Every January marks National Sugar Awareness Week, which is the perfect time to get educated on blood sugar. Awareness of blood sugar—also known as blood glucose—is important. Why? One word: Diabetes.
Diabetes and Blood Sugar
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body can’t process blood sugar. There are two main types, labeled type 1 and type 2. They have similar symptoms and effects, but the way they work are different.
Type 1 diabetes is known as an autoimmune disease. That means the immune system mistakenly attacks itself. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that produce a chemical called insulin, which helps move sugar from the blood and into the cells to be used for fuel.
Type 2 diabetes happens when the body becomes resistant or immune to the effects of insulin. In both types of diabetes, sugar can’t get into cells efficiently or at all, and so it hangs out in the bloodstream.
There’s also prediabetes. That’s when there’s too much sugar in your blood, but you don’t have type 2 diabetes yet. Prediabetes can be reversed with smart diet and lifestyle changes. However, types 1 and 2 diabetes can’t be cured, only managed.
Why Diabetes Is Dangerous
Too much sugar in the bloodstream causes lots of problems. Here’s what happens.
If there’s sugar in your blood, that means it’s not getting into your cells to be used as fuel. Your cells have to break down fat instead. Breaking down fat creates waste products called ketones.
Ketones are toxic. They usually leave the body through urine, but sometimes the body can’t keep up. That can lead to a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis. Signs of ketoacidosis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
In the long term, diabetes causes or increases the risk of numerous health problems. Researchers think that too much sugar in the blood damages blood vessels and nerves, which can lead to:
- Heart disease
- Eye problems (retinopathy)
- Kidney injury
- Hearing loss
- Nerve damage, especially in the feet (peripheral neuropathy)
Controlling Your Blood Sugar
Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by genetics and family history. There’s not a lot you can do to reduce your risk of getting it, and most people develop it when they’re kids (it used to be called juvenile diabetes).
Type 2 diabetes is frequently caused by lifestyle choices. Making better lifestyle choices can decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes or get rid of your prediabetes. And, if you already have diabetes—either type 1 or type 2—living a healthy lifestyle can help control your disease so you don’t have to rely on medication as much.
Here’s how to keep your blood sugar low.
Changing your diet may be the single most effective way to keep a healthy blood glucose level. Choose healthy whole foods that are high in fiber and low in fat. Here are some guidelines:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- High fiber foods like beans, nuts and whole grains
- Lean protein such as chicken and fish
- Lots of water
- Processed foods
- Added sugar
- Saturated fat
- Soda and juice; don’t drink your calories
It’s important to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes a day, five days a week. When you have diabetes, exercise makes your cells more sensitive to insulin so it moves sugar into cells and out of your blood more effectively.
Eating well and getting enough exercise should help control your weight. Losing weight is a simple—but not necessarily easy—math problem: If the number of calories you eat is less than the number you burn, you’ll lose weight. Being overweight or obese is one of the main risk factors for developing diabetes, and even a modest amount of weight loss cuts your risk.
Do you want to learn how to manage your diabetes? Take one of our free classes and learn about your condition. Visit our news and events page to find the next class.