Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. If your body does not have insulin or cannot use it properly, the result is a high blood sugar (glucose) level.

Major Types of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Results from the body's failure to produce insulin, the hormone that "unlocks" the cells of the body, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. At the present, type 1diabetes cannot be prevented, and people living with type 1 diabetes depend on insulin to stay alive.

Type 2 Diabetes

Results from insulin resistance (a condition in which the body fails to properly use insulin), combined with relative insulin deficiency. Gestational Diabetes - Results from the body not properly using insulin during pregnancy. This type of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born.

A Growing Issue for Canadians - Type 2 Diabetes

Health Canada estimates that 2.25 million Canadians have either type 1or type 2 diabetes. One third of these people are unaware that they have the disease. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in Canada, and Canadian adults with diabetes are twice as likely to die prematurely, compared to persons without diabetes.

The Canadian Diabetes Association states that the aggressive management of diabetes is critical in order to delay or altogether prevent complications such as heart disease, stroke, permanent vision loss, renal disease, damage to the limbs and erectile dysfunction in men.

The growth of diabetes is at epidemic levels and estimates are that the number of Canadians living with the disease could double by 2010. According to Health Canada, healthcare costs for managing diabetes and its complications amount to more than $9 billion annually.

* Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in Canada with more than 60,000 new cases yearly.

* Nine out of ten people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or postponed by making healthy lifestyle choices. Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle, diet and obesity.

The menu for diabetes prevention and management:

Foods that are high in fibre and foods with a low glycemic index (GI). The GI is a ranking of foods based on their effect on blood glucose (sugar) levels. Dietitians are increasingly educating their clients about the benefits of low-GI foods, such as carbohydrate-rich foods, which cause a healthy low, slow rise in blood glucose over a longer period of time. Because the body digests these foods more slowly, energy levels tend to be more even and you feel full longer.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

There is no single cause of type 2 diabetes but some factors put you at greater risk.

  • Age 40 or over

  • Overweight (especially with abdominal obesity)

  • A family member who has diabetes

  • Having had gestational diabetes

  • Given birth to a baby that weighed more than 4 kg (9 lb) at birth

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol or other fats in the blood

  • Member of a high-risk ethnic group

Aboriginal people have three to five times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes than other Canadians. Even Aboriginal children are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition that usually occurs in older adults. People of Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent are also more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Minimizing Your Risk

  • Don't smoke

  • Achieve a healthy weight and maintain it

  • Be physically active

  • Limit your intake of fat and sugar

  • Eat regular, balanced meals that include nutritious foods. See the dietary guidelines in Canada's food guide.

  • Keep your cholesterol and other blood fats within the target level

  • Maintain a normal blood pressure.

A High Fibre Diet

Fibre has many health benefits. A high fibre diet can help lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes and heart disease, help maintain weight, and may prevent high blood pressure. Foods that contain great sources of fibre include fruits and vegetables, whole wheat breads, oat or bran cereals, brown rice and pasta.

A Healthy Diet for Type 2 Diabetes

The Canadian Diabetes Association offers the following healthy eating tips for diabetes:

  • Watch your portions

  • Eat healthy carbohydrates

  • Eat more whole foods and less highly processed foods

  • Eat more vegetables and fruit

  • Limit sugars and sweets

  • Be consistent with your carbs

  • Choose "good" fats

  • Drink water

  • Plan ahead for healthy meals