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Diabetes is a disease that needs to be taken seriously

When someone learns they have diabetes, they may feel sad, scared or find the diagnosis hard to believe. For many people, they don’t feel sick or different than before the diagnosis. It’s important to take the disease seriously.

As a dietitian and diabetes educator, I am asked numerous questions with regard to the disease. The following are a few of the frequently asked questions and the answers to these concerns:

When a person has diabetes, do they need to eat a different diet than the rest of the family?

If you have diabetes, it is important to manage your blood glucose by eating the following healthy foods: lean meats, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables, low-fat dairy products and heart-healthy fats. All of these choices can easily fit into your family’s diet without requiring separate meals.

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrate is another word for sugar, starch and fiber. Starch is a chain of sugar molecules. Interestingly, all starch is broken down into sugar. Think of starch like a string of pearls, where each single pearl is sugar. Keep in mind that carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet and they also are the most efficient fuel used for energy. If carbohydrates are divided among all meals, your body can use them more easily and keep blood glucose levels more even. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables, fruits, and milk and yogurt.

Do I need to completely avoid sugar if I have diabetes?

No, not necessarily. Sugar is just another carbohydrate. All carbohydrates, whether you eat fruit, drink milk, eat potatoes or eat a cookie, raise your blood glucose. Portion control is a key factor when eating carbohydrates. However, you may find your diabetes and your weight control more easily managed by focusing on healthy carbohydrates and fewer sweets on a day-to-day basis.

Are sugar substitutes safe to use?

Yes. Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sugar substitutes have no calories or carbohydrates and they don’t raise blood glucose levels. If you want to use a sugar substitute, you may want to try a variety to find the one suitable to your tastebuds. The FDA approves the following sugar substitutes for use in the United States:

• Acesulfame-K (Sweet one, Sunett).

• Aspartame (Equal, Nutra Sweet).

• Luo han guo.

• Neotame.

• Saccharin (SweetN’Low).

• Stevia (Truvia).

• Sucralose (Splenda).

What will happen if I skip breakfast or lunch?

Skipping a meal after taking some diabetes medication or insulin significantly increases your chances of low blood glucose. Skipping meals early in the day also increases the opportunity to overeat later in the day, which makes it harder to manage your weight and blood glucose control. If a meal will be delayed, carry a snack with you.

Can a diabetes pill make my diabetes go away?

Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, but it can be controlled. Many individuals with diabetes live long and healthful lives. By balancing food intake with exercise and medication (if prescribed) you can keep blood glucoses in a desirable range.

I was recently diagnosed with diabetes; can you send me a diet plan?

Diabetes is a unique disease and healthy eating is an effective, but at the same time, challenging, self-care behavior. Diabetes education is a valuable tool to help you manage your disease. Ask your physician or health care provider for a referral for diabetes education. An individual meal plan, specifically designed for you, will normally be provided. Also, you will receive education with a diabetes nurse educator to help create a realistic program for managing your health and diabetes.

Pam Lockwood is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Community Physician Group at Community Medical Center.