What is diabetes and how might you prevent it?

If you've been reading any of the recent medical literature in New Zealand, you will know that diabetes is a growing problem. According to Diabetes New Zealand, more than 225,00 Kiwis suffer from type 1 or type 2 diabetes – and that number is continuing to grow. Every day, about 50 new people are diagnosed with the disease.

Diabetes stems from an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin, a substance that is critical for the metabolism of glucose. But what exactly does that mean? What is glucose? What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? We’ve broken it all down so you can get the facts.

What is glucose?

Glucose is essentially a form of sugar that the body uses for energy. We commonly eat two kinds of sugars: glucose and fructose. Fructose refers to table sugar, as well as the sugars found in naturally sweet fruits. Glucose, on the other hand, comes from all manner of carbohydrate-heavy foods, and is found in large quantities in breads, pastas and other starches. We also naturally produce it in our livers, which gives us energy even if we haven’t consumed any sources of glucose.

When we consume glucose, our bodies produce insulin to transport it from our blood stream into our muscle and fat cells, where it can be metabolised and harnessed for energy. The presence of insulin then turns off the production of glucose in the liver so that blood sugar remains at a healthy level.

People who suffer from diabetes are unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin. Two major problems then ensue: Blood sugar levels are not well-regulated, and glucose is not delivered to cells for energy harvesting.

Type 1 diabetes

People who suffer from type 1 diabetes are generally diagnosed as children (hence the term ‘juvenile diabetes’). These peoples’ pancreases do not produce insulin, so they must take insulin shots and carefully keep an eye on their blood sugar levels at all times.

Type 1 diabetes is characterised by a variety of symptoms. Having to urinate frequently, being constantly thirsty, and experiencing sudden weight loss, blurred vision and fatigue are all telltale signs of the disease.

People with type 1 are also prone to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This is often signified by sweating, rapid heartbeat, and trembling or shivering.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes: There have been many advances in recent years that have helped improve quality of life for those suffering from type 1 diabetes. Treatment includes insulin supplementation, and doctors also recommend a low-glycemic diet (a diet low in glucose) for the management of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

While type 1 diabetes is arguably more severe than type 2, the latter is currently the more concerning public health problem. A significant increase in type 2 diabetes has affected developed countries across the world. The New Zealand Ministry of Health states that the number of people suffering from obesity-related type 2 diabetes is rising steadily.

While type 1 diabetes is caused by an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin, type 2 diabetes stems from insulin resistance, or an inability to properly respond to the presence of insulin. The pancreas becomes unable to release enough insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is almost always preventable. Insulin resistance occurs as a result of consistently high blood sugar levels and consequent insulin production. There is a direct link between unhealthy diets and type 2 diabetes.

There are other causes for type 2 diabetes as well, including genetic mutations, pancreatic surgery, and use of certain prescription drugs such as statins.

Prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes: Prevention of type 2 diabetes may be totally possible for some people. It is critically important to maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet with moderate levels of glucose.

People who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes must carefully monitor their blood sugar levels, exercise regularly and consume a low-glycemic diet.

Some brands of baked beans contain almost 4tsp of added sugar per serve!  Check out our range of Healthy Foods to help you with your healthy diet.

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