THINK of your immediate circle of family and friends. Chances are, you know of at least one person who is diabetic. The Health Ministry reports that 3.5 million or 17.5 per cent of Malaysian adults are diabetic. Of this, more than half are women.
Today is World Diabetes Day and this year’s theme is aptly called Women and Diabetes. The choice of the theme is very telling to us women — that we need to take this disease seriously as it has far-reaching consequences. Uncontrolled blood glucose levels will, over time, cause secondary complications such as poor wound healing, amputations due to gangrene, infertility, pressure in the eye, heart failure and kidney disease, to name a few.
Women can also develop diabetes during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can interfere with the way the body responds to insulin, making it less effective.
This type of diabetes is known as gestational diabetes. If gestational diabetes is not well controlled, the unborn baby can grow larger than usual and develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This adds to complications during pregnancy and subsequent delivery.
Gestational diabetes ceases once the pregnancy is over. But it is a red flag as the woman is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in future. Therefore, care to prevent diabetes in young women is important.
Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease, which means that once you have it, it can never be cured or reversed. That’s why it is never too early for all women to start practising a healthy lifestyle and eating right to prevent diabetes or if they are already diabetic to be empowered to better manage their blood sugar levels to slow down complications.
Women, however, can also be their own worst enemy when it comes to health matters. In my years of practice as a dietitian, I have encountered many women who are complacent when it comes to managing their diabetes. They don’t see themselves as a priority as they juggle with family and work. If you can relate this, I would like to share some pointers for you to think about:
DON’T LIVE IN DENIAL
I understand it’s not easy to accept the fact that you have diabetes. It’s natural to ignore it. You probably feel that ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, your lack of action will hasten the progression of the disease.
Suffering from secondary complications will definitely decrease your quality of life. So don’t live in denial; build a good relationship with your doctor, diabetic educator and dietitian. We are all here to help you. Don’t let fear hold you back. Once you understand diabetes, you can start making lifestyle and diet changes to complement your medication regiment.
KNOW YOUR BLOOD GLUCOSE READINGS
Regular monitoring of your blood glucose level is easy and something you can do by yourself. It’s recommended that you test your blood sugar level on various days two hours after a meal. This is an effective way to make a fair evaluation of whether the portions of your last meal were suitable. Regular self-monitoring will help you to better comply with your diet plan as you can see the effects of the portions you ate. Too much of carbohydrates and too many sweets will definitely register a higher blood glucose level than what you may be used to.
At the end of the day, you can choose to let your blood glucose level go haywire, or choose to be proactive. I truly hope you choose to be proactive as you have so much more to gain.
MAKE BETTER FOOD CHOICES
Diabetics who are empowered and motivated are aware that their food choices and portions have an impact on their blood sugar level. If you have a better understanding of your food intake, you’ll be amazed at the various types of food you can actually enjoy instead of focusing on what you feel you have to give up.
One of the most effective ways to control blood glucose levels is to watch your portions of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be found in grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy, alcohol and foods containing sugar such as desserts. All these must be accounted for throughout the diabetic’s carbohydrate intake to control blood glucose levels optimally.
See a dietitian to help you understand portions and sources of carbohydrates that are more suitable for you. By doing so, your meals will be more balanced and nutritious.
* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org