Written by accredited dietitian Themis Chryssidis
From Sprout Cooking School & Health Studio
Approximately 1.8 million Australians have diabetes and it is estimated that a further 500,000 Australians are undiagnosed. ‘Diabetes is the sleeping giant that is going to have a major impact on the health status of Australia over the next 20 years,’ says Themis Chryssidis, Accredited Practicing Dietitian from Sprout. Themis details his top tips and strategies for diabetes management.
Diabetes is a chronic health condition where the body can’t maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. When we eat food containing carbohydrate this carbohydrate is broken down into glucose molecules. This glucose then enters the blood stream where insulin (a hormone produced in the pancreas) transports the glucose to our muscles or liver where it is stored for use as energy when required. Individuals with diabetes either do not have adequate insulin to transport glucose or their insulin is resistant to glucose and consequently glucose remains in their blood stream for long periods of time. This can lead to many major long term health consequences including kidney damage, blindness, heart attack and stroke.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes primarily occurs early in life and accounts for around 10% of diabetes cases in Australia. People who have type 1 diabetes do not produce any or only very small quantities of insulin, resulting in accumulation of glucose in the blood as it cannot be transported to the body’s cells for storage.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as late onset diabetes as it primarily occurs later in life as a result of lifestyle factors, however it is becoming increasingly more common at younger ages. While individuals with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, this insulin is less effective as the body’s cells do not respond properly to the insulin. This results in high blood glucose levels.
Gestational diabetes refers to high blood sugar levels that occur during pregnancy and may put both the child and mother at risk. Gestational diabetes is most similar to type 2 diabetes as individuals with gestational diabetes still produce insulin however production may have reduced or it may be less efficient. Gestational diabetes can occur in healthy people with no obvious lifestyle factors hence pregnant people are required to do an oral glucose tolerance test during their pregnancy to ensure they do not have gestational diabetes.
Carbohydrate is the main source of energy for your body and is found in a range of foods, including whole grains and cereals, milk and yoghurt, fruit, some starchy vegetables, and convenience and processed foods and beverages such as table sugar, honey, biscuits and soft drink.
All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) which then enter the bloodstream. It’s then the job of insulin to transport this glucose to your body’s cells. It is important that people with diabetes appreciate that the digestive system doesn’t differentiate where sugar comes from and they manage total carbohydrate intake, not just “sugar”. However, it must also be noted that different carbohydrate-containing foods break down into glucose at different rates, so choosing the right type of carbohydrate foods and eating the correct quantity is important for diabetes management.
The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a ranking between 0 and 100 given to carbohydrate foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. High GI carbohydrate foods are quickly digested and absorbed in the bloodstream, resulting in a higher and faster rise in blood glucose levels after eating. Low GI carbohydrates break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream, resulting in a smaller and slower rise in blood glucose levels after eating.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for diabetes. Insulin is vital to help manage type 1 diabetes and lifestyle intervention such as dietary changes and regular exercise are important for managing type 2 and gestational diabetes. However, it’s important to remember that you can live a healthy and happy life with diabetes; proactive management is the key.
Being a confident cook and cooking at home frequently increases your knowledge about food and ingredients. This helps you make informed decisions about what you are putting into your body, and the associated health implications, because many foods often contain more ingredients than meets the eye! Cooking and reading food labels, coupled with sound knowledge regarding the sources of carbohydrate are important skills when it comes to effective diabetes management.
Themis Chryssidis is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio – a multidisciplinary health care studio in Adelaide. He has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Cert IV in Fitness.
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