Diabetes: Know the Basics

world diabetes dayToday is World Diabetes Day, a national initiative aimed to increase awareness of the disease, its symptoms and potential complications if not properly controlled. Dr. John Lee, a family medicine physician at South Sixth Medical Associates, provides insight on some of the more common questions people have about this condition.

How serious is diabetes?

The numbers associated with diabetes speak pretty loudly. About 26 million people — nearly 12 percent of the adult population —in the United States are diagnosed with diabetes. Approximately 35 percent of Americans have pre-diabetes (those at an increased risk for developing diabetes but whose elevated glucose levels aren’t yet at diabetic level). Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and is a major cause for blindness, amputation and renal (kidney) failure. Two-thirds of patients with heart disease are diabetic. One in seven healthcare dollars go toward treating diabetic patients, and 63 percent of hospital inpatient costs go toward diabetes or complications related to the disease.

What other health complications can arise from diabetes?

Diabetes is a result of the body’s struggle to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetics can’t produce any insulin, and Type 2 diabetics can’t produce enough. The body needs insulin to be able to use the sugar we consume. If that sugar is not broken down and used for fuel, the glucose builds up in the blood and instead of going into the cells, it can turn into several complications — retina problems, foot numbness, kidney damage, peripheral artery disease, heart attack or stroke, Lee said.

What misconceptions do people tend to have about the nature of the disease?

Lee said that diabetes often can be asymptomatic. Even if a patient isn’t showing symptoms — constant thirst, frequent urination, dizziness, weakness — they need to know the importance of taking their medications, whether it be insulin or an oral medicine. Though they may feel fine, their blood sugars may not be, and if left uncontrolled can lead to the complications mentioned above.

What does diabetes prevention and/or management entail?

Diabetes is something that needs to be treated early, so prevention is key. Sometimes you can’t predict if or when you’ll get diabetes. The most common clues are family history and lifestyles that are void of proper diet and exercise. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, having a good relationship with your primary care physician is important. Annual visits are crucial, and Lee suggests diabetics do the following:

  • Check cholesterol once per year and blood pressure frequently.
  • Have your eyes checked by an ophthalmologist once a year for retinopathy.
  • Check kidney function annually.
  • Check your feet daily; if you notice any ulcers or wounds, notify your doctor right away.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly; proper diet and exercise are the two biggest preventers of diabetes.

Gayle Jennings, a clinical and outpatient dietitian with Memorial Medical Center, suggests the following diabetes-friendly recipes from “Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Diabetic Cooking,” available from the American Diabetes Association at www.shopdiabetes.org.

Black-Eyed Pea Soup

Serves 7


  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can (10 ounce) chopped tomatoes and green chilies
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounce each) no-salt-added black-eyed peas
  • 2 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef broth


1. In a large nonstick saucepot coated with nonstick cooking spray, sauté the celery, green pepper, and onion until tender — about 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes.

Nutrition Facts
1 cup serving size

Calories: 131, Total Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0g, Sodium: 212mg, Carbohydrate: 24g, Dietary Fiber: 6g, Sugars: 6g, Protein: 8g.

Taco Soup

Serves 10


  • 1 pound 95-percent lean ground beef sirloin
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounce) no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (4 ounce) chopped green chilies, drained
  • 1 packet (1.25 ounce) reduced-sodium taco seasoning mix
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons original Ranch salad dressing mix (1/2 of a 1-ounce packet)
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2 cups frozen corn


1. In a large nonstick saucepot, sauté the beef over medium heat, about 8 minutes, or until done. Drain off any excess fat.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the seat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Nutrition Facts
1 cup serving size

Calories: 225, Total fat: 3g, saturated fat: 1g, trans fat 0g, Cholesterol: 25mg, Sodium: 446mg, Carbohydrate: 28g, Dietary fiber: 6g, Sugars: 6g, Protein: 16g

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