National Diabetes Awareness Month

Hey there, Mamas! Hopefully Halloween wasn’t too scary for your waistline – or your health! November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diet plays a huge role in the management of all types of diabetes. A healthy diet (and weight) throughout life can help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 and gestational diabetes. However, there are some huge misconceptions about what people with diabetes can (or can’t) eat.  We’ll talk briefly about three major types of diabetes and Part 2 (coming soon) will discuss general diet tips for those with diabetes or trying to prevent the disease.

 

The Importance of Insulin

Insulin tends to get a bad rap. Let’s talk for a bit about how insulin works. When we eat carbohydrate containing foods, they are digested and enter our blood stream as glucose (blood sugar). [All macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) can ultimately affect blood sugar, but carbs have the fastest and most dramatic effect.] In order for the sugar (read: energy) to enter our cells to be used, the cells have to open up and allow the sugar inside. Insulin acts as a key, of sorts, to open up our cells and allow the energy (sugar) to enter. If blood sugar is consistently high, severe damage to kidneys, eyes, nerves, and feet (among other things) can occur. This is why good diabetes management is so important.

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Type 1 Diabetes

This is an autoimmune disease, in which the body attacks its own beta cells of the pancreas. Beta cells produce insulin. Without insulin, even though a person may be eating, their body can’t utilize the energy (their cells never “unlock” because there isn’t any insulin), so their blood sugar stays constantly high. This used to be referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, because it typically is diagnosed in children 18 or younger.

This article talks more about symptoms of type 1 diabetes in undiagnosed children. Because people with Type 1 diabetes cannot make their own insulin, they must take insulin injections to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

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Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) used to be considered “adult-onset diabetes,” because it typically affected older, heavier individuals. Now, many children and adolescents also suffer from this type of diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, T2D isn’t caused by eating too much sugar. Rather, T2D is caused by insulin resistance. Basically, your body simply doesn’t respond properly to the insulin your pancreas pumps out after you eat. This causes the energy from your food (sugar) to stay locked in your blood, instead of entering your cells to be used. This causes high blood sugar, to which most of the complications of diabetes can be attributed.

Something that can exacerbate insulin resistance is excess body fat, or continued overeating – from any macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, or fat). Inactivity also can make insulin resistance more pronounced. When someone is managing their T2D through “diet and exercise,” what they are actually doing is lowering their insulin resistance, which helps their body use their food more efficiently and makes their blood sugar return to normal levels more quickly.  Because people with T2D typically do make at least some insulin, they may not need insulin injections.

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Gestational Diabetes

Ahh, the relief pregnancy brings. Not trying to hold in your tummy anymore and the joy of eating for two… right? Not so fast. Unfortunately, the hormones of pregnancy and excess weight (all of which is totally normal) greatly impairs insulin resistance, so it’s similar to T2D. Except, it’s doubly important to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range during pregnancy, for health of both mama and baby.

If a mother has gestational diabetes, her circulating insulin levels are high, and those of her infant are high as well. However, after the baby is born, his insulin stays high, but he is not getting constant nourishment from his mother via the placenta anymore. This can cause a severe drop in blood sugar shortly after birth, which can be very dangerous. If you have gestational diabetes, it is vital to be completely honest with your OB about your blood sugar control during pregnancy.

Developing gestational diabetes is an additional risk factor for T2D later in life. Being active, returning to a healthy weight after baby, and eating healthy foods can help minimize the risk.

 

Be sure to check out Part 2: Eating for Diabetes

 

 

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