Articles about Nutrition

November is American Diabetes Month

For every day, week, and month of the year there is something to celebrate. Did you know that November is National Peanut Butter Lovers month and National Sleep Comfort month? Week one is Chemistry week, while week three is Game and Puzzle week.  November 2nd is Deviled Eggs day and of course the 11th is Veteran’s Day.  Being a Dietitian, I want to share that November is also American Diabetes Month.

There are nearly 26 million children and adults in America living with diabetes, and another 79 million at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This disease is taking a devastating physical, emotional and financial toll on our country.  Yet most Americans don’t consider diabetes a serious matter asreported by the American Diabetes Association.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes. Also, diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. These are scary numbers, so what can you do about it?

First we should look at the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes or previously known as juvenile diabetes, is typically diagnosed in children and young adults.  With type 1 diabetes your body simply does not make insulin, which is a hormone that helps to convert carbohydrates (carbs) from our food into energy.  Amazingly, only 5% of the people mentioned above have this type of the disease, which can be controlled with the help of insulin therapy.

My focus with this article will be on type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease. With type 2 diabetes your body simply does not make enough insulin or your cells are ignoring the insulin.  Why this happens is still unclear, but the fact that it is happening is important.  Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult onset”, because it mostly occurred in adults.  Unfortunately, today it is more common to see children some as young as eight years old with type 2 diabetes.  Why?  Obesity!  Scientists are studying why excess fat in our system turns off our ability to use insulin; in the meantime, type 2 diabetes is often treated with medications and/or insulin therapy.

Here is a list of risk factors other than weight that put you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Age greater than 45 years
  • Diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Excess body weight (especially around the waist)*
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • HDL cholesterol under 35 mg/dL*
  • High blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat molecule (250 mg/dL or more)*
  • High blood pressure (greater than or equal to 140/90 mmHg)*
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Low activity level (exercising less than 3 times a week)
  • Metabolic syndrome (consists of the starred* items above)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • A condition called acanthosis nigricans, which causes dark, thickened skin around the neck or armpits
Also, people from certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, have a higher risk for diabetes.
There is some good news though. If you catch the warning signs early you may be able to stop or reverse the disease.  How? By implementing a proper diet, exercise, and weight loss plan if you are overweight.  Please note if you need to lose weight, you don’t have to go crazy like on the “Biggest Loser”.  Often just a 5-10% weight loss is all you need.
Recently, when I was interviewing a diabetic about his diet, he told me he knew what to do; he simply does not eat cake! I would like to dispel the myth that you can’t eat cake.  The goal of a diabetic diet is to keep blood glucose levels stable. Therefore, diabetics should eat three meals a day, spaced out at approximately the same time each day.  They should also have the same amount of carbs at every meal.  The amount of carbs you should eat varies depending on how active you are and what medications, if any, you are taking.  But a good starting point is usually 45-60 grams of carbs per meal.

Often people are confused about what foods contain carbs? The easy ones that most people know are starchy foods such as bread, rice, cereal, and crackers. Also there are carbs in fruit and fruit juice, milk, yogurt, beans, soy products (veggie burgers), and starchy veggies (potatoes and corn). They are also found in sweets and snack foods such as, soda, juice drinks, cake, cookies, candy, and chips.

Besides knowing what foods contain carbs you need to know the serving size and how many carbs it contains. Typically, we look at 15 grams of carbs per serving such as, 1 small piece of fruit; a half cup of cereal, a third cup of pasta, or a slice of bread.  As for that piece of cake; a two-inch square piece of cake, no frosting, contains approximately 15 grams of carbs.  Therefore, if you were going to have that piece of cake with your meal that will leave you with 30-45 grams carbs tobalance out the meal.


It’s not just carbs a diabetic should be concerned about; it’s the whole meal or snack. Every time a carb is eaten, a little bit of protein should also be consumed.  This helps to slow the absorption of the carbs into your bloodstream, which keeps your blood glucose (sugar) levels stable.  It’s the spikes, up or down, in blood glucose that causes the internal damage to your body.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when making a healthy change to your diet. Besides carbs and protein, please remember if you are also trying to lose weight you have to keep calories in mind too.  If you want to avoid heart disease, you need to limit the saturated and trans fat, and if you have high blood pressure look for foods with lower sodium.

A diabetic diet may seem confusing at first but with the guidance of a registered dietitian, a plan can be prepared that will become habit in no time. It’s important to know that you don’t have to give up your favorite foods either; you just have to account for them in your diet.


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