA, and it ranges from 14% to 44% elsewhere in the region. In fact diabetes currently affects approximately 783,000 Pacific Islanders.
What causes diabetes?
Diabetes is caused by a variety of factors. We call these ‘risk factors’ as they put us at a higher risk of developing diabetes.
There are some risk factors we cant change – this includes our age as our risk increases when we are older than 40, and our family history- as diabetes can run in families. Though not everyone who is over 40 with a family history will develop diabetes.
There are many risk factors which we can influence through our lifestyle choices. Being overweight or obese, eating unhealthy foods and not getting enough physical activity all increase our risk of diabetes as they impair the bodies ability to utilise insulin in order to regulate our blood sugar levels.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
Around 50% of people with diabetes don’t know they have it- that’s 399,836 Pacific Islanders. This is because symptoms are very mild and develop very slowly meaning we may not notice them. Symptoms can include:
- Frequent urination
- Lack of energy/tiredness
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Blurred vision
- Skin infections and slow healing of wounds
Many people don’t realise they have diabetes until it has already caused enough damage to blur their vision. This is why it's important for everyone over 30 years, or showing multiple risk factor for diabetes, to be screened at least once a year.
How do I get screened for diabetes?
This normally involves a simple finger prick blood test. Your blood sugar level is tested instantly so there’s no waiting time. Visit your nearest health centre or pharmacy to have your screening.
What are the consequences of diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious disease. While the symptoms are often silent for a long time, the consequences can be life threatening. In the short term diabetes can cause increased thirst, irritability, lethargy, and blurred vision. In the long term uncontrolled diabetes causes serious damage to our body including;
- Skin- Small blood vessel and nerve damage caused by diabetes leads to various skin issues such as dry skin, black discolouration, itchiness, loss of sensation and ulcers.
- Nerves- the damage causes loss of feeling. This can mean people injure themselves without knowing (e.g. They may pick up a very hot object, feel no pain and so burn their skin, or develop a bad blister without realising)
- Eyes- vision becomes cloudy and blurred. It can eventually cause eye disease and permanent blindness
- Kidneys- the damage can lead in the long term, to kidney failure
- Heart muscles- the damage caused by high blood sugar leads to an increased risk of heart disease
- Immunity- resistance to infection is reduced. The higher blood sugar levels also encourage more bacterial growth
- Wound healing- speed of recovery is slower, particularly for wounds such as cuts and blisters on the feet.
- Pregnancy- a pregnant woman with diabetes has an increased risk of developing problems during the pregnancy. The baby is also at an increased risk.
These consequences can be prevented! Through a healthy lifestyle and medication, you can keep your blood sugar levels to a safe level and prevent damage.
How can I manage my diabetes?
Once you're diagnosed with diabetes your doctor will provide you with some lifestyle advice and possible medications such as metformin. If you are prescribed with medication it's very important to take it exactly as your doctor prescribes to make sure it's effective. If you halve the medication or skip days, the medication will not be effective.
What lifestyle habits will help prevent and control my diabetes?
Here are four quick tips to help prevent and manage diabetes through a healthy lifestyle.
- Try to keep your weight in check. Being a healthy weight is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of diabetes.
- Put physical activity first. Being physically active can cut your risk of diabetes and help control your blood sugar levels. Choose things you enjoy and do them every day. Too much sitting can increase your risk- so take every opportunity to move – walking to work, gardening or joining a sport or dance group. Click here for more information on physical activity and diabetes
- Focus on fresh, Pacific foods. Traditional Pacific foods such as root crops, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables are delicious and nutrition. They provide us with plenty of healthy nutrients and when not consumed in excessive amounts help control our weight and blood sugar levels. Click here for more information on healthy eating with diabetes.
- Cut back on refined carbohydrates and sugary drinks. White bread, white rice, white pasta and potatoes cause quick increases in blood sugar, as do soft drinks, juice, sports drinks and tea or Milo with extra sugar. Over time, eating lots of these refined carbohydrates and sugar increases your risk of obesity and diabetes. To lower your risk, switch to whole grains and skip the sugar — especially the sugary drinks.
Do we normally have sugar in our blood?
Yes- everyone has sugar in their blood as it works as a fuel to energise our bodies. Our body keeps the level of sugar in our blood to a safe level. The sugar gets into our blood from the digestion of foods we eat.
Which foods influence how much blood sugar we have?
Foods that create a lot of sugar in our blood include sugary foods like table sugar, lollies, juice, soft drinks but also fruits and starchy foods like root crops (taro/cassava/sweet potato), cooking bananas, bread, flour, crackers, noodles and rice. Sugary foods, especially drinks, are normally digested quicker leading to big spikes in our blood sugar levels while starchy foods that contain fibre such as wholegrain breads and root crops take longer for our body to breakdown and use meaning they provide us with fuel/ sugar over a longer time period, avoiding big spikes in our blood sugar level. Click here for more information on healthy eating with diabetes.
For more information click on the links below
- Diabetes facts and resources for Fiji
- Tonga Diabetes Foundation
- Samoa Diabetes Association
- International Diabetes Federation- Western Pacific Region
- Diabetes in the Western Pacific Region—Past, Present and Future
- Western Pacific Declaration on Diabetes
- WHO Western Pacific Region- Diabetes
- Fred Hollows- Diabetic Retinopathy
- Diabetes New Zealand