Diabetes is a big deal right now. You don’t have to do much more than turn on the television or open up a magazine to find new studies, warnings or statistics about the disease and those affected by it. And like too many diseases in our world today, diabetes is getting worse. That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicated this year’s World Health Day to Beat Diabetes.
What is Diabetes
The WHO defines diabetes as a chronic disease that occurs in two ways: either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (hormone that regulates blood sugar), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces [i]. These types of diabetes are commonly referred to as type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, is a chronic disease that typically develops in childhood or adolescence. Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but believe it is likely an autoimmune disease caused by genetics in some way [ii]. People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin naturally and rely on injections to survive
Type 2 diabetes, sometimes referred to as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, typically occurs in people who are overweight or obese, where the body does not produce enough insulin and does not use it properly.
The biggest – and key – differences between the two types of diabetes is that type 2 can be prevented with lifestyle and diet changes, while type 1 cannot be [iii].
By the Numbers
To understand the diabetes problem we’re facing globally, check out the following facts from the WHO:
- An estimated 422 million people world-wide had diabetes in 2014 – up from only 108 million in 1980
- Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, with an estimated seven million people in the U.S. unaware they have diabetes [iv]
- The global prevalence of diabetes among adults 18 and older was 8.5 percent in 2014 (in 1980, the number was only 4.7 percent)
- One can treat diabetes can be treated and its consequences avoided or delayed with proper diet, adequate physical activity, medication and regular screenings
- Due to the global rise in obesity, the number of children with type 2 diabetes is steadily rising and in some countries is the most common form of diabetes in children
An Ounce of Prevention
Because type 2 diabetes is environmental – or impacted by diet and lifestyle, it’s extremely preventable. Healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use are ways to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, according to the WHO.
When examining your diet, it’s important to remember that while there are many books or diet services touting themselves to be “diabetes diets,” what a person should eat varies by individual. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, pre-diabetes or are concerned with your risk, reach out to a medical professional for assistance and contact a registered dietitian nutritionist for diet help.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a healthy eating plan for someone with diabetes would be similar to that of someone eating for heart health, cancer prevention and weight management. You can find more of their recommendations here, but some of the following might be a part of a diabetes diet:
- Starchy foods including breads, cereals, pasta, rice, other whole grains and starchy vegetables such as beans, corn and peas
- Non-starchy vegetables including carrots, green beans and broccoli
- Lean meat, fish, poultry, low-fat cheese and tofu
- Fat-free or low-fat milk and kefir (Jewel-Osco Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Molly Bray recommends our Perfect 12 Kefir, it’s sweetened with stevia)
- Healthy fats such as plant-based oils and trans-fat-free spreads