When it comes to diabetes, what you don’t know can hurt you. More
than 84 million Americans have prediabetes and many don’t know it.
Their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to
be considered diabetes. With awareness and effort, many can avoid developing
diabetes. That’s the message Susan Ullrich, R.N., MA.Ed, CDCES,
and Lisa Mason, M.S., RDN, L.D., CDCES, want to share for Diabetes Alert
Day, March 23, 2021.
Ullrich and Mason educate people with diabetes and prediabetes through
Southeast Georgia Health System’s Diabetes
Education Program on the Brunswick and Camden campuses. Ullrich is the program coordinator.
Mason and Ullrich are certified diabetes care and education specialists.
They offer free diabetes education classes, as well as individual education
sessions, and medical nutrition therapy tailored to individuals. Program
participants learn how to make healthy food choices, and how exercise,
stress, and different foods impact blood sugar. The classes require a
referral from a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Medical
nutrition therapy requires a doctor’s referral.
Understanding Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin. People with type 2
diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies don’t process it properly.
Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar with healthy
eating and exercise; others require medication or insulin.
Are You at Risk?
The first step in preventing type 2 diabetes is identifying the risk factors:
• Family history of type 2 diabetes
• Are 45 years of age or older
• Had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
• Obesity or inactive lifestyle
• Have high blood pressure
• Have unhealthy cholesterol levels
• Have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
• Race: African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Pacific
Islander, Alaskan Native
You can also evaluate your risk with a simple online test, such as the
one found on the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases or the American Diabetes Association websites.
If you have one or more risk factors, talk to your doctor and request an
A1C blood test.
Our bodies, Ullrich says, often send signals in the early stage of diabetes.
“Signs of high blood sugar include increased thirst, increased urination,
increased hunger, frequent infections, blurred vision, and fatigue.”
If you experience any of those symptoms, see a doctor.
Even if diabetes runs in your family, you can prevent or delay the onset
by following these guidelines:
Lose weight. Obesity increases your risk for the disease. “When I discuss weight
with my patients, I ask what they think about their current weight. I
want to know if they think they are overweight. Most think they need to
lose weight. I suggest starting with a goal to lose 5-10% of their current
weight to improve their overall health,” Mason says. Her own sister
overcame her family history through weight loss. “Diabetes runs
in my family. My sister lost 75 pounds and put her diabetes in remission.
Her A1C is considered non-diabetes.”
Get moderate exercise. Both educators recommend exercising a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five
days a week. You can increase your activity level in several ways. Take
the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther from the store or office,
walk or ride bikes with your family after dinner. Get the right shoes
to entice yourself to work out more.
Make healthier food choices. Newly diagnosed people with diabetes often ask Mason, “What can
I eat?” Many believe carbohydrates are off limits. “I explain
that fruits, dairy, starchy vegetables, and whole grains are part of a
healthy diet for people with diabetes, and teach them how to work these
into their diet safely.”
Ullrich says portion size matters, too. Start measuring how much salad
dressing, sauce, butter, and similar items you add to your plate. It’s
okay to have an occasional treat, if you follow your meal plan most of
the time. The educators teach people with diabetes how to modify their
favorite foods to use less salt, fat, and sugar. At gatherings where your
favorites are served, survey the buffet first. “Fill half your plate
with non-starchy vegetables and pick a tiny amount of one treat,”
Mason says. Small changes can equal big results. One program participant
improved her health by giving up sweet tea.
By empowering patients through education, Ullrich and Mason make a prediabetes
or diabetes diagnosis less daunting. “Patients learn to control
their diabetes versus it controlling them,” Ullrich says.
For information about the Southeast Georgia Health System Diabetes Education
Program, call 912-466-1689.