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Q: What is diabetes?

Dr. Ammini: Diabetes is a disorder where one is not able to utilise the calories especially in the form of carbohydrates. There is either absolute or a related deficiency of the hormone insulin, which is required for the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose.

Q: Is it a disease that can be taken care of completely by controlling the diet?

Dr. Ammini: In the early stages it can be controlled by modifying the diet but as time passes on, if it keeps on progressing; then one needs to start medicines.

Q: What is the recommended diet for someone suffering from mild diabetes?

Dr. Sharma: In a diet which is especially designed for a diabetic there are a few major factors which we have to take into consideration. One has to avoid fried food because fried food alters the chemistry of the carbohydrates and that affects the insulin level. Second, all processed food should be controlled because it affects insulin reaction, so all processed foods like corn flour, semolina (suji), maida, white bread, have to be avoided altogether.

Q: Can eating too much sugar and fried food lead to diabetes?

Dr. Ammini: It is usually a combination of both genetic as well as the environmental inputs. So if you already have a genetic potential and you are adding unhealthy eating habits, then the chances are more. But if you have regulated meals one could avoid it for long.

Q: Earlier our grandparents used to consume a lot of fried food but they still managed to stay away from such diseases. What do you think is the reason?

Dr. Sharma: Diabetes is a multifactorial disease wherein you have stress, environmental pollution, lifestyle changes i.e. the kind of food we eat and a combination of all these factors that can lead to it.

Q: What is the diet a diabetic should take?

Dr. Sharma: We have divided the diabetic diet into two classes. One is the initial phase diabetes and the other is the later phase diabetes where there is certain organ damage within the body. In the initial stage the most important thing to do is to avoid processed foods as far as possible. So, a high fiber diet is the key. This includes the use of vegetables in large quantities, pulses and fruits. There are certain herbs, which are very useful like fenugreek (methi), bitter gourd (karela) and neem. If you take them regularly they can manage to control the insulin levels. Second is the herbal treatment and third is regular walking which is a must in diabetes.

Caller: I measure my sugar levels with a Glucometer, and the reading is always on the higher side as compared to the sugar tested at the laboratory by a calorimeter. Should we go by the Glucometer reading or the lab readings? Is there any difference between the two?

Dr. Ammini: Glucometer readings are good for day-to-day monitoring of the blood sugar levels because it is easy and convenient but when it comes to low levels it is not as accurate as the laboratory values. Therefore, one needs to periodically check it with a lab value, for example, once in a month when you are testing from a lab then at the same time you can check with the Glucometer as well. This will help you to calibrate the meter.

Caller: I am diabetic and a heart patient too. The doctor has advised me for an angioplasty but there is a problem regarding my diet. What kind of a diet should I take to control my high sugar levels?

Dr. Sharma: Being diabetic with a heart disease is a kind of stage two diabetes where organ damage starts occurring so you definitely have to cut down on the processed food that means cutting down on pure wheat and start mixing a little bit of besen or black gram (channa) to the food you eat. Chose things like papaya, guava or watermelon and avoid other fruits. You also have to take small frequent meals of high fiber density and take bitter gourd which is an excellent medication besides the medication which you may already be taking. You should also join a de-stress programme because heart disease and diabetes point towards a type A personality which is more prone and vulnerable to the stress.

SMS: There are many Ayurvedic products available in the market. Do you suggest taking these?

Dr. Ammini: I am not aware of any Ayurvedic product which is really effective in an established diabetic. But if it has to be taken, it has to be taken under the supervision of an ayurvedic physician who knows how these medicines act.

Caller: I would like to know if irregular food habit causes obesity or diabetes?

Dr. Sharma: Irregular eating habits definitely lead to obesity, diabetes and a host of other diseases.

Q: Are the artificial sweeteners which people use in their beverages advisable?

Dr. Ammini: Go slow with sugar and keep artificial sweeteners as low as possible.

Caller: My father drinks tea about seven times a day, is there any chance for developing diabetes?

Dr. Sharma: Tea cannot lead to diabetes but frequent drinking tea is another sign of stress because people either smoke or drink tea or take alcohol when they are under stress. So I would suggest out of seven cups if he substitutes two or three cups by tulsi tea, jasmine tea or herbal tea, then he would get a lot of antioxidants.

Caller: Nowadays we watch that paranayam is seen to be very good for diabetics. How far it is true? Also, I have read somewhere that kids too can suffer from diabetes. What are the symptoms in children?

Dr. Sharma: Paranayam is now studied all over in various medical institutes. They have realised that paranayam brings down the stress level by affecting certain neuroendocrine hormones so I would definitely suggest it for all people who can get hold of a good teacher. Regarding diabetes in kids, this is rising all over especially in the metros and the reason for this is that kids have more sedentary lifestyle and they have access to food which is far simpler than what is was before. And also because of the presence of this processed food and the easy accessibility of this processed food kids are becoming diabetic at a younger age.

Caller: My sister, 16 years old, has been diagnosed with diabetes. Do the intake of fruits increase blood sugar levels?

Dr. Sharma: If you are consuming a very large quantity of fruits, then yes. Fruit is fructose and it directly gets converted in the bloodstream and increases the blood sugar levels. So for diabetics consuming too many fruits is not too good.

Q: Once you have controlled diabetes with a proper diet plan, is it possible to get rid of the medicines?

Dr. Ammini: Initially one could go into remission like a person who has been having diabetes goes on to a strict diet plan and could actually have normal blood sugars after a while and may not have medication, but as time goes on there is a possibility that he might get it again. This is basically a chronic progressive disorder so there is a very good likelihood that he will again manifest with diabetes.

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