The Importance of World Diabetes Day

Today we celebrate World Diabetes Day to raise global awareness of a disease that affects an estimated 382 million people worldwide. The theme for 2014 is Healthy Living and Diabetes, so we asked Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, a nutrition counselor and diabetes expert, to join me today so we could learn more about diabetes.

Jill has written 21 Things You Need to Know About Diabetes and Your Heart, which will be available in February. Jill is also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

What is the difference between the two types of diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, the hormone that ushers glucose out of the blood and into the cell where it is used for energy or stored for later use. Insulin has many other roles as well and even affects protein and fat metabolism. Only 5% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Though it can occur at any age, it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

The underlying cause of type 2 diabetes is inuslin resistance, the condition in which the body does not use insulin properly. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to keep blood glucose within normal levels. Eventually, if insulin resistance continues, the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand. Blood glucose first rises to the level of prediabetes and then to the level of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes. Unfortunately, about 8 million of them don’t even know it. What’s also very worrisome is that 86 million Americans over age 20 have prediabetes and are at very high risk for developing type 2 diabetes and associated heart disease. That’s why increasing awareness through World Diabetes Day is so important.

Can lifestyle changes affect diabetes?

Yes! I often recommend my patients increase their physical activity and eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, protein-rich foods and dairy to help prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes and to control all types of diabetes. Along with any medication prescribed by a healthcare provider, lifestyle changes like reducing intakes of added sugars and excess calories, increasing physical activity, and losing excess weight all help people with diabetes live a healthy and happy life.

What role do low-calorie sweeteners play in diabetes management?

My patients with diabetes are amazed by the difference in their blood sugar levels when they switch from sugary drinks to water or beverages sweetened with low or no calorie sweeteners. They get better control and feel so much better! A study conducted in 2013 found replacing added sugars with low-calorie sweeteners can reduce the rise in blood glucose levels and aid in controlling weight too. Overall, it’s a big win to switch from added sugars to no calorie and low-calorie sweeteners.

What resources do you recommend to those diagnosed with diabetes?

I’ve written a book for people with diabetes who are also trying to lose weight: Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week. There are some great motivational stories about the triumphs of others and delicious recipes that show how to bring healthy meals into the house. The ADA also has a great guide for those newly diagnosed with diabetes. For even more diabetic friendly recipes you can check out ADA’s Facebook page or their Pinterest board.

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faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.