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Can my sweet tooth lead to diabetes?

Medical student Maria Christina Curmi dispels the myth that intake of sugar leads to diabetes

Diabetes, or as more commonly referred to by doctors, diabetes mellitus, describes a long-term condition in which the person suffers from high blood sugar levels. A very common misconception is, however, associating this high blood sugar level with a high intake of sugar. These are not the same thing – well, to some extent.

There are two main types of diabetes which fall under this umbrella term: type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is what’s more commonly referred to as juvenile or early onset diabetes. It is an insulin-dependent type of diabetes where the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas get destroyed by the pancreas with the result that the body is not able to produce any insulin. There is no amount of sugar which caused or will cause type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes surfaces when the body, all of a sudden, no longer responds to the amount of insulin in the body, rendering the body insensitive to insulin. Although sugar in itself isn’t the main cause of diabetes, there is one way how it may be indirectly linked to this form of diabetes.

The first thing which probably comes to mind when mentioning sugar are calories. Calories in turn are among the leading factors which render a person overweight. Overweight people in effect are those who are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Sugar is not the only factor why people put on weight. Eating too much of any type of food can increase a person’s chance of getting diabetes which is why a healthy balanced diet is recommended.

Not only will this lower the chances of getting diabetes but being and eating healthy will also greatly decrease the chances of getting a stroke and minimises heart problems. Being overweight however, is unlikely to be the only reason why diabetes develops. Several risk factors come into play including family history, age and ethnic background.

Does this mean the end of chocolate, cakes or sweets? Definitely not, as long as one is able to control and balance their diet correctly. Counting carbohydrates and choosing the healthiest option is far more important than eliminating sugar altogether. The right amount of sugar does leave a beneficial effect on our body, such as providing us with a short-term boost of energy and maintaining the health and look of the skin (in minimal amounts).

The daily recommended sugar intake is around 25 grams per day (as recommended by the World Health Organisation) which is equivalent to five teaspoons of sugar a day. Taking this into account, a chocolate biscuit contains approximately two teaspoons of sugar whereas baked beans contain three teaspoons of sugar. This shows how quickly one can exceed the recommended daily intake and this is actually leading to the misconception that sugar is causing diabetes.

For some people with diabetes, sugary drinks and glucose tablets are actually recommended to help them cope when their blood sugar level becomes too low.

Diabetes is a serious issue which causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and Aids combined. But, good diabetes control and prevention through a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risks of diabetes and its associated complications.

Exercise is undoubtedly one of the main solutions. Other solutions to lowering one’s sugar intake include opting for fruity snacks rather than resorting to chocolate (dark chocolate is the best alternative). Also beware of reduced-fat food. More often than not, manufacturers tend to increase the sugar content of such foods to compensate for the altered taste caused by the reduction in fat. It is always wise to look at and compare the nutrition value of such food. Sugar-sweetened beverages also pose hazards due to their high sugar content, with a regular can of soda having as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar – double the recommended amount.

As the American Diabetes Association correctly said: “Diabetes is not a choice. Several factors come into play which can lead to diabetes and there is nothing we can really do to prevent many of them. However, we can prevent a main risk factor – that of being overweight. Leading a well-balanced lifestyle helps to minimise this risk while providing one with an overall better quality of life.”

World Diabetes Day 2017

The theme of World Diabetes Day 2017 is ‘Women and diabetes – our right to a healthy future’.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes. This figure is set to increase to 313 million by 2040. Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age, accounting for over 60 million women worldwide.

The key messages of the campaign are:

1. All women with diabetes require affordable and equitable access to care and education to better manage their diabetes and improve their health outcomes.

2. Pregnant women require improved access to screening, care and education to achieve positive health outcomes for mother and child.

3. Women and girls should be empowered with easy and equitable access to knowledge and resources to strengthen their capacity to prevent type 2 diabetes in their families and better safeguard their own health.

The Malta Medical Students’ Association joins the rest of the world on World Diabetes Day, being commemorated today. The students will be in Valletta on Saturday from 9am to 2pm where they will be performing free health screenings of blood glucose, blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI) and sharing information on the many ways that one may prevent and manage diabetes. They will also set up a fun children’s corner where they can learn more about doctors and diabetes.

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