A 2017 report from the CDC estimates that 30 million Americans are living with diabetes in the United States. That may include our friends, neighbors and family members. Though we know and love them, we may also have some questions about diabetes care that we have been reluctant to ask.
Jeff Halpern, a senior director with Abbott's diabetes care team, is here to answer some of your questions — including what healthy glucose levels look like and whether fingerstick glucose testing is painful. He's lived with type 1 diabetes since 1993 and draws from his personal experience.
Q: When Did You Realize You Had Diabetes?
A: When I was in my late 20s, I started to experience thirst like I never had before. It was absolutely unquenchable. I was also going to the bathroom a lot. I started to experience significant weight loss. I lost 20 pounds in just a few weeks.
I was visiting back home for Thanksgiving and playing golf with my dad. I had blurry vision, which scared me. I realized there was a problem. When I saw my doctor the next week, they checked my blood glucose level, which was at 376 mg/dL. Of course, at that time, I had no idea if that was good or bad. Now I know that's a very high result, as [healthy glucose levels] should be between 90 mg/dL and 120 mg/dL. I had all the classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes. The very next day, I started on insulin and learned how to start living with diabetes. My life literally changed overnight.
Q: How Painful is Fingerstick Glucose Testing?
A: Well, I think when you first start fingerstick glucose testing, it's kind of a scary experience because you do have a sharp lancet, and you're poking your finger with it. But when you are faced with the decision to do this and manage the disease and live a long and healthy life, that pain can recede. You never forget about it, but you get used to it. Of course, you are always looking for an alternative.
Q: What Do People With Diabetes Eat at Restaurants?
A: We are just like everybody else, we like to eat!
We just have to be careful about carbohydrates, which tend to digest quickly and can lead to a lot of glucose in the bloodstream. What you are trying to do is manage fluctuations [in your blood sugar level], so if you eat a lot of carbs, the glucose can go up very quickly.
For me, I have a real sweet tooth, and I love eating carbs and all the foods that I'm supposed to eat less of. So I try to enjoy those foods in moderation, and manage it the best I can with insulin.
Q: Can You Exercise When You Have Diabetes?
A: Absolutely. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your glucose and ensure that you live a long and healthy life. Everyone with diabetes is strongly encouraged to include exercise in daily life.
Every morning, I wake up early and jump on my treadmill and get a couple of miles in before I get to work. It sets me up for a great day. Just like anybody, regular exercise is only going to do good things, and it's important for your overall health.
Q: How Often Do People With Diabetes Need to Check Their Glucose Levels?
A: I tend to check pretty frequently. Typically, you are encouraged to check before each meal to help decide how much insulin you need, as well as before you go to sleep to make sure you don't have low blood sugar overnight.
All of this routine checking is why I use Abbott's Freestyle Libre system, because it is so simple and easy to swipe the sensor and check my glucose more often. I'll find out what's influencing it and what is making my control better.
Q: And Finally, What is Your Favorite Diabetes-Friendly Snack?
A: For me, breakfast is the hardest meal of the day because there tends to be a lot of carbs, like cereals, Danish pastries, pancakes and things like that.
A friend taught me to make a pudding out of chia seeds, coconut oil, vanilla, and almonds. It's very filling and delicious, plus it's high in fiber and protein and helps me keep stable [and healthy glucose levels].
Other than that, veggies are always a good snack, as are high-protein items like cold cuts and beef jerky, or even things that are crunchy with fiber, like nuts or popcorn.