Diabetes is a condition where there is a problem with your body that causes blood sugar (glucose) levels to be higher than normal. Most of the food we consume is broken down to sugar or glucose, for our bodies to use as energy. In other words, when you have diabetes the body is unable to properly process your food for use as energy. A hormone called insulin is produced by the pancreas and its job is to help glucose (sugar) into the cells for energy. “When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in your blood. This is why many people refer to diabetes as “sugar.” (Diabetes: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).
The two most common forms of diabetes are type 1 and type 2 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is one people are born with it and it’s often diagnosed early on in life in children and young adults. Currently there are no known preventative measures that can be taken to prevent type 1 diabetes. Once diagnosed careful management with medicine like insulin and or oral tablets, constant blood sugar testing, diet and exercise are the some of the ways to manage it. Type 2 diabetes, also referred to as diabetes mellitus is more prevalent in adults. Type 2 diabetes is preventable and if it is caught early on, lifestyle changes can be made to minimize or eliminate complications associated with the disease.
Symptoms and possible complications
Early detection is possible through testing by a medical professional. Diabetes is associated with symptoms that include but not limited to severe tiredness, dry mouth, frequent urination, excessive thirst, blurry vision, unexplained weight loss and extreme hunger. If you are experiencing any of the above then try to get your blood sugar tested as soon as possible. Many people may present with little to no identifiable symptoms. Therefore, is important to have your blood sugar routinely tested by a medical professional or get it checked when you suspect that you might be at risk for early diagnosis. All types of diabetes can result in many complications if not well controlled and can lead to premature death. Known complications include heart disease, stroke, sores that are slow to heal, kidney failure, foot pain that can lead to leg amputation, vision loss, constant yeast and vaginal infections in women and nerve damage and feelings of numbness in extremities.
There are things you can do now to lower you risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as lower risk of complications if you are already diagnosed with it…
Measures can be taken to improve outcomes for those who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes or already living with it. These include treatments and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that can help to prevent or delay the complications associated with it.
Below are 8 easy changes you can make today to help lower blood sugar levels1.Cut back on sugar and simple carbohydrate intake
Many of us consume more sugar than we realize through what we eat and drink on a daily basis. For instance, most soft drinks and juices tend to be high in sugar. A lot of people don’t realize how much sugar they take in via alcohol consumption and processed foods like meats and snacks they consume daily. Consider consuming fruits, and vegetables as snacks like avocado, watermelon, berries, nuts and pumpkins. Drink liquids that are low in sugar like mahewu and baobab juice. Ideally it would be best to cease and desist all sugar consumption. This can be challenging for many so we advise that you aim of moderation and try to cut back on sugar consumption as much as possible.
Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water to help your kidneys to pass glucose (blood sugar) out through the urine. While no one can seem to agree on how much is enough when it comes to daily water consumption. A safe bet is to try and consume about 2 litres which is about half a gallon or approximately 8 glasses of water.
Eat more fibre
The recommended daily dosage for fibre intake is about 25 grams per day. While this seems like a very high and daunting number. Simple changes to your diet like consuming at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day will do the trick. A good way to estimate this is to keep in mind that a portion of fruit or vegetable is usually a medium sized piece of fruit or 1 cup of it chopped up which is about the size of a regular tennis ball. Try as much as possible to consume indigenous fruit and vegetables like bananas, a cup of spinach or rape, masawu, mbambaira/ sweet potatoes etc. Also try to incorporate more traditional grains like millet and sorghum.
It is not only important that we make better food choices but also make every effort to cut back on portion sizes. Being mindful of how much is taken in at each meal also goes a long way in controlling blood sugar. It’s also important to read labels on processed foods and try to stick to recommended portion sizes.
Adopt a regular exercise routine and try to lose weight
Moderate exercise that raises your heart rate and causes you to breathe a little harder can lower your blood sugar levels over time. For many, it has been shown that going for a short walk for 20-30 minute after meals can significantly help to lower your blood sugar. If you walk regularly or exercise more steadily then try incorporating short bursts of fast walking or intense exercise of about 1-3 minutes throughout the 20-30 mins for interval training.
Choose foods with a low glycemic index-
Like sweet potatoes, barely, bulgur, sorghum, beans, legumes and lentils. These will take longer to digest and release a slow and steady stream of glucose(sugar) effectively lowering blood sugar levels.
Control and/or lower stress levels
Hormones released during periods of high stress, can cause your blood sugar to increase Studies have shown that controlling stress levels through exercise and relaxation, can help lower your blood sugar.
Chromium that can be found in egg yolks, high bran cereals, nuts, broccoli and meat. Magnesium, zinc, potassium can be found in leafy greens like covo, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins and butternut. It is also beneficial to eat pumpkin seeds, beans, watermelon, onions, guavas, avocado….etc. Vitamin D which can be obtained from exposing the skin to sunlight. Vitamin D can also be found in foods like fish, beef liver, cheese etc is also helpful in lowering blood sugar.
Check/ monitor blood sugar levels.
It’s best to get your levels tested by a trained medical professional who can accurately interpret your results. If you have a monitor at home, only use it if you have been coached by an expert on how to read and interpret you results
Diabetes is on the rise in many communities around the world. There are changes that you can make today to lower your risk of complications as well. Diet and exercise go a long way in lowering blood sugar and reducing dependency on medication. Talk to a health care professional if you have questions about diabetes and medications that you can take to manage your condition.
World Health Organization. (2016). “Global Report On Diabetes.” Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204871/1/9789241565257_eng.pdf
Centers for Disease Control.(2017). “Diabetes.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/presskits/aahd/diabetes.pdf
Semeco, A. (2016). “15 Easy Ways to Lower Blood Sugar Levels Naturally”. Retrieved from https://authoritynutrition.com/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar
Fennell, D (2012). “Walking Significantly Reduces After-Meal Glucose”. Retrieved from https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/walking-significantly-reduces-after-meal-glucose