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What is diabetes?

When eaten and digested, carbohydrates [e.g. starches (oats, wholegrain pasta, wholewheat bread, brown rice), fruit, starchy vegetables (potatoes, baby potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn), and sugar (table sugar, honey, syrup, sugary treats and drinks) are broken down into a simpler molecule called glucose. Glucose moves into the blood and from there is carried into the body cells with the help of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. After entering the cells, the glucose is used to make energy.

Diabetes occurs when levels of glucose (a type of sugar) are high in the blood. This is caused by abnormalities in the way the body uses glucose. When you have diabetes the body either does not make enough insulin or isn’t able to use the insulin it does make properly. Because of this, glucose cannot move into the cells to be used as energy which is why blood glucose levels may be high in diabetics. Diabetes can affect anyone at any age, is not caused by eating a specific food, and both overweight and underweight people can get diabetes. Diabetes is serious if left untreated as high levels of glucose in the blood can damage blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, and eyes. Diabetes cannot be cured but it can be controlled with the right lifestyle changes. A healthy and balanced diet is one of the most impactful lifestyles changes you can make.

 Are there different types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic and environmental factors, occurring in about 5–10% of people with diabetes. With this type of diabetes, the pancreas is attacked by the body’s own immune system and cannot produce enough (or sometimes any) insulin. Type 1 diabetes may use insulin injections to manage their diabetes.

Most people, however, have type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin but through many years of poor lifestyle choices, the body cells become resistant to the glucose-lowering action of insulin. The pancreas initially responds by producing more insulin and, as long as it does so, blood glucose levels are normal. However, as the resistance gets worse over time the pancreas gets exhausted and the amount of insulin produced decreases progressively. Ultimately, a condition of total insulin insufficiency can develop, resulting in a high fasting blood glucose. This insulin resistance may be caused by excess belly fat (which releases substances that makes the cells resistant), being inactive, stress, genetic factors, and a poor diet.                              

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