Healthy Good Carb Lifestyle Blogging

The Family and Diabetes

World Diabetes Day 2018 -19

By:  Noelle DeSantis, MS, RDN

On: November 12, 2018

World Diabetes Day is November 14th, and I will be taking part in a local campaign representing Holista Foods, and Nadja will be taking part in the campaign at an event in China. It is exciting to work with a food company that is doing their part in the fight against diabetes globally. World Diabetes Day (WDD) is a global campaign to raise awareness of diabetes and help advance the interests of those with, or at risk of diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization created WDD because of the growing health threat caused by diabetes.

This campaign draws attention to important issues related to diabetes, helps raise awareness and encourages taking action to help this global health concern. The 2018 - 19 years the theme is Family and Diabetes, which is so important as the number of families affected by diabetes is growing. With over 425 million people living with diabetes, and the number expected to rise to 522 million by 2030, the time to take action is now. Family and friends play an important role in helping manage, prevent, educate and care for those diagnosed.  Research has shown that family support (or social support) can greatly improve health outcomes for those living with diabetes. Having social support can help decrease the stresses of living with and managing diabetes.  

 This article is meant to serve as an informational piece to help explain what diabetes is, what the risk factors are, provide preventative tips and steps you can take as someone living with diabetes or as a supporter of someone living with diabetes. Even if you don’t have diabetes, knowing more about the disease, how to prevent it, and how to recognize signs and symptoms will help you make an impact in fighting diabetes. For those of you living with diabetes or living with someone with a diagnosis, I hope this article provides an opportunity to learn something new, and sheds a light on the role social support plays in managing diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that causes blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels to be too high. The high level of sugar in our blood is because our body is not able to use the sugar as energy as it should. When we eat food it gets broken down into glucose (or sugar), which is the main source of energy for our cells, and it enters our blood stream. Insulin is a very important hormone, it helps get the sugar from the food we ate into our cells where it is used for energy. Insulin is referred to as the key that unlocks the door of our cell to allow sugar in. If the sugar can’t get into the cell due to no keys or not enough keys to unlock the cells, or a lock that no longer fits the key, we end up with too much sugar in our blood. Over time, too much sugar in the blood can lead to other health problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, foot problems, and nerve damage. Managing diabetes is very important to remain healthy and prevent the health problems associated with diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes; the three most common are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. More recently, type 3 is being proposed as the term for Alzheimer disease resulting from insulin resistance in the brain. The common factor in all types is the inability to use glucose for energy.

Type 1

People with type 1 diabetes make very little or no insulin. This is usually caused by an autoimmune reaction, which leads to the body’s immune cells destroying the cells in the pancreas responsible for making insulin. This means people living with type 1 diabetes are insulin dependent. This means they need to take insulin daily to stay alive. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but it can develop at any age.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, making up at least 90% of all cases of diabetes globally. People with type 2 are not making enough insulin, or they have insulin resistance (meaning they are not able to use the insulin they make properly). Imagine the insulin is the key, but the shape of the lock has changed so the key no longer works. Overweight and obesity can actually cause insulin resistance itself, leading to high blood glucose levels. So maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is elevated blood sugar level during pregnancy. This type of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, but both mom and baby are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

What you can do to make an impact on diabetes:

Know signs and symptoms:

Type 2 diabetes can go undiagnosed for years. In the US 1 in 4 people with diabetes don’t know they have it, and globally 1 in 2 people with diabetes remain undiagnosed. Knowing symptoms is important to help diagnose the disease before other complications arise from uncontrolled blood glucose.

Signs and symptoms:


Know the risk factors:

There are a number of factors that contribute to your risk for type 2 diabetes, like your genes, age, and lifestyle.  Not all risk factors are modifiable, meaning you can’t change them, but things you can change have a big impact on reducing your risk. Did you know that 80% of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices? That is great, because we can change the risk factors associated with lifestyle, and the number one risk factor, overweight/obesity. Use the list of risk factors below to help you identify those that apply to you. Taking action on the risk factors you can change can help you prevent diabetes. If you have diabetes, modifying these risk factors can help you manage your diabetes and improve your health.

You are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes if:


  • You are overweight or obese* (Not sure? Use this BMI calculator)

  • Are 45 years old, or older

  • Have diabetes in your family history

  • Are African American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian American,
    Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

  • Have high blood pressure*

  • Have low HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), elevated triglycerides *

  • History of gestational diabetes, or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more

  • Low physical activity*

  • History of heart disease or stroke

  • Have depression*


All risk factors with an * indicate modifiable risk factors. Weight loss, a healthy diet and increased physical activity can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Weight loss of 5 -7 % of your body weight has been associated with diabetes prevention. 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week is recommended. Reducing portion sizes, limiting added sugars, choosing water over sugary beverages and choosing nutrient dense foods can will help with weight loss and help reduce risk of diabetes.

Take the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes.  It is free and only takes about 60 seconds.

Diabetes and Family – Social support

Supporting family members and friends with diabetes can significantly improve their health outcomes. There are many ways to provide support including encouraging regular glucose monitoring, reminders about medications, engaging in physical activity together, sharing healthy, diabetic friendly meals and snacks, and continuing to learn more about diabetes. Being supportive of a loved one with diabetes and adopting a healthy lifestyle that controls glucose levels benefits everyone involved. The American Diabetes Association has a free, 12-month program for people living with type 2 diabetes. It is designed to help those diagnosed live a healthy life with diabetes. The ideas below are meant to help you decide how you can support a family member or friend with diabetes.

Monitor blood glucose

Monitoring blood glucose is very important for diabetics, as well as someone with pre-diabetes. Encourage regular A1C checks, and regular self-glucose monitoring for anyone taking medication. Knowing the A1C is important because it represents the average blood glucose level over the past 3 months. For most diabetics an A1C under 7% is recommended, but a healthcare provider can provide a personalized goal for A1C. Daily blood glucose monitoring is very important for anyone taking insulin. Offering reminders and making sure family members or friends feel comfortable doing this is a great way to support your loved one.

Get Physically Active

Physical activity is a great way to prevent or manage diabetes. It helps with a number things such as weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing blood sugar, reducing stress, reducing blood pressure, and may even help you sleep better! You can join a gym, a yoga studio, or plan walks with a loved one. Playing sports is a great way to get physical activity and socialize, you may think about joining a team if that fits your schedule. Pedal exercisers are a great way to increase physical activity for those that have physical limitations, or live in areas that may prevent outdoor exercise during the winter months. There are so many different options, talk with a family member and find out what fits your interests and make it fun.

Eat Healthy

Meal times are a great opportunity for family members to talk and help each other plan diabetic friendly meals. Preparing diabetic friendly recipes the whole family will love is an encouraging way to show support. Many times people think changing their diets means they will not enjoy their food anymore, or that they have to eat different meals from the rest of the family. This is just not true. Diabetic friendly meals are healthy for the whole family, and can be delicious as well. In general, a diabetic friendly meal will consist of lean proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, tofu, tempeh etc.) lots of non-starchy vegetables, and healthy grain choices. The glycemic index (GI) can be used to plan meals and fine-tune blood sugar control. GI is a number that is associated with how much a specific food may increase your blood sugar (or blood glucose). Foods are categorized based on this number as low, moderate or high GI. Choosing low to moderate GI foods is recommended for controlling blood sugar. If you do have a high GI food, make sure to have an appropriate portion size and pair it with low GI foods. Talking with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator can help you plan low GI meals that promote blood sugar control. Controlling blood sugar and avoiding spikes and dips is a great way to keep energy levels stable. This benefits all people, not only those living with diabetes.

Continue to Learn about Diabetes

Being able to help meal plan, recognize hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia symptoms, and help out with insulin injections are all examples of ways you can learn more to help support a family member with diabetes. You can attend a nutrition counseling session with your family member, or sign up for a class to learn more about diabetes. It is helpful to know how to identify if your family member is experiencing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. Hypoglycemia is too low blood sugar and hyperglycemia is too high blood sugar. Both can be very dangerous, so get familiar with the symptoms by following the links.



Helpful Resources:

Find out if you are a healthy weight using this BMI Calculator.

Estimate your risk for diabetes using this Risk Test.

Living with Type 2 Program. A free 12 month digital program providing information and recipes for the whole family to help you live well with diabetes.

For people living in Erie County, this is your guide to local diabetes resources!

Disclaimer:  This article was written for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advise, treatment or nutrition counseling. The reader should consult a qualified health care professional regarding any health concerns and before starting a new health program.



Western New York: Erie County Diabetes Education and Support Services Guide.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health Information\Diabetes\Diabetes Overview. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website.


International Diabetes Federation. About Diabetes. International Diabetes Federation website.


American Diabetes Association. Glycemic Index and Diabetes.

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