Filipinos undoubtedly have a sweet tooth, if the stores selling donuts and pastries as well as the long lines outside milk tea establishments are any indication. Even our spaghetti is sweet! And the numbers reflect this: We love our sugar so much that the country has an estimated 5 million diagnosed diabetics and just as many undiagnosed diabetics and those who have prediabetes. In the Western Pacific, the Philippines ranked fifth in terms of the number of people with diabetes in 2018.
If you have no family history of diabetes, you might think you’re safe from the disease, which means you’re unable to properly metabolize blood sugar. But there is a growing incidence of type 2 diabetes, which is largely attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle—which includes eating sweets with abandon. Aside from exercising regularly, it’s crucial to keep your blood sugar level under control.
Blood Sugar and Your Body
Harvard Health Publishing explains the basics of blood sugar: When you eat, your body digests carbs, which results in a rise in blood sugar, or the glucose present in your blood. To help balance this spike, your body releases a hormone called insulin, which ultimately helps convert glucose into energy.
When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to metabolize the glucose, the sugar builds up in the bloodstream—not a good thing for your body. This sugar buildup (say, when you ingest copious amounts of sweets in one go) may have immediate effects, such as blurred vision and a tingling sensation in the hands or feet, as well as some scary, long-term effects, like heart disease, nerve damage, and blindness.
If your blood sugar is at an elevated level, you may be at risk for developing diabetes—the American Diabetes Association calls this state prediabetes. The term may mislead people into thinking that it is a definite precursor to diabetes but it’s not hopeless. There is still much you can do to stem the blood sugar rise and save you from a lifelong disease.
What You Can Do to Manage Your Blood Sugar
Heed these tips if you suspect that you have high blood sugar:
1. Get checked! First things first, have your blood sugar checked from time to time. You should have it checked annually if you’re 45 or older, overweight, live a sedentary lifestyle (meaning you don’t engage in physical activity), have a family history of diabetes, or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Blood sugar is normally checked through a fasting blood glucose test. As its name connotes, this test requires that you don’t eat for at least eight hours before the test.
2. Drop excess weight. The Diabetes Prevention Program study showed that middle-aged people who were sedentary and 75 to 80 pounds overweight cut their risk of getting diabetes by more than 50% after losing 7% of their weight and adding 30 minutes a day of walking five days a week.
3. Say no to unli-rice. Instead, load up on leafy greens and a moderate serving of whole grains. Consider sticking to a Mediterranean diet, which is heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, as well as fish and chicken.
4. …and to sugar bombs. Replace soda and other sugar-laced beverages with good old-fashioned water, and sweetened desserts with fresh fruits.
5. Go for small, frequent portions. Instead of going all-out on a buffet meal, try having smaller portions throughout the day. This helps keep your blood sugar from spiking.
6. Don’t skip breakfast. Your mother was right: Breakfast may just be the most important meal of the day, at least when it comes to lowering your risk for diabetes. But not just any breakfast will do. Prep a mix of the three macros (protein, complex carbs, and fat) and avoid simple carbs like a muffin and artificial fruit juice as these might do more harm than good.
7. Get moving! Studies have shown that getting a mix of cardio and strength training can lower your risk of developing diabetes, as muscles make use of some of the glucose from your blood. Stuck at your desk all day? Schedule some time every hour or so to get up and walk around.
If you think about it, the guidelines for keeping your blood sugar in check are pretty much the same as the guidelines for keeping you healthy overall. So just focus on living a healthy lifestyle and your blood sugar should remain at a sweet spot.