Thursday, December 08, 2011

Type 2 Diabetes: A Primer

My husband was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. While this came as quite a shock to him, I had been expecting it for at least 6 months. Maybe that denial is what kept him from losing weight, and changing his lifestyle to avoid this. But I guess everyone goes through a little denial with regard to their health.

Last night we went to a class to learn about the basics of diabetes. I was surprised that there were some people in the class who had been diabetic for 5 years, but were only just now starting to deal with it, and learn more about it. This class was really helpful for me. I really feel like I can help my husband now.

So what is diabetes? Let me give you the explanation as the teacher gave it to us. The pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the blood sugars to be absorbed in to the blood stream, and be metabolised by the body. But some people become insulin resistant. This often happens when a person gains weight. The shape of the cells actually changes when someone gains weight, making it hard to absorb the insulin. It's like trying to put a slightly odd shaped key in to a lock. So the body can't absorb the insulin, and can't rid itself of the extra blood sugars. This can put stress on many of the organs, and cause a lot of health problems.

People with high blood sugar can lower the blood sugar level by restricting sugars. Carbohydrates and fats, when processed by the body, become a type of sugar. So people who have high blood sugar levels should also restrict the amount of carbohydrates and fats they eat. The teacher gave us a pamphlet that showed appropriate portion sizes for each type of food. The pamphlet suggested that a diabetic person think of their dinner plate as being divided in half. When dishing up food, the diabetic should fill half of the plate with fresh vegetables. (Salad, or other cooked vegetables) The other half of the plate should be divided in half. One section should be for the carbohydrate, and one for the protein. Can you imagine this in your mind? Can you see that the meat and carb portions will be much smaller than the vegetable portion? The guideline for meat is that a serving of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards.

Carbohydrates are a special category all together, and should be portioned carefully. The pamphlet we received gave portion sizes that would be very surprising for a non-diabetic person. For example, it was suggested that for a meal, the person could have 1 piece of bread, or 1 tortilla. They could have...if I remember correctly...1/3 cup of rice. So you can see that the carb portions are much smaller than what most people eat. The teacher said that a diabetic should keep their total carbs for one meal below 60 grams. I asked her about snacks, and she said a snack should be below 15 grams. If you look on the dietary information list on the package of food, it will tell you how many carbs are in one serving of that food item. The key is to only eat the serving size. So if the peanut butter jar label says that there are 20 grams of carbohydrates in one tablespoon of peanut butter, then only use one tablespoon on your sandwich. This teacher recommended buying things in single serving packages so that you don't have to measure, and you will know that when you have finished that serving, you are done. She said a good example of appropriate serving size are the small individual sugar free ice creams cartons, or the sugarfree jello and pudding cups that you can buy. She felt it is better to buy them that way so that you won't be tempted to eat more. The key is to pay attention to serving sizes.

This teacher said it is very important to eat 3 times a day. If you don't eat one meal, your liver will sense that the body needs energy, and will start to secrete sugar. It is also difficult for your body to try to get all that it needs from that one meal at the end of the day. By eating three times a day, you give your body the chance to evenly metabolize the sugars throughout the day. But you can't save up carbs. You can't go without eating your slice of bread at breakfast and lunch, and then eat three for dinner that night. THat messes with your blood sugar.

I was surprised to learn that diabetics can eat fruit. It should be fresh fruit, not canned fruit which is processed with sugar. But although diabetics can eat fruit, they should not drink fruit juice, or any other sugared drink. Juices have too high of concentration of sugars.

There is a lot more I could write about this subject. Maybe I will do another post later that talks about the medications given to diabetics, and also the importance of testing your blood. Oh, but the one last thing I want to mention is that one of the best ways to lower blood sugar is to exercise! Regular exercise can do wonders for diabetics. My husband is currently in the market for a treadmill. I think that once he starts walking regularly, he is going to lose weight, and see amazing results with his blood sugar.

If you think that you might be headed toward diabetes, you can take steps now to head it off. Cut out the sugars in your diet. Watch the carbohydrates and fats in the foods that you eat; the lower the better. But most importantly, get tested so that you know for sure. If diabetes goes unchecked, it can cause blindness, heart attack, loss of limbs and more. It's easy to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don't have a problem, but in the long run, it's better to know so that we can take steps to get healthy.


Grannymar said...

Certainly help your husband all you can, promise never to treat him like an acquaintance of mine treats her husband. He was diagnosed with high cholesterol. He was an Irish man fond of fried foods and heavy on the salt and butter. He is two years my junior.

What did she do? She became like a Regimental Sargent Major, and salt & butter were not allowed on the table. Irish men love lashings of both on their potatoes! If a guest was present and asked for salt (she had stopped using it in food preparation) she would go to the kitchen, bring the salt and stand with hand outstretched while the guest used it. I always felt embarrassed for her husband. What ever happened to free will? A man in his sixties, a Dean in the Church or Ireland, used to counselling his various flocks and she was treating him like an uneducated child.

Rummuser said...

My brother in law, Padmini's husband has been very successfully living with diabetes for the past many years. Many of my friends do too without losing their zest for life. It is possible to do so as long as one takes care.