July 11-17, 2021 is National Diabetes Week. In Australia one person is diagnosed with diabetes every 5 minutes, impacting roughly 1.2 million people.
Nearly half of those living with diabetes experience poor mental health related to their diabetes, and 4 in 5 have experienced stigma due to their condition.
This year the aim is to create awareness of stigma and mental wellbeing for people living with diabetes; so to bring you up to speed, we’ve broken down some of the key facts!
What is it?
Diabetes is a chronic condition which develops when there is too much glucose in the blood (high blood glucose levels). Glucose (a type of sugar) is our body’s main energy source. When we eat foods containing carbohydrates the body breaks it down into glucose which is transported in the bloodstream to our cells where it can then be used for energy.
In order for glucose to enter the body's cells we need insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas which acts like a key to allow glucose to enter the cells). In the case of diabetes your body either doesn’t make insulin, doesn’t make enough insulin, the insulin your body is making doesn’t work properly, or a combination of these.
What are the different types?
There are 3 main types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes: is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system stops the pancreas from producing insulin and this must be replaced by injecting insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is a life-long condition, usually diagnosed in childhood.
Type 2 Diabetes: is where the body produces some insulin but either not enough or it doesn’t work well enough to regulate blood glucose levels. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common type and can often be managed by lifestyle changes, including diet, physical activity and weight (insulin injection/medication may also be needed).
Gestational diabetes: is a type that occurs during pregnancy. The body still produces insulin but other hormones produced during pregnancy get in the way and the body is less responsive to insulin leading to high blood glucose levels. This type can often be managed by diet and exercise (insulin injection/medication may also be needed).
What does diet have to do with it?
Diet plays an important role in the management of diabetes. The main consideration is regulating the intake of carbohydrates, including what type, when these foods are eaten and how much is eaten.
For example, eating small regular meals and spreading carbohydrate intake across the day can help in regulating blood glucose levels. The type of carbohydrate foods eaten is also important, including their glycaemic index or GI (a measure of how fast or slow the food is digested and enters the bloodstream).
Low GI foods (e.g. oats, wholegrain bread, legumes) enter the bloodstream at a slower rate and have less of an impact on blood glucose levels than high GI foods (e.g. white bread, processed grains). For individualised advice it is recommended to see your GP and an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD).