Diabetes affects about 23 million — almost 8% — of the American population (American Diabetes Association). Many Americans may be unaware that they have the condition. Most Americans with Diabetes have Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes is the inability to properly metabolize glucose and produce insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is also the body’s inability to metabolize or produce insulin, “a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life,” (American Diabetes Association). Type 2 Diabetes is usually preventable and caused by lifestyle and dietary habits. Type 1 Diabetes is usually passed down from generation to generation and is diagnosed in young children.
Diabetes is related to a number of health problems, including oral health problems. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) diabetes is related to “tooth decay, peridonatl (gum) disease, salivary gland dysfunction, fungal infections, lichen plantus and related skin diseases, infection and delayed healing, and taste impairment.” The reason why diabetes can increase oral health hazards is that persons with diabetes cannot metabolize glucose properly and therefore saliva has a high amount of bacteria in it. That bacteria causes tooth decay and gum disease (ADA). Persons who do not brush and floss their teeth regularly are at an even greater risk for developing oral health problems. When teeth are not brushed and flossed regularly, a plaque builds up and later hardens into tartar. Tartar is a calcification, a hard substance that is difficult to remove except by an oral health professional. When tartar builds up on teeth, it can cause inflammation of the gums and infections (ADA). Preventing gum disease and tooth decay depends both on diet and also on hygiene habits.
Oral health is only one of the possible effects of having diabetes. Diabetes also causes other health problems such as heart disease. Managing diet and especially intake of sugar helps diabetics manage their symptoms and improve overall health. Persons diagnosed with diabetes should avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates in favor of small amounts of natural sweeteners and complex carbohydrates. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible, but not too many starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and peas. Fruits and vegetables are best eaten fresh, because canned and frozen vegetables contain additives like salt and sugar that can exacerbate the condition of diabetes. Starchy vegetables are healthy in small portions and best when fresh, too.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is important for the diabetic’s overall health, and can also prevent diabetes in individuals who might be at risk. One reason why eating fresh fruits and vegetables improves the health of diabetics and reduces their risk for complications is that those foods are satisfying. Eating large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables helps people feel good about what they are eating and become more likely to eat less unhealthy processed foods. Processed foods are the ones that contain the highest amount of sugars, sodium, and chemical additives. Those are the substances that can cause Type 2 Diabetes or make the problem worse. Another reason why eating fresh fruits and vegetables improves the health and oral health of diabetics is that they are lower in glucose than processed foods. Finally, fresh fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and other nutrients that help the body stay healthy. The vitamins and minerals found in fresh foods help the body stay strong and fight off infection. The American Dental Association notes that diabetes already reduces the body’s ability to fight infection. Therefore, diabetics are especially at risk for acquiring another disease and should eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors in preventing and treating diabetes, no matter what type of diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is the hardest type to manage. Hypoglycemia is a common complication for persons with Type 1 Diabetes because it can occur even when diet is being managed carefully. Hypoglycemia is a condition of low blood sugar, caused by the body’s inappropriate metabolism of glucose and insulin. Diabetics who experience temporary hypoglycemia can remedy the problem by ingesting some simple sugars to immediately reintroduce glucose into the bloodstream.
A proper diet for diabetics is one that reduces intake of refined sugars, reduces sodium, and in many cases, helps the person lose weight. Most adults who acquire Type 2 Diabetes have poor lifestyle habits. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by obesity and poor nutrition even if some individuals are at a greater risk for developing the disease. Any person who might be at risk for diabetes should learn proper eating habits as early as possible in their life. Becoming overweight or obese is a difficult process to reverse and may lead to other health problems like heart disease. Persons who are overweight but who are willing to change their eating habits can do a number of things to reduce their risk of developing diabetes. Diabetics who are overweight can also change their eating habits to prevent complications.
Losing weight is important for the prevention and treatment of diabetes, and good nutrition is integral to losing weight. Buying all the “low fat” and “light” products at the supermarket is not the best way to lose weight. Following fad diets and starving are also bad ways to lose weight. Many people who try starving themselves for short periods of time or who go on fad diets worsen their risk for weight gain and diabetes. Fasting and rapid weight loss can create intense cravings for food and lead to binge eating. Fad diets and periodic starvation can also upset the body’s delicate metabolism, including the metabolism of glucose and insulin production. Therefore, any overweight person who wishes to prevent diabetes or manage their condition should learn how to lose weight effectively.
Products labeled as “low fat” or “light” are usually highly processed and filled with additives, preservatives, and a lot of salt. Therefore, such products should be avoided in favor of wholesome and fresh foods. Learning how to read product labels is crucial for a diabetic. Labels and ingredient lists reveal exactly what is inside the product: including refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup. Diabetics can easily reduce their intake of sugar by reading labels and learning the different types of refined sugars that might be inside the products they buy. In general, most processed foods are suspect unless the label shows that the contents are wholesome. Not all fats are bad for the body, and even people who need to lose weight must consume a reasonable amount of good fats coming from sources like olive oil, avocado, or fresh fish. The fats to avoid include anything partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated: known as “trans fats.” Diabetics who want to lose weight might notice that when they eat healthy fats in small portions, they will feel more satisfied after meals and less likely to reach for an unhealthy dessert. Even desserts can be a part of a healthy diet in small portions, as long as the ingredients in the dessert do not include refined sugars or trans fats. Unrefined sugars are commonly available, and many good desserts are made with wholesome ingredients. When a diabetic eats right, he or she will be able to live a longer and happier life, avoiding common health and oral health problems.
American Dental Association. “Diabetes and Your Oral Health.” Retrieved Mar 8, 2009 at http://www.ada.org/public/topics/diabetes_faq.asp
American Diabetes Association. “Hypoglycemia.” Retrieved Mar 8, 2009 at http://www.diabetes.org/type-1-diabetes/hypoglycemia.jsp
American Diabetics Association. “What Can I Eat?” Retrieved Mar 8, 2009 at http://www.diabetes.org/food-nutrition-lifestyle/nutrition/what-can-i-eat.jsp
Oral Health and Nutrition.” Retrieved Mar 8, 2009 at http://www.ringsurf.com/online/1173-oral_health_and_nutrition.html
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