Debunking diabetes myths

The number of diabetics is expected to rise, but you can take steps to prevent the disease

Singapore's war against diabetes will move into a new phase next year, when an action plan against the metabolic disease is rolled out.

The plan will include public feedback on how to live healthily.

There is little time to lose as one in three people here, aged 65 and above, has diabetes.

The number is expected to rise to nearly a million by 2050, from about 500,000 now.

The Health Promotion Board debunks some myths about diabetes while Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian at the National University Hospital, gives advice on the optimal diet choices for diabetics: I don't have diabetes as I feel fine. Many people do not know they have diabetes until complications set in. The damage, such as heart disease, stroke and nerve damage, may take years to show.

My fasting blood glucose level is slightly above normal, so there is nothing to worry about. If your blood glucose is higher than normal but not so high that you have diabetes, it means you have pre-diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. This puts you at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

No one in my family has diabetes, so my chances of getting it are small. Leading an unhealthy lifestyle and being overweight can increase your risk of getting diabetes.

If I have diabetes, I will eventually lose my limbs and my eyesight. Diabetes is a serious condition but complications like kidney failure, blindness, foot amputation and heart disease may not occur if you keep it under control with lifelong treatment and lifestyle changes.

Taking insulin can cause impotence.It is not insulin but uncontrolled diabetes that can cause erectile dysfunction, due to complications related to the nerves and blood vessels.

I am on diabetes medication, so I can eat whatever I want and not exercise. Poor eating habits will affect blood glucose control and increase your risk of developing complications. But doing regular execise will help to lower your blood glucose level.

I must try to avoid carbohydrates to keep my diabetes under control. We need carbohydrates for energy, so do not cut them out of your diet.

Instead, make smarter choices about the ones you consume and include unrefined carbohydrates such as oats and wholegrain bread.

Pair your carbohydrates with vegetables and proteins for a balanced meal and to slow down your body's absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Beancurd, beans, pulses, fish and lean meat are good sources of proteins. You can replace staple foods with pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and beans as they contain carbohydrates.

Compared with refined carbohydrates, whole grains, pulses and beans are higher in fibre and lower in glycaemic index. This helps to reduce the rate of sugar absorption.

Importantly, whole grains, pulses and beans contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that are known for their ability to scavenge free radicals and prevent cellular damage. I can eat fatty food but not sugar.Some studies have shown that meals that are high in saturated fats will cause a delayed but higher rise in blood sugar level.

Reduce your intake of saturated and trans fat by removing poultry skin, trimming animal fat and replacing coconut milk with low-fat milk or yogurt. Instead of carbohydrates, I should eat more fruit.Fruit is high in fibre and antioxidants. However, diabetics will need to keep their fruit intake to two to three servings a day as fruit contains naturally-occurring sugar.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Debunking diabetes myths'. Print Edition | Subscribe