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October 1999 Issue
Diet and Diabetes
by Ronda L. Halpin
Table of Contents | Single-page view

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Diet has been a major component of diabetes treatment plans for years, but today there are many exciting changes occurring in the way we approach diet for diabetes. Diet plans are now far more individualized, flexible and adaptable to each patient's unique lifestyle, calorie requirements and overall personal health. So why plan your life around a diet for diabetes when you can plan the diet around your life?

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease in which the body either cannot produce enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it does produce.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is released into the bloodstream when the level of glucose in the blood -- commonly known as blood sugar -- rises, like after a meal. Glucose is a carbohydrate that serves as the body's main fuel; insulin helps take it from the bloodstream into the cells of the body for energy.

If the body does not produce enough insulin (or fails to use insulin properly), and the cells therefore do not get the glucose they need for energy (or are unable to use it if they do get it), the glucose in the blood will remain at high levels. This condition of high blood sugar is called hyperglycemia, and it can have adverse effects on many of the body's systems. Over time, high blood sugar, if left untreated, can result in damage to the heart, arteries, eyes, nerves and kidneys.

There are four major types of diabetes.

  • Type I: The pancreas produces little or no insulin. About 10 percent of all people with diabetes have this type. It usually affects younger people, but can occur in adults.

  • Type II: The pancreas produces insulin, but there are not enough insulin receptors, or the receptors do not work properly; therefore, the glucose can not get to the cells. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood.

  • Gestational Diabetes: This is the term for diabetes that starts during pregnancy.

  • Other Specific Types: This includes all other types of diabetes, such as diabetes caused by genetic defect, virus infections or injury to the pancreas.

Diabetes affects millions of people in this country -- and more are affected every day. All one has to do is look at the facts to see that it is a growing problem:

  • An estimated 16 million in the United States have diabetes mellitus.

  • About 1,700 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed daily in the US.

  • Most new cases are Type II diabetes.

  • Annually, one out of every seven healthcare dollars is spent annually on diabetes.

  • The amount spent on diabetes every year totals about $100 billion.
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