Diabetes has a lot of connotations around it. Some people get scared because they think it means that they won't be able to eat anything sweet for the rest of their lives. Others think it means that they'll have to inject themselves every day. But what people don't know is the impact that diabetes has on someone's life, and their loved ones. I was like that. I didn't know what diabetes was, until I was exposed to it through a family member and a close friend. 

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Yael Apt

When I was 15-years-old, my mom took me to the doctor to get routine tests done to make sure I was healthy. The results showed that I had high blood-sugar levels. So much so, that my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic. I didn't quite understand what he meant, but I realized that it was a wake-up call to start taking care of myself in order to prevent something worse from happening to me. 

How It Starts 

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Yael Apt

I didn't have any established eating habits. I had a fairly healthy diet because everyone in my family is a healthy eater, so there were no red flags in that area. My parents always encouraged my sisters and I to exercise and stay active, which plays a big role in leading a healthy lifestyle. However, being the sweet tooth that I am, I always had a problem with snacks and candy in general. I would eat way too much candy or chocolate, which didn't help with my blood sugar levels, weight, and health overall.

That is why, after my doctor told me that my sugar levels were high, I started reflecting on my eating habits and I made some changes. My mom took me to a nutritionist so she could help me figure out how a balanced diet combined with a good amount of exercise could work in my favor. That is when everything changed for me for the better. That "scare" helped me learn so much about diabetes and taking care of myself in general, that I know what to look out for in the future. 

With all of this said, I want to explain the factors that lead to diabetes, and how having this disease doesn't mean it's the end of the world. But that you have to be more conscious of the foods you eat in order to lead a normal and healthy life. 

Factoring Diabetes

Yael Apt

No, you don't always eat your way to diabetes. Some people have a fairly healthy diet, yet they develop diabetes at some point in their lives, and there are three factors that can contribute to this.

1. Age

As you get older, your risks for type 2 diabetes increases, which is why you should check your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar regularly. 

2. Race

People of different racial and ethnic groups are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (African Americans, Mexican Americans, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Asian Americans). According to the American Diabetes Association, "This is partly because these populations are more likely to be overweight [and] have high blood pressure."

3. Family History

If an immediate family member has diabetes, your risk goes up. The best thing you can do is ask, and find out if someone in your family has type 2 diabetes so you can make a plan to lower your risk. 

Eating Habits

Yael Apt

A common myth is that diabetic people can't have sweets anymore. Bye-bye chocolate, candy, ice-cream, and soda. Well, I'm here to tell you that this isn't entirely true, they just have to be more careful by eating them in moderation. They need to know how to choose food so they avoid blood sugar spikes. Candy and soda are simple sugars that the body absorbs almost instantly, and that is really bad for diabetics. But that doesn't mean they can't give in to food cravings anymore, or a cheat day every once in a while.

According to the food pyramid, the ideal plate is made up of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 proteins and 1/4 carbohydrates; well, this is the same even for diabetics. Diabetes changes the way you process food, which is why you have to develop some dietary restrictions even within the foods that you used to consider "healthy." 

1. Starches

Your body still needs carbs, but instead of eating white bread or processed grains, you might have to switch to whole grain foods like brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa.

2. Vegetables

The perfect way to load up on fiber with little sodium and fat. The best choices are fresh veggies, eaten raw or lightly steamed, or grilled. Canned vegetables (lots of sodium) and veggies cooked with lots of sauces, butter, or dressings are not good.

3. Protein

Plant-based proteins such as beans, tofu, and nuts are the best ones. Fish, chicken, eggs and low-fat dairy are also really good. Bad choices? Fried meats, higher-fat cuts of meat, regular cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar, etc.), and bacon.

4. Dairy

Just keep it low in fat and don't exaggerate with the quantities. Your go-to choices should be skim milk, low-fat yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese. Bad dairy includes whole milk, and the regular version of everything we mentioned before. 

5. Fats and Sweets

Everyone's guilty pleasures, which is why we need to keep an eye on them. The best choices are natural sources of vegetable fats such as nuts, seeds, and avocados. In terms of sweets, fruits will do the trick. When it comes to poor choices, you really just need to look out for artificial trans fat and big portions of saturated fats.

Diabetic Complications

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Yael Apt

Poorly-controlled diabetes does not only lead to a day-by-day struggle, but it can have long-lasting effects on one's health. Diabetes affects the blood vessels and the nerves, so it can damage any part of the body. Moreover, diabetes is closely related to coronary heart disease and strokes because it affects the heart. It also affects your eyes, digestion, kidneys, and it can even lead to limb amputation. But the thing is that diabetic people can prevent this by keeping a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, and exercising. 

Global Threat

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Yael Apt

There are more and more people being diagnosed with diabetes every day. The World Health Organization  (WHO) released data saying that the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980, to 422 million in 2014. By 2030, WHO predicts that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death in the world.

It Can Change Your Life

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Photo by Santina Renzi

Whether you develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes, your life will change. This is a disease that you have to live with for the rest of your life, and believe it or not, it affects the people you love, too. 

Having diabetes doesn't mean you need to live by a strict diet for the rest of your life without enjoying food, it just means that you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle. I know that for myself, I changed a lot of things at home.

I started watching my portions, and eating more fiber and less starchy foods. I also started going to the gym more often and just taking care of myself as a whole. But all of these changes, you don't just make for yourself, you make them for your family and friends as well. They are the ones who have to see you every day and worry about you. Your "wake-up call" is also theirs, because they realize that if you are in danger, they could be, too.