November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

by Phoebe Bonaparte-Krogh Bay Pines VA Health Care System Dietetic Intern

You hear a lot about diabetes, the increasing prevalence, the different types, and the consequences of developing the disease. So what exactly is diabetes? Simply put, it is a group of diseases that results in high levels of glucose in the blood because your body does not make insulin or it can’t use the insulin it does make effectively. Without insulin, blood glucose levels rise because it cannot enter the cells to provide energy. Below are the types of diabetes you may have heard about.

Type 1 Diabetes: With this type of diabetes, the body destroys the cells that make insulin. You must administer insulin through injections to help manage blood glucose levels.

Type 2 Diabetes: This is the most common type of diabetes and occurs when your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. Eventually your body may stop making insulin altogether. It is more common in people who are overweight, physically inactive, older (although it can occur at any age) and African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American or Pacific Islander. To see if you are at risk take the risk test at

Gestational Diabetes: This type only occurs during pregnancy and is more common in women who over 25, overweight and from certain ethnic backgrounds.

If you have diabetes the main goal is to keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to all sorts of complications. These include:

  • Loss of eyesight
  • Hearing loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Foot sores, ulcers and limb amputation
  • Kidney disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke

So What Can You Do?

Whether you are at risk of developing diabetes or already have it, you can make lifestyle changes that will contribute to your overall health. The foods you choose and your level of physical activity can go along way to help you manage the disease

Nutrition: Here are some quick tips to help you get a handle on healthy eating.

  • Count your carbs and make your carbs count. Low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables are the most fiber- and nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates.
  • Pack in the plants! Make half your plate non-starchy vegetables, particularly vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and summer squash like zucchini.
  • Think about what you drink. Limit the soda, juices, and energy drinks that can have loads of sugar. Water is your best bet. Flavor it up with lime or lemon or a sugar free drink mix if plain water isn’t your thing.
  • Walk away from the donut! That means limiting those foods that are processed and high in fat and sugar like donuts, pastries, cakes, cookies and pies.
  • Give yourself some treats once and awhile. Save those for special occasions and when you do indulge, watch the portion size.

Physical Activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes a week. That’s 30 minute a day for at least 5 days of the week. You don’t need a gym membership to be active.

  • Go for a walk after dinner.
  • Play outside with your kids.
  • Take a walk at your lunch break.
  • Work out at home with everyday objects like canned goods and books for weights.
  • Check out workout routines on
  • Plant a garden.

Remember to always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Need more information on diabetes either for you or a loved one? Visit for additional resources.

For recipe ideas go to





Posted: November 8, 2013

Category: Health & Nutrition, Work & Life

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