Type 2 diabetes has been described as a modern-day epidemic, with an estimated one million or more Australians having the disease. Alarmingly, half of these people don’t realise they have it because the symptoms are not obvious. Diabetes can have serious consequences if not controlled, and a healthy lifestyle is a cornerstone of treatment.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and teens, causing rapid weight loss, fatigue, frequent urination and thirst. The insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed and can no longer produce insulin, causing blood sugar levels to become dangerously high. Urgent medical attention is essential to control blood sugar levels, and injected insulin is needed throughout life. The causes are not well understood but there may be a genetic component to Type 1.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be described as a lifestyle disease because the risk increases with poor diet and being overweight and physically inactive, especially if there is a family history. It typically affects people after middle age. Nowadays, however, younger adults and even teenagers are being diagnosed as a result of being overweight and unfit.

Pregnancy and diabetes

Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy. All pregnant women are routinely tested. This diabetes goes away when the baby is born, although women who have had gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing Type 2 later.

Consequences of diabetes

Diabetes can have serious consequences if not managed well, with chronic high sugar levels damaging the large blood vessels in the heart, the smaller blood vessels in the kidneys and eyes, and the nerves and blood supply to the hands and feet. The biggest killer of people with diabetes is heart disease, with the risk of a heart attack being four times higher than usual.

How is diabetes treated?

The good news is that although diabetes cannot be cured, making lifestyle changes goes a long way to ensuring diabetes is well controlled. Following a healthy diet and staying physically active are the first steps, no matter what else is prescribed. Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes tends to get worse with time, and tablets to lower blood sugar are often required. In some cases, oral medication can stop being effective and insulin injections are needed. Can diabetes be prevented? Because diabetes takes time to develop, there is a stage at which blood sugar levels can be high, but not yet high enough to be called diabetes. These levels are called ‘pre-diabetes’, and an estimated 1 million Australians have pre-diabetic blood glucose levels. Pre-diabetes is a wake-up call to make a healthier lifestyle a priority. Studies show that switching to a healthy diet and an active lifestyle can prevent pre-diabetes from progressing to full blown diabetes.

Why is GI important?

The GI (Glycaemic Index) is a rating of foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods have less of an impact and are a good choice for everyone, but especially people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Lifestyle guide for diabetes

Eat regularly throughout the day

  • Make your meals smaller
  • Schedule healthy snacks between meals.

Choose quality carbs (high fibre, low GI)

  • Eat a high-fibre, low-GI breakfast cereal such as muesli or porridge.
  • Use multi-grain bread and crisp bread, rather than white bread and sweet biscuits (oat biscuits are good).
  • Enjoy fruit, low-fat milk and yoghurt as snacks.

Fill up on vegetables – Ensure half your dinner plate is filled with vegetables (not including potato) – refer to my diet sheet

  • Include a salad with lunch.
  • Snack on vegetable sticks.
  • Reduce saturated fat – Choose a polyunsaturated spread instead of butter
  • Buy lean meat and skinless chicken.
  • Limit pastry and fried foods.

Control weight

  • Eat less
  • Move more

Be active every day – Find at least 30 minutes a day to walk – more if you can

  • Choose the active option when possible (use the stairs rather than the lift and so on).
  • Take heart – housework and gardening are good exercise!

Are you at risk?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following, talk with your doctor about a test for Type 2 diabetes.

  • Over 55 years of age
  • Over 45 with high blood pressure
  • Over 45 and overweight
  • Over 45 with family members who have/had diabetes
  • Over 45 and have had a heart attack
  • Over 35 and of Aboriginal, Pacific Islander, Indian or Chinese background

Further information Contact Diabetes Australia in your state or visit www.diabetesaustralia.com.au