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What It’s Really Like To Live With Type 1 Diabetes

What It’s Really Like To Live With Type 1 Diabetes

We all need glucose to give our cells the energy they require to function so that the brain, heart, and lungs all work perfectly. Our bodies will manufacture enough insulin (produced by the pancreas) so that the blood glucose or blood sugar can get into those cells. But people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) cannot make that insulin, so they have to inject it to help the body work properly. But it does not always go according to plan. When they have too much glucose or too little, there are serious health consequences.

I remember vividly when we had friends over for lunch on a very hot summer’s day. One of them has Type 1 diabetes and he had just been given a new, cutting edge insulin pump. But the pump was not correctly adjusted. He nearly collapsed on the way home and fortunately, his wife was driving. She later told me that he could have died. The irony is that he is a doctor himself!

Let me explain what an insulin pump does. First, it removes the need to have multiple injections of insulin on a daily basis. Second, it has to work perfectly because in many ways it mimics the pancreas. Otherwise, the diabetes gets out of control and may endanger one’s life, as happened with my friend.

Now, if I told you that people with this type of diabetes have to get through each day by checking and preventing spikes or slides in blood sugar, you would probably raise an eyebrow or two, but not give it much thought. So, here are 5 things that diabetics have to constantly monitor and prevent on an almost 24/7 basis.

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1. They have to constantly check their blood sugar

They have a blood glucose meter which tests their levels of glucose. But they have to do this between 4 and 8 times a day! They have to do this when they change medication, exercise or when they have gone through a stressful period. They have to do it very often and it means they must always carry the monitor wherever they go. Just a pinprick. But there are no holidays here. Anytime their routine changes, they have to check.

2. They have to know all about blood sugar levels

They know that when they get a reading of 70 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL), they may have a dangerously low blood sugar count, aka hypoglycaemia. They may already know because of the alarming symptoms such as shaking, sweating, weakness and palpitations. If their levels skyrocket, they are in danger of going into a diabetic coma.

They know their levels change according to the time of day, before and after eating and, of course, at bedtime. Generally, according to the Mayo Clinic, daytime levels should be in the 80-120 md/dL range while bedtime scores should not go over 140 md/dL.

Just have a look here at the chart which explains the target range for blood sugar levels. It depends on many other factors such as age, weight, sex and general health.

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3. They have to be extra vigilant when eating out

If you think that diabetics are fussy eaters, think again! They are just trying to avoid a crisis which may in turn save them from going into a coma or fainting.

Because they are following a regular diet where they are watching out for carbohydrates, sugar and starch in vegetables and fruit, they have to careful when eating out. They have to focus on vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals but low in starch. They have to watch out for too many carbs as they turn to sugar in their blood. Typical vegetables that are good for them are tomatoes, spinach, onions, asparagus, peppers, and celery. Generally, they have to eat the right proteins and avoid processed foods.

4. They can exercise but they still have to be careful

They have to do another juggling act here! If they exercise (and it is highly recommended as it prevents other health issues), they have to balance insulin with the snacks they eat and the effect the activity has on their blood sugar levels. It also depends what time of the day they exercise and when they eat. The great thing is that physical activity does help to reduce blood glucose levels and reduces depression.

The inspiring story of Jay Cutler, quarterback with the Chicago Bears, who has T1D, has helped both kids and adults to live a healthy life which includes physical exercise.

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5. They are really hopeful about the future

And now the good news! The latest insulin pumps are much more sophisticated than they were a few years ago when my friend had his installed.

There are no wires and it is so small that many people never spot it. It communicates with a tiny computer which controls the insulin input. The machine needs a new pod of insulin every 3 days. It can be worn on the abdomen, leg or underarm. Diabetics can even get an extra dose of fast acting insulin just before mealtimes to take care of any carbs they will be consuming. There is even software in the computer which can calculate the right dose before eating.

It is fascinating to read about the latest research reported on the American Diabetes Association website which is moving towards making life a lot easier for people with T1D.

“I think I can, I think I can… I know I can, I know I can… learn to count the carb content of everything that passes my lips; carry monitor, glucose tabs, insulin pump/pen and needles at all times; learn to inject myself throughout the day; navigate the American healthcare system; and ward off the feeling that I’m somehow being punished. We all can. I’ve learned a ton since my diagnosis in 2003. With diabetes, you really do learn something new every day. “– AmyTenrich, Editor, DiabetesMine

There are 3 million people in America living with T1D, and 80 new cases are diagnosed every day. Myths and legends about diabetics abound. One fact is obvious though – if they neglect any of these checks and balances, they are putting their health at serious risk. They may suffer nerve damage, kidney malfunctioning, high blood pressure, vision deficits, and poor skin health which can lead to tissue death. It is no exaggeration to say they have to be their own nurse, dietician and math wizard to survive!

Featured photo credit: Diabetes test/Victor via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 28, 2020

14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

Diet trends may come and go, but a low-GI diet remains one of the few that has been shown to include benefits based on science. Low GI foods provide substantial health benefits over those with a high index, and they are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

What is GI? Glycemic index (GI) is the rate at which the carbohydrate content of a food is broken down into glucose and absorbed from the gut into the blood. When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.[1]

The higher the GI of a food, the faster it will be broken down and cause your blood glucose (sugar) to rise. Foods with a high GI rating are digested very quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike. This is why it’s advisable to stick to low GI foods as much as possible, as the carbohydrate content of low GI foods will be digested slowly, allowing a more gradual rise in blood glucose levels.

Foods with a GI scale rating of 70 or more are considered to be high GI. Foods with a rating of 55 or below are considered low GI foods.

It’s important to note that the glycemic index of a food doesn’t factor in the quantity that you eat. For example, although watermelon has a high glycemic index, the water and fiber content of a standard serving of water means it won’t have a significant impact on your blood sugar.

Like watermelon, some high GI foods (such as baked potatoes) are high in nutrients. And some low GI foods (such as corn chips) contain high amounts of trans fats.

In most cases, however, the GI is an important means of gauging the right foods for a healthy diet.

Eating mainly low GI foods every day helps to provide your body with a slow, continuous supply of energy. The carbohydrates in low GI foods is digested slowly, so you feel satisfied for longer. This means you’ll be less likely to suffer from fluctuating sugar levels that can lead to cravings and snacking.

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Let’s continue with some of the best examples of low GI foods.

1. Quinoa

GI: 53

Quinoa has a slightly higher GI than rice or barley, but it contains a much higher proportion of protein. If you don’t get enough protein from the rest of your diet, quinoa could help. It’s technically a seed, so it’s also high in fiber–again, more than most grains. It’s also gluten-free, which makes it excellent for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

2. Brown Rice (Steamed)

GI: 50

Versatile and satisfying, brown rice is one of the best low GI foods and is a staple for many dishes around the world. It’s whole rice from which only the husk (the outermost layer) is removed, so it’s a great source of fiber. In fact, brown rice has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve digestive function, promote fullness, and may even help prevent the formation of blood clots. Just remember to always choose brown over white!

3. Corn on the Cob

GI: 48

Although it tastes sweet, corn on the cob is a good source of slow-burning energy (and one of the tastiest low GI foods). It’s also a good plant source of Vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron, all of which are required for the healthy production of red blood cells in the body. It’s healthiest when eaten without butter and salt!

4. Bananas

GI: 47

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Bananas are a superfood in many ways. They’re rich in potassium and manganese and contain a good amount of vitamin C. Their low GI rating means they’re great for replenishing your fuel stores after a workout.

They are easy to add to smoothies, cereal, or kept on your desk for a quick snack. The less ripe they are, the lower the sugar content is! As one of the best low GI foods, it’s a great addition to any daily diet.

5. Bran Cereal

GI: 43

Bran is famous for being one of the highest cereal sources of fiber. It’s also rich in a huge range of nutrients: calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and a host of B vitamins. Although bran may not be to everyone’s tastes, it can easily be added to other cereals to boost the fiber content and lower the overall GI rating.

6. Natural Muesli

GI: 40

Muesli–when made with unsweetened rolled oats, nuts, dried fruit, and other sugar-free ingredients–is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. It’s also very easy to make at home with a variety of other low GI foods. Add yogurt and fresh fruit for a nourishing, energy-packed breakfast.

7. Apples

GI: 40

Apple skin is a great source of pectin, an important prebiotic that helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Apples are also high in polyphenols, which function as antioxidants, and contain a good amount of vitamin C. They are best eaten raw with the skin on! Apples are one of a number of fruits[2] that have a low glycemic index. Be careful which fruits you choose, as many have a large amount of natural sugars[3].

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8. Apricots

GI: 30

Apricots provide both fiber and potassium, which make them an ideal snack for both athletes and anyone trying to keep sugar cravings at bay. They’re also a source of antioxidants and a range of minerals.

Apricots can be added to salads, cereals, or eaten as part of a healthy mix with nuts at any time of the day.

9. Kidney Beans

GI: 29

Kidney beans and other legumes provide a substantial serving of plant-based protein, so they can be used in lots of vegetarian dishes if you’re looking to adopt a plant-based diet[4]. They’re also packed with fiber and a variety of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds. They are great in soups, stews, or with (whole grain) tacos.

10. Barley

GI: 22

Barley is a cereal grain that can be eaten in lots of ways. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), fiber, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium. It also contains beta-glucans, a type of fiber that can support gut health and has been shown to reduce appetite and food intake.

Please note that barley does contain gluten, which makes it unsuitable for anyone who is Celiac[5] or who follows a gluten-free diet. In this case, gluten-free alternatives might include quinoa, buckwheat, or millet.

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11. Raw Nuts

GI: 20

Most nuts have a low GI of between 0 and 20, with cashews slightly higher at around 22. Nuts, as one of the best low GI foods, are a crucial part of the Mediterranean diet[6] and are really the perfect snack: they’re a source of plant-based protein, high in fiber, and contain healthy fats. Add them to smoothies and salads to boost the nutritional content. Try to avoid roasted and salted nuts, as these are made with large amounts of added salt and (usually) trans fats.

12. Carrots

GI: 16

Raw carrots are not only a delicious low GI vegetable, but they really do help your vision! They contain vitamin A (beta carotene) and a host of antioxidants. They’re also low-calorie and high in fiber, and they contain good amounts of vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. Carrots are great for those monitoring their weight as they’ve been linked to lower cholesterol levels.

13. Greek Yogurt

GI: 12

Unsweetened Greek yogurt is not only low GI, but it’s an excellent source of calcium and probiotics, as well. Probiotics help to keep your gut microbiome in balance and support your overall digestive health and immune function. Greek yogurt makes a healthy breakfast, snack, dessert, or a replacement for dip. The most common probiotic strains found in yogurt are Streptococcus thermophilus[7] (found naturally in yogurt) and Lactobacillus acidophilus[8] (which is often added by the manufacturer). You can also look into probiotic supplements for improving your gut health.

14. Hummus

GI: 6

When made the traditional way from chickpeas and tahini, hummus is a fantastic, low-GI dish. It’s a staple in many Middle Eastern countries and can be eaten with almost any savory meal. Full of fiber to maintain satiety and feed your good gut bacteria, hummus is great paired with freshly-chopped vegetables, such as carrots and celery.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to eat healthier or simply cut down on snacking throughout the day, eating low GI foods is a great way to get started. Choose any of the above foods for a healthy addition to your daily diet and start feeling better for longer.

More Tips on Eating Healthy

Featured photo credit: Alexander Mils via unsplash.com

Reference

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