Living with diabetes

Finger prick

Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can’t produce insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas.

Insulin’s role is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar must be carefully regulated to ensure that the body functions properly. Too much blood sugar can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Your body also needs insulin in order to use sugar for energy.

Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Chances are, diabetes affects you or someone you know.

Types of diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common diagnosis, followed by type 1 diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and is usually temporary. In addition, prediabetes is another important diagnosis that indicates an elevated risk of developing diabetes.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes aren’t able to produce their own insulin (and can’t regulate their blood sugar) because their body is attacking the pancreas. Roughly 10 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but can also develop in adulthood. People with type 1 need to inject insulin or use an insulin pump to ensure their bodies have the right amount of insulin.

Type 2

People with type 2 diabetes can’t properly use the insulin made by their bodies, or their bodies aren’t able to produce enough insulin. Roughly 90 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is most commonly developed in adulthood, although it can also occur in childhood. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise alone, but may also require medications or insulin therapy.

Five Ways to Manage Mealtime and Insulin

Everyone experiences post-prandial blood sugar spikes—those temporary rises in blood sugar levels after eating—as the glucose from food enters into the blood stream. When you have diabetes, these post-meal blood sugar spikes, as well as the subsequent dips, can be dangerous.

In the short term, spikes decrease energy, affect brain function, diminish physical abilities and alter mood. When blood sugar is elevated over an extended period of time, it’s called hyperglycemia. This excess sugar in the blood can lead to early kidney disease and even eye damage, endangering vision. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for these complications.

Healthy eating

Choose foods that help control blood sugar

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing what to eat:

– Foods high in fiber digest more slowly and blunt blood glucose increases.

– Solid food, cold food and whole foods digest more slowly than liquid, warm or processed foods

– Avoid foods with added sugar

– Eat carbs with foods that contain fat or protein since they cause blood sugar to rise more slowly.

Change portion sizes

Adjusting portion sizes allows you to still eat the foods you want. Try splitting your meal and saving a portion of it for a snack one to two hours later.

A short walk after eating will help burn excess glucose by diverting blood to your muscles and slowing digestion. Avoid sitting for an extended time after eating.

Nurse talking to patient

Adjust your medications

Some people may need to adjust the timing or dosing of their medications to coincide with their eating schedule and reduce post-meal blood glucose spikes. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine if this is an option for you. Never adjust your dosing without the guidance of your healthcare provider.

Keep track

A journal will help you monitor how food, exercise, stress and other factors affect your blood sugar so you can spot trends and make changes if needed.