March marks National Nutrition Month and at Mission of Mercy Arizona, we are grateful to have our very own Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Cecilia Chapman, RDN, CDCES, on our team to help our patients forge a path to good health.
Over the past decade, the number of patients with Type 2 diabetes in Arizona has doubled. Mission of Mercy is on the front lines of this battle with our diabetes program. In the U.S., an estimated 10% of the population currently lives with diabetes; however, at our mobile medical clinics, a staggering 57% of our patients have type 2 diabetes.
With nutrition playing a critical role for patients with Type 2 diabetes, Chapman is often consulted for nutrition tips and information. Here are some tips taken from a recent interview with the Arizona Daily Sun.
Watch your carbs. “Carbohydrates are not your enemy. They are essential for good health. The problem is we tend to choose carbohydrates that are empty of nutrients and are low fiber.”
Empty carbohydrates – like candy, cakes, soda, juice; food made with white flour or processed sugar – impart energy but add no value to your body and can, over time, affect the health of your pancreas. To add insult to injury, you’ll feel hungry in half the time than if you ate something nutritious.
“When you eat carbohydrates,” Chapman explained, “what happens is the body uses those carbohydrates as energy, which is what we need to live, to think, for our heart to beat, for muscles to work. So when we select carbohydrates, we need to select the very best ones. Those are found in fruits and vegetables that are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.”
Pass up empty calories. “One of the things I tell people,” Chapman said, “is whenever you eat something, think about it. Like an orange versus a candy bar, the orange is going to be so much more beneficial to your body than that candy bar because of the vitamins, minerals and energy for your body. In contrast, that candy bar has energy and also fat. But the nutrients are missing, so all you’re getting is empty calories that will increase your weight without any benefits.”
Chapman said eating too many empty carbs may eventually wear out your pancreas’ beta cells. Your beta cells produce and release the insulin needed to lower your body’s blood sugar levels. Without a sufficient amount of insulin, you can develop Type 2 diabetes.
“People say to me, ‘I don’t feel bad, so I must be okay,’” Chapman said. “You can feel very healthy and have no clue you have diabetes. The key is getting check-ups, so be sure to see your doctor on a regular basis.”
By the time someone receives a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, Chapman said their pancreas has probably had up to half its beta cells burned out. This means the pancreas must work harder to produce the insulin needed.
Know your risks. The best way to prevent Type 2 diabetes is to know your risks: having a family member who has diabetes (especially a sibling), being overweight, not being active and giving birth to a child 9 pounds or greater (gestational diabetes). Next, eat sustainably, exercise and get regular check-ups.
“Good food can get your blood sugar under control and your health back to what it should be,” Chapman said.
Eliminating or drastically cutting down on your sugar sources can make a substantial difference. In the American diet this would be soda, energy and sports drinks, and desserts. Chapman suggested substituting sugary drinks with water.
“It’s not easy,” Chapman acknowledged. “But just by doing that, increasing your activity and making sure you’re going to the doctor, those three things will make a huge difference.”