November marks the annual observance of American Diabetes Month, which was instituted by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to raise awareness of the serious health consequences of a diabetes diagnosis and about issues surrounding the disease, and to promote research into better treatments, or into a possible cure. The goal is to keep those living with diabetes, as well as their supporting family members and caregivers, living well longer.
The statistics on diabetes are staggeringly scary.
Over 30 million Americans— nearly 1 in 10 people— suffer either from juvenile (Type I) diabetes or from acquired (Type II) diabetes. Another 86 million Americans are pre-diabetic and at increased risk of developing the full syndrome. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 2 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year.
Those with diabetes have a significantly increased risk of developing high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, kidney failure and sepsis. Because diabetes makes it harder for the body to heal properly, a simple scratch on a foot or hand can develop into a serious infection that requires limb amputation. Diabetes causes peripheral neuropathy— numbness in the extremities— which can lead to stumbles, trips and potentially life-threatening falls.
And diabetes often contributes to arterial plaque development and atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessel walls), both major risk factors for a life-threatening heart attack or stroke. It has been estimated that a middle-aged person with Type II diabetes has as great a chance of having a heart attack or stroke as an older person without diabetes who has already had a life-threatening vascular event.
Some accounts report that preventable diabetes-related illnesses annually drain about $245 billion from the American economy. Most health experts and nutritionists warn that diabetes is one of the most pressing public health crises the United States faces in the 21st Century.
Eating better starts with home cooking.
One of the reasons that the US faces a diabetes (and obesity) epidemic is that we often rely on high-sodium, high-sugar and high-fat processed foods, or on restaurant foods, to see us through our on-the-go lives. We rush to work, rush our lunch, rush through post-commute errands and then reheat easy, microwaveable canned or frozen meals in the evening because we're too tired to cook. Or we just stop and get take-out.
This sort of diet model, we have learned, is unsustainable. In fact, it's killing us. But it's also incredibly hard to break away from. That's why the theme the ADA chose for this November's American Diabetes Month observance is "America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes."
So what can seniors and their caregivers do to help stop diabetes' proliferation? Cook more at home, using less salt, less sugar, less oil and more fresh fruits and vegetables. By lowering the amount of sugar and calories in the diet, and becoming more active whenever possible, one can lower his or her risk of developing insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Easier said than done?
Not at all. There are many excellent resources online for finding low-sugar recipes that are easy and quick to make at home.
The Mayo Clinic, a renowned leader in diabetes research and in the treatment of metabolic disorders, publishes a free list of diabetic-friendly foods. And even those who have not yet developed the disease can benefit from these recipes, as they are designed have a low impact on blood glucose.
There is a robust community of diabetes blogs online, like DiabetesMine or ASweetLife. Some are written or edited by people who suffer from diabetes; others are caregivers, health care providers, or health advocates who have a particular interest in working toward developing better treatments. Their efforts to document and disseminate information about the disease can be extraordinarily valuable not only to diabetics, but to people who are at risk for developing diabetes and who want to proactively work to lower that risk.
Living with diabetes doesn't mean you cannot be living well.
By becoming more active and eating right— consuming fewer processed or restaurant foods, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and moderating portion size— you can minimize the impact that diabetes or pre-diabetes has on your life. The only surefire method of dealing with diabetes is to meet it head-on, actively manage your symptoms and to exercise regularly.
Talk with your doctor about your diabetes risk and start developing a management or prevention plan today.