Answers to Common Diabetes Questions

Health, Home & Family
on December 10, 2009

Hubbard, of Colorado Springs, Colo., is a veteran family practitioner and publisher of My Family Doctor magazine.

Diabetes, a condition that affects the body’s ability to produce and use insulin, is a growing concern. In fact, a new diabetes diagnosis is made every 20 seconds, according to the American Diabetes Association. With so many people’s lives touched by the disease, questions abound. Here are answers to some of the most common ones I hear in my clinic.

Q: Type 2 diabetes runs in my family. Is there anything I can do to avoid it?
According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes does have more of a genetic link than type 1, especially in areas of the world such as the United States, where lifestyles often include a diet high in fat and low in fiber, and little time for exercise. In parts of the globe without this Western way of living, type 2 diabetes isn’t as much of an issue, regardless of family ties to the disease. In one study, fewer type 2 diabetics on a Mediterranean-style diet low in carbohydrates and heavy on fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil-rather than a low-fat diet-had to rely on medication to control the disease. The best news is that you don’t have to live on the Italian Riviera to eat as if you do. Filling your pantry with healthy, natural foods and exercising 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week can put you on the path to living diabetes-free, despite your family history.

Q: What’s the difference between being prediabetic and borderline diabetic?
You may hear the two terms used interchangeably, but medically speaking, borderline diabetes isn’t a diagnosis; it’s a nonspecific term used by doctors to describe being dangerously close to having diabetes. Prediabetes, on the other hand, is an official diagnosis that means your fasting blood sugar falls between 100 and 126. Below 100 is normal; above 126 is diabetes. Prediabetes raises your risk of heart disease and makes you much more likely to get full-blown diabetes. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 25 percent of adults have prediabetes, but only 4 percent know it. Already been diagnosed? One study suggests that prediabetics can lower their risk of becoming diabetic by exercising five days a week for 30 minutes and losing 5 to 10 percent of their weight if they are overweight.

Q: I was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Does that mean all sugar and carbohydrates are banned from my diet?
No. In fact, a healthy diabetic diet contains complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Instead of banning all carbohydrates, try to avoid sugary or processed foods that contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose (check the food label), which will raise your blood sugar quickly and are high in calories and low in nutrients. To determine how much of each food group, including complex carbohydrates, you should be eating, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian.