What is diabetes?
What is diabetes?
During digestion, the carbohydrates or starchy foods you eat get broken down into glucose, a type of sugar. This glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream. Your pancreas then releases the hormone insulin into the blood, which transports the glucose from the blood to the body cells, to be used for energy. Diabetes occurs when the amount or the functioning of the insulin is inadequate, impairing the uptake of sugar from the blood to the cells. This means that the body cannot control blood glucose levels normally, or use the energy from foods effectively. Instead of feeding the cells with energy, the glucose accumulates in the blood, causing blood glucose levels to rise and, over time, causing damage to the kidneys, eyes, nerves and heart.
Types of diabetes
There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Previously known as Insulin Dependent Diabetes, occurs in 5 to 10% of people with diabetes. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It was thought that it occurred mainly in children and younger people, but we now know that it can occur on people of all ages.
In Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas produces very little or no insulin. Insulin therefore needs to be supplied artificially by means of a pen or syringe injections or by using a pump that supplies a constant low dose of insulin around the clock. It is important to note that some people with Type 2 diabetes also use insulin injections to manage their diabetes. It is a common misconception that if diabetes is diagnosed when you are older, and if you only need to take tablets, that the condition is less severe than if you have to use insulin. This is not so – the severity of diabetes is not distinguished by the medication you use, but by how effectively you control your blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 accounts for 90 to 95% of everyone diagnosed with diabetes. Although your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases with age, younger people and even children can present with this condition too. A characteristic of Type 2 Diabetes is that the body cells become resistant to the action of insulin. This makes it increasingly difficult for the insulin to transport glucose into your cells effectively. The pancreas initially responds to this resistance by producing more insulin. However, as the body cells become more resistant over time, even these higher amounts of insulin can become insufficient to enable the proper transportation of glucose into the cells. What is important to realize is that the amount of insulin present is too little to transport the glucose out of the blood and into the body cells.
Pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood glucose levels during pregnancy are said to have gestational diabetes. The exact cause of gestational diabetes remains unknown. It has been suggested that hormones produced by the placenta which help the baby to grow, may block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance: the body’s inability to respond to and use the insulin it produces.
Diabetes and nutrition
Having a healthy diet with regular meals and snacks can help improve your blood glucose control. Include one food from each of the following food groups into each of your meals:
Group 1: High fibre carbohydrates
Group 2: Lean proteins
Group 3: Vegetables and fruit
Group 4: Healthy fats
To build balanced, mixed meals, use the plate model as a guide to the type and portions of foods you should be eating at each meal.
Read the rest in this series:
- Diabetes and nutrition
- Diabetic breakfast tips
- How to interpret food labels
- Diabetes-friendly recipes
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