Health Care

Diabetes shares November with turkey, which diabetics should eat

In the midst of giving thanks and eating turkey dinners, November is also known as Diabetes Awareness Month. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Dr. Janice Key, co-chairwoman of the S.C. Medical Association Childhood Obesity Taskforce, answers common questions about type 2 diabetes.

How is type 2 diabetes different from type 1 diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that causes high blood sugar (glucose) due to a problem with the sugar controlling hormone, insulin. There are two types of diabetes: one in which there is not enough insulin produced by the pancreas (type 1) and one in which there is plenty of insulin but the body is “resistant” to it and is unable to use it normally (type 2).

Who is at risk?

Being overweight or obese carries the greatest risk for developing type 2, however, the risk is not the same for all people. If your parents or grandparents have type 2 diabetes, you should be especially careful to keep your weight in a healthy range as you might have a genetic predisposition to obesity-related type 2 diabetes.

What are the consequences?

The high blood sugar caused by diabetes coats the lining of blood vessels throughout the body, causing those blood vessels to become clogged, damaging every organ in the body. Over time, this can result in kidney failure (requiring dialysis), poor circulation in the legs (requiring amputation), blindness, stroke and heart attacks.

How do I know if I have type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes has such a gradual effect that people usually can’t “feel” it happening. Some symptoms, such as lack of energy and fatigue, are so nonspecific that people don’t think of diabetes. In fact, undiagnosed diabetes can even cause a “silent heart attack”. The only real way to find out if you have diabetes is to get tested.

Can eating healthy and exercising really prevent type 2 diabetes?

Yes, the good news is that you can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy diet and exercising to keep your weight in the healthy range. In fact, sometimes even people who already have type 2 diabetes can get their blood sugars back under control simply by losing weight and exercising. Avoiding sugary, high glycemic foods can help by lowering the high peaks of blood glucose. Getting down to a healthy weight helps by improving insulin resistance. Exercise helps by temporarily reducing insulin resistance. Healthy food and exercise are the best medicine for diabetes.

Can children become a type 2 diabetic?

Yes, unfortunately more and more children and adolescents are developing type 2 diabetes. As recently as 30 years ago that was not the case. In the 1970s children never had type 2 diabetes (except for the rare child taking high doses of steroid medication). Today, type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in children. What the difference? Today’s children are overweight and obese. Our children are developing type 2 diabetes simply because they are obese.

What are three foods a diabetic should avoid?

People with diabetes should avoid simple carbohydrates and fatty foods. Three examples of specific foods that a person with diabetes should NEVER eat are candy, sugar sweetened drinks (soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks and iced tea) and ice cream. The best approach is to seek personalized advice from your physician, who may also refer you to a registered dietician. The American Diabetes Association has lots of recipes at their website

What foods would you recommend for a diabetic-friendly Thanksgiving feast?

Fortunately, many of the best foods on the Thanksgiving table are good for us! Roasted turkey is very healthy, just don’t eat the skin and limit the amount of gravy. Try cranberry relish made with a sugar substitute. Eat all the green beans you want, just not in a fatty, heavy casserole with fried onions on top (you know the one!). And of course, eat fruit for dessert, not pie and ice cream. Enjoy the meal and end the Thanksgiving celebration by getting out for a walk!

"The Doctor is In" features physician members of the South Carolina Medical Association answering common health care questions. Send questions to