Diabetes: prevention is key

How little we know about diabetes was revealed and then remedied by Danbury Hospital dietician Nancy Salem this past Thursday at the first session of the autumn/winter Community Health Series at The Greens at Cannondale. The subject was diabetes, now reaching epidemic proportions and affecting children as well as adults. Interest in the subject was high, because many people are now being told they are pre-diabetic and being advised that immediate changes in lifestyle can prevent the disease from occurring.
First of all, what is diabetes? The food we eat is broken down into glucose, the source of our energy. In the digestive process, the pancreas pumps out insulin, the hormone that moves glucose into the bloodstream. When the pancreas doesn’t pump enough insulin, some glucose remains in the bloodstream, not being used. This imbalance of glucose and insulin is diabetes, which, by decreasing the amount of energy needed by the body, affects all the body’s functions, causing fatigue and other much more serious symptoms.
Diabetes is not curable at this point but it is controllable. There are two types: Type 1, when the pancreas produces too little insulin and reinforcements of insulin are essential. Type 2, which is reaching epidemic proportions, when blood sugar levels are consistently too high, and insulin levels too low, because the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin (insulin resistance) and changes in food intake are the primary ways to keep blood sugar normal. Overall, diet, exercise and weight are the basic considerations when managing diabetes. There is also a pre-diabetic stage, when blood sugar is approaching an excessive amount, on the cusp of diabetes. At this stage, lifestyle changes are mandatory for prevention.
The good news is that diabetes can be definitely under control. The notso- good news is that without careful self-management, diabetes can run amok, causing horrific outcomes like blindness and amputation. Who gets diabetes and why? There is a definite genetic component (diabetes seems to run in families) but an unmanaged lifestyle is much more common. Poor diet and lack of exercise, like most of our basic ills, are the culprits. 0besity and our sedentary lives have become hallmarks of our culture. Whether it’s a combination of genetics, overeating and a couch-potato, computer-locked lifestyle, overweight is more and more apparent. Hundreds of fad diets have attempted to come to the rescue and surgery is often a last resort. But in most cases, strict self-management is the answer. Reducing the portion sizes we’ve become used to is a good start. Purposely moving, walking, standing at definite intervals instead of letting ourselves stay glued to our computer or TV screens is a new habit that needs persistent, personal installation. Activity can actually help reduce the amount of medications you need to take and make your body’s own insulin production more effective.
Training your taste buds to enjoy fruits, vegetables, fish, salad, and lean meat — instead of fried, frittered, fatty, overly sweet foods — must become a lifelong pro-health strategy. Nancy Salem emphasizes that diabetes management doesn’t mean you give up everything you enjoy eating. In fact, enjoying food is a basic aid to digestion. You don’t have to give up your favorites but carbohydrates like pasta, bread, pastries, sugar (yes, sugar is a carbohydrate) must be considered treats that you choose carefully and eat sparingly. It’s a matter of intentionally, intelligently healthful living, a recommendation to adopt as soon as you’ve read this review of The Greens community outreach