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July 23, 2008 > Is Your Diabetes Under Control?

Is Your Diabetes Under Control?

Washington Hospital's Medical Nutrition Therapy Offers Individual Counseling

Diabetes is a growing public health issue with more than 23 million people in the United States having been diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you are one of them, you probably know the disease can take a serious toll on your body. But the good news is there are steps you can take to keep your disease under control and reduce your risk for other serious health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems, and stroke.
To help people with diabetes better manage the disease, Washington Hospital offers a Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) class in addition to the BASIC Diabetes Management Program.
"After completing the BASIC Diabetes Management Program, we now offer Medical Nutrition Therapy for those who require more in-depth nutrition counseling," said Anna Ng, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "People with diabetes who also want to address other conditions such as obesity, gout, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and kidney disease, but not requiring dialysis yet, will find the counseling beneficial."
Clinical studies show that Medical Nutrition Therapy helps people with diabetes improve their blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure control, according to the American Diabetes Association 2008 Clinical Practice Recommendations.
The one-on-one individualized counseling sessions are held at the Washington Hospital Diabetes Education Center at 1860 Mowry Avenue, Suite 200. A referral from your doctor is required. If you need assistance in getting a referral, call (510) 745-6556 or visit
Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin is needed to convert the food we eat into the body's main source of energy. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise and can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, and blood vessels.
Type 1 diabetes results from the body's failure to produce insulin and accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of the disease. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to survive.
The more common form of diabetes is type 2, which results from the body's inability to use insulin properly. The body then tries to make more insulin, and over time loses its ability to produce it.
While the cause of diabetes is not known, both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise seem to be involved. As obesity rises in the United State, so does diabetes.
Healthy Food and Lifestyle Choices are Key
Because blood sugar levels are affected by what we eat, balanced nutrition is critical. The MNT counseling focuses on balanced meal planning and carbohydrate counting as effective tools to manage blood sugar and prevent, delay or improve diabetes complications.
Carbohydrates have a direct impact on blood sugar levels because they are broken down into sugar during the digestion process. They are found in grains (breads and rice), starchy vegetables (potato and corn), beans, fruits, milk, regular soda, and desserts. They may also be found in unlikely sources, which are discussed during the MNT counseling sessions. Managing the amounts of carbohydrates you eat, and evenly distributing them at meals can help keep blood sugar levels under control.
"For most people, it's recommended to eat at regular times, and avoid skipping meals," Ng said. "During the day, try to eat every 4 to 5 hours. If going longer, consider a snack in-between the meals. This type of meal pattern may help prevent overeating and better control blood sugars."
The counseling usually begins with a one-hour assessment with follow-up sessions scheduled based on individual needs. Participants learn about the basic principles and skills for healthy eating. Then depending on individual needs (such as religious practices, cultural preferences, financial status, and medical history), a meal plan is created with specific emphasis on weight control, blood pressure control, cholesterol, and kidney disease management.
"They learn about food label reading, strategies on dinning out, smart grocery shopping tips, and recipe modification," Ng said. "By keeping logs on food intake, blood sugar reading and activity, participants find out for themselves how different components of their life affect their blood sugar pattern."
During the counseling, lifestyle choices are also addressed because exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, staying away from tobacco, and managing stress can help keep diabetes under control and reduce some of the health risks.
"You can't reverse diabetes, but you can slow the progression and help prevent serious complications," Ng said. "That's what the MNT counseling is all about."

To register for the class or to learn more about the range of services offered through Washington Hospital's Outpatient Diabetes Program, call (510) 745-6556 or visit, click on "Services and Programs" and choose "Diabetes Services" from the drop-down menu.

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