In Australia, diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic health conditions. There is also a lot of misinformation, in particular regarding dietary requirements and exercise, available online – so it’s no wonder people are easily confused about the condition. Here are some simple truths about diabetes, and simple steps in managing the condition.

There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 is an auto-immune condition where the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas responsible for creating insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when either the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin or the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Genetics play a significant role in both types of diabetes, those people who have a family history of diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes themselves. However, type 2 diabetes has also been identified with some key lifestyle factors such as being physically inactive, a history of cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity. People without a family history or the lifestyle factors listed previously aren’t immune to developing diabetes though, practicing healthy lifestyle choices certainly aids in preventing the chronic condition.

There is no specific ‘diabetic diet’ to follow as any advice needs to be tailored specifically to the individual. Of course, there is ongoing management of the condition with a health care team, which can include a GP, nursing staff, a diabetic educator and other professionals. Health professionals will generally recommend a diet including the 5 food groups, focusing on taking in adequate amounts of fresh fruit and veggies, as well as lean sources of protein.

When adapting to a diabetic diagnosis, there aren’t always drastic changes required. Simple changes like swapping cooking with butter for olive oil, cream for a Greek yogurt, and leaving sugar out of the tea or coffee are all fantastic little changes that add up over the course of a day.

Sugar can certainly cause blood glucose levels to rise, and for those with type 1 diabetes must be particularly careful with their insulin levels, but it doesn’t mean that those with diabetes can never have sugar again. The amounts of sugar someone with diabetes might be able to have varies drastically between people, which is why it is imperative to speak to a doctor and arrange a diabetic management plan. Simply being aware of how much sugar is in food can make a huge difference. Much of the packeted food we find in the supermarket can seem healthy, when in fact sugar is a main ingredient. For this reason, it is important to get familiar with reading the ingredient list and dietary information provided on the label. The more fresh whole foods are consumed, or people choose to make their own foods at home such as pasta sauce, the more likely they are to avoid consuming added sugar.

Replacing sugar with sweeteners isn’t necessarily always a healthier option. There are non-nutritive sweeteners, such as stevia, which won’t affect the blood glucose levels and can be very helpful in managing diabetes. Nutritive sweeteners, such as fructose or sorbitol, do contain some carbohydrate and can elevate the blood glucose levels slightly. There are also many products available in Australia, which are marked as ‘sugar free’ or ‘diet’. These products will often use artificial sweeteners and may also have higher saturated fat levels, so aren’t necessarily healthier or a better option when managing diabetes.

While practicing a healthy diet is certainly an important part in managing diabetes, diet isn’t the end of it. Regular exercise is also imperative. When a person exercises, they immediately improve their insulin sensitivity and therefore lower the blood glucose levels. Moving can become more strenuous as people age, which is where activities such as swimming, walking, yoga and pilates all come in to play. Each of the exercises are low impact, but also get the blood pumping, as well as strengthen and tone the muscles – in turn, also supporting the joints.

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* This is not medical advice and should not be taken as such. Please see your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. Call Mermaid Central Medical Clinic on (07) 5575 2444 or visit the website www.mermaidcentralmedicalclinic.com.au to make an appointment.

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