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November 14, 2011

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How to manage life with diabetes

MEDICAL experts say that a healthy lifestyle with proper eating habits and plenty of exercise can help people with diabetes live a normal life.

With the 5th World Diabetes Day today, the International Diabetes Federation has launched the "Act on Diabetes. Now" campaign to spread awareness and clear up myths and misunderstandings about the disease.

China had 9.24 amillion diabetes patients in 2010, the most in the world.

Converting glucose (sugar) from food to energy is important to ensure our bodies work properly. Insulin (a hormone) is essential for the conversion. If it is no longer produced sufficiently by the body, people can get diabetes. People can suffer either type 1 diabetes where the body stops making insulin or type 2 diabetes where there is a lack of insulin secreted. While prevention of type 1 diabetes is impossible, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle management.

Dr Zheng Min, associate physician at the Endocrinology Department of Yueyang Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM, says following a healthy diet with fewer energy dense foods, exercising regularly to ensure energy consumption, monitoring blood sugar levels regularly and staying informed of the latest medical news on diabetes are important for such patients.

Generally, doctors advise diabetes patients to eat less food that is high in sugar, fat or calories, reduce alcohol consumption, quit smoking and exercise more often. They also recommend patients check their blood sugar level three times a day in unstable periods and twice a week in stable periods.

There are still some common misunderstandings about the disease. Dr Zheng helps clarify some of these.

1. Carbohydrates

Since carbohydrates provide glucose, many patients think it is bad to eat these foods, including rice, bread, pasta and potatoes. However, without enough carbohydrates, it may easily lead to a lack of nutrition. In addition, some patients may eat more fatty foods and snacks when they decrease the amount of carbohydrates in their diet, which may lead to other health problems like high blood fat.
Carbohydrates are still necessary for diabetes patients, according to Zheng. But they have to make wise choices of what to eat. For example, congee increases blood sugar levels quickly while coarse cereals of the same amount have less effect on blood sugar.
That doesn't mean patients have to eat only coarse cereal. Zhang recommends eating coarse cereal two or three times a week or mixing it with regular grains.
2. Sweet food

Similar to carbohydrates, crossing out all sweet foods is unwise. Granulated sugar is what diabetes patients need to avoid while fruits and foods with sugar substitutes are not strictly banned.
"Fruits are still necessary for balanced nutrition, though patients should still control their intake carefully," says Zheng.
Zheng recommends diabetes patients eat only one kind of fruit every day, and it is better to eat them between meals rather than shortly after a meal.
Apples and pears are best while bananas and lychee are best be avoided as they increase blood sugar levels quickly.
3. Medicine and meals

Zheng recommends taking medication at prescribed doses on time, which means it is important to eat meals at regular times.

4. Blood sugar saver - pumpkin

It is a myth that pumpkin helps reduce blood sugar. But it can be a good food for diabetics as it has less sugar compared to other carbohydrates.
Zheng suggests patients eat pumpkin as a main course alone, but not to eat it with other carbohydrates like rice and bread.


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