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Understanding and managing diabetes

If you’re one of the 225,000 people in Ireland with diabetes, or are at risk of developing it you should find this expert advice helpful

What is diabetes?

“Foods containing carbohydrates including grains, fruit and starchy foods, are broken down into simple sugars called glucose as we digest them,” says Erin Dolan, a certified Health Coach and type 1 diabetic. “Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas released to carry the glucose from the bloodstream to body cells in order to provide energy. In diabetics, the body cannot use the insulin properly or does not have any insulin to help carry out this process. Without insulin, glucose stays in the blood, causing high blood glucose levels and the body to malfunction.”

“Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition caused by a lack, or insufficiency of insulin,” says Angela McGlanaghey of health store Simple Simon in Donegal. “Insulin is responsible for keeping your blood sugar stable, so a lack of it leads to high blood sugar levels.”

Are there two types?

“Type one diabetes is caused by the person’s immune system destroying the insulin-making cells in their body,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “It usually occurs in childhood and must be controlled by insulin injections. Type two diabetes usually occurs in adulthood. It can sometimes be attributed to a poor diet, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle or a combination of all three. It can be controlled by diet and exercise, but may require medication.”

“Type 1 diabetes also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent is an autoimmune disease, which is typically diagnosed in children or young adults,” says Erin Dolan. “I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10 even though I was very active with dance and eating a healthy diet. Treatment requires daily insulin injections, regulating blood glucose levels and careful diet management. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in adulthood and is largely the result of poor diet, being overweight and genetics. Treatment includes proper diet management, oral prescriptions and sometimes insulin injections.”

Your lifestyle with diabetes

“A healthy active lifestyle is the best way to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” says Erin Dolan. “This means at least 30 minutes of daily moderate activity such as walking, swimming, cycling or other aerobic fitness. Mindful activities such as yoga and meditation are great ways to reduce stress and regulate blood glucose levels.”

“If you have type 2 diabetes you will need to exercise regularly, as well as staying a healthy weight,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “For type 1, lifestyle changes won’t make as much difference, but you can try to make things as easy as possible by meal planning, taking medication on time and so on.”

Your diabetes diet

“To hit your blood sugar level target, eat a variety of foods but monitor portions for foods with a high carbohydrate content,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Carbs have the most impact on blood sugar levels so they need to be monitored carefully. Also a healthy balanced diet with plenty of non starchy vegetables is important.”

“A healthy diet with nutrient-rich foods (vegetables, fruit, low-fat protein, wholegrains) and low in sugar, saturated fats and processed food will balance blood glucose levels in the body and maintain weight,” says Erin Dolan. “The general rule of thumb is to eat foods lower in glycaemic index, which is the measure of how fast food raises the blood glucose.”

“The latest diabetes technology such as Bluetooth blood glucose monitors, insulin pumps, diabetes management apps (One Drop) and Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGM) can support diabetes management, making life a little bit easier,” Erin Dolan

Super supplements

  • Cinnamon can lower fasting blood glucose level – sprinkle on porridge in the morning or use in baking recipes.
  • Magnesium – can assist in regulating both blood pressure and insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of diabetes. Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts/seeds, legumes and salmon.
  • Green tea – packed with antioxidants, can help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve glucose control.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – aid in reducing heart disease, which is a major diabetes risk. Foods high in omega-3 include nuts, seeds, cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) and plant oils.
  • Chromium – improves blood glucose control by enhancing the way the body uses insulin.

Discuss your decision with a healthcare practitioner before beginning or stopping any medical or herbal treatment.

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