Diabetes and Your Heart – What’s the Connection?
by Marcia Simon, APR
Why does diabetes, a sugar condition, affect the heart? Why are people with diabetes more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than adults without this condition?
Because it’s not just about sugar.
November is National Diabetes Month to raise awareness that diabetes, affecting more than one in 10 Americans, has no aches, pains or other symptoms until it starts to take its toll on a person’s body.
Diabetes is primarily about the body’s inability to properly process sugar (glucose).
“Most people don’t think about how sticky sugar is,” says Nancy Ryan, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator at Greenwich Hospital, part of the Yale New Haven Health System. “Visualize the stickiness of honey or juice. The sugar, glucose, in our blood is also sticky and, when the sugar level is high, can stick to blood vessels and contribute to clogging arteries.”
“This sticky glucose in combination with smaller, denser LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad cholesterol” from saturated fat) is more likely to damage the arteries and cause them to become stiff and hard,” says Ryan. Like any snowball effect, clogged blood vessels lead to high blood pressure, another risk for heart attack and stroke. This puts people with diabetes at greater risk for heart attack and stroke at an earlier age than the general population.
So what do you do? Managing your glucose through diet is a no brainer – if you have the willpower to do it along with education to understand food.
“Many people don’t realize that milk and fruit contain carbs that turn to sugar,” explains Ryan. It’s fine to eat carbohydrates but you don’t want your sugar to spike, so balance your meals and snacks to prevent blood sugar from spiking.”
Ryan counsels patients who have diabetes and offers these two easy-to-remember tips for balanced eating:
- Be diligent with carbohydrate portion control. Make a fist. That’s your portion in ratio to your body size. Whether an apple, a potato or other food containing carbohydrates, this helps to control how much you should have at one time.
- Combine a carbohydrate with a heart-healthy fat, such as olive oil, avocado, peanut butter or other nuts. For breakfast, oatmeal alone can spike blood sugar, but adding a spoonful of unsalted nuts or peanut butter provides balance to limit the after-meal rise in sugar. At dinnertime, olive oil drizzled on a salad or vegetables also helps to control the after-meal sugar spike.
Understanding the science of nutritional choices and how your choices impact the chemistry within your body can help you make informed choices to maintain energy, overall good health and wellness.