“You are not allowed to have any candy or chocolates. You definitely can’t have pop or alcohol. Sugar is off limits.”
That is usually what people think when you say you have diabetes. And if that were the case, you would pretty much have to become a vegetarian. Everything we consume has some sort of sugar in it.
I remember when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, 14 years ago. I thought I was never allowed to eat or drink sugar again. That meant no candy or chocolates. No pop or alcohol. No Slurpees. No fruit. Not even rice. And for a Canadian-Filipino teenager whose diet consisted of mostly rice — having to cut it out was devastating.
But that is not always the case. Let me explain what having “The Suga” means.
There are three different types of diabetes, but people usually only talk about Type 1 and 2 — so, I will be shedding light on Types 1 and 2 as well. But if you are wondering, the third type is Gestational Diabetes, which occurs in some women during pregnancy if their blood sugar gets too high.
Before we get into the different diabetes, let me explain insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas to control the amount of sugar that goes into the blood. If there is no insulin in the body, the body will not be able to control the amount of sugar that is entering the blood. Sugar will build up in your blood instead of being used for energy.
When the body stores sugar instead of releasing it for energy, the body’s blood sugar levels will be high. If they have too much insulin in the body changing the sugar to energy, the body’s sugar level will be low.
In diabetics, knowing what their blood sugar levels are is important because their body doesn’t have a pancreas that produces enough insulin to control their sugar levels.
A normal pancreas in a person without diabetes has the luxury of their sugar levels being maintained between four and seven — which are normal blood levels.
The blood sugar number is measured as millimoles per litre, 4 mmol/L. A diabetic with a sugar level of 12 mmol/L would have 12 millimoles per litre of sugar stored in their body. Necessitating taking insulin to lower their levels.
Sugar levels between eight and 10 are manageable. When levels rise above 11, the body will feel sluggish, thirsty and my favorite — irritated.
A lot of diabetics also have low blood sugar. That is when their sugar levels are between one and three. At that point, you have to raise your levels so they are between four and seven. When their blood sugar is low, they can eat or drink whatever to raise it. Low blood levels are as bad as high blood levels.
Type 2 diabetes is the easier of the two to maintain. It is more controllable and is borderline-reversible. This diabetes is when the body neglects the insulin that’s being produced, or the body doesn’t produce enough insulin.
Type 1 diabetes requires more maintenance because with it, you constantly have to give yourself insulin. This diabetes is when the body attacks cells in the pancreas — allowing little-to-zero insulin to be made.
Having diabetes means the body does not turn sugar into energy. The sugar instead stores in your blood — but, that does not mean a diabetic can’t have sugar. While eating a whole cake in one sitting would probably not be a good idea, diabetics and sugar will always go hand-in-hand. Diabetics can take sugar out of their diet, just like vegetarians do with meat, but it’s not necessary. Diabetics need sugar, they just need to know how to have it in moderation.
When you’re young like I was when I was diagnosed, you can control the sugar levels through being active. And I was an active kid. But what happens when you become older, and less active? There have been countless times where I’ve wondered why my body felt some type of way. More often than not, it was because my blood sugar levels were out of control. You have to learn to moderate and control what you’re eating if it’s bad for you.
Learning what my body can and can’t eat or drink will be a life-long process. Mistakes will be made. Sugar will be eaten or drank. But understanding what sugar is and how it affects my body is a must. I want to be indulging in candy and chocolates, or drinking pop and alcohol. And let’s be real, you only live once — so why wouldn’t I at least want to try those sugars?
Diabetics are allowed to have sugar, but like anything in life — only in moderation.
– Peter Go, Assistant Sports Editor