Teh Tarik Vs. Teh O: The Struggle That Every Diabetes Patient Faces

Because diabetes is often asymptomatic, it is crucial to get yourself screened regularly.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 – This festive season is very special, as Malaysians are able to travel again and “balik kampung” to visit their loved ones and friends after the various lockdowns imposed during the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Being a true Malaysian, consuming delicious food will surely be a highlight of any “balik kampung” trip. However, for people living with diabetes, this time might prove to be stressful. How can diabetes patients enjoy their trip back home while maintaining a healthy blood sugar level?

Here are some tips on maintaining a healthy blood glucose level when you feast with loved ones this festive season.

Healthy Eating 

Choose what you eat wisely. “Go back to the basics and follow the Malaysian Healthy Plate (Pinggan Sihat Malaysia) concept, which advocates a healthy portion of carbohydrates (quarter plate), proteins (quarter plate), fruits, and vegetables (half plate),” Poh Kai Ling, University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) clinical dietitian said.

This is the best, but often forgotten, guide to healthy eating. “When it comes to watching your blood sugar level, the goal is to practise eating healthy, balanced meals consisting of a variety of food, while practising portion control according to the Malaysian Healthy Plate concept. Moderation and portion sizing are key factors. You can eat carbs, but in moderation and in correct portions,” Poh added. 

Choose Your Carbs Wisely

In a typical Malaysian diet, food with carbohydrates such as rice, bread, tosai, or noodles are all similar in nature, and are interchangeable.

Sources of preferred carbohydrates are wholegrain products, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and legumes. Carbohydrates from sugar-sweetened drinks and foods containing white sugar, brown sugar, honey, gula Melaka, condensed milk and jam should be limited.

Ultimately, portion size is crucial, no matter what type of carbohydrates are being consumed. Sufficient carbohydrates should be included in the daily diet to avoid hypoglycaemia.

“Adding more fibers and taking low glycemic index foods are helpful for diabetes patients. For example, if you are able, choose brown rice over white rice, which is higher in fibre. This can help to slow down sugar absorption and help improve blood sugar levels,” Poh shared. 

Do Not Skip Meals

One common mistake made by most diabetes patients is to skip meals. This normally happens when they anticipate going to a party or eating out, assuming that by skipping meals, they can manage their blood sugar levels.

However, skipping meals can negatively impact blood glucose levels and sometimes cause hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar levels in combination with certain diabetes medications or insulin, which may have severe outcomes. 

Get Enough Sleep

Type 2 diabetes patient, 80-year-old Subramaniam Kalimuthu, shared that when he first discovered he had diabetes 30 years ago, one of the challenging lifestyle changes, besides a change in diet, is to alter sleeping patterns.

“I am used to sleeping late, and I realised that it is important to keep to a sufficient and regular sleeping schedule,” he said. 

Sleep plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. When you are getting enough sleep, you may find that you have an easier time controlling your blood sugar level.

So, with all the feasting that’s coming up, do not eat a heavy meal right before bedtime. And drinking alcohol or caffeine late at night is a big no-no. 

Check Your Blood Sugar Regularly

Ghazali Baharum, a Type 2 diabetes patient, shared one of his best practices, which is to check your blood sugar level two hours after your meal, so you are aware of your condition.

He often brings his test kit and insulin with him everywhere he goes, especially when travelling.

Physical Exercise

Dr Jeyakantha Ratnasingam, consultant endocrinologist and head of endocrinology, UMMC, said: “Increasing physical activity and weight reduction are crucial for people with diabetes.  A total duration of at least 150 minutes per week, or at least 30 minutes every day in a week is recommended.”

However, types and durations of physical activity or exercise should be individualised and best incorporated into their daily lives as much as possible.

Subramaniam helps with household chores and parks his car further when going out in order to incorporate more physical activity in his daily routine. Ghazali, on the other hand, takes morning walks within his house compound.

The good news regarding significant weight loss is that it helps improve glucose control, and may even lead to reduction or discontinuation of medications.

“A significant weight loss of more than 15 per cent of initial body weight during the initial years of the onset of diabetes, can in fact help a diabetes patient go into remission. For overweight non-diabetes individuals, reducing weight can help in the prevention of diabetes altogether,” added Dr Jeyakantha.

In summary, diabetes is an intricate and challenging disease that requires diabetic patients to make multiple decisions daily regarding food, physical activity, and medication.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, it is estimated that 18.3 per cent (3.9 million) of the adult population in Malaysia is currently living with diabetes. This translates to one out of five persons in Malaysia.

What is alarming is that only 50 per cent of the 3.9 million Malaysians are actually aware that they have diabetes prior to the survey. The same survey also detected that more than 50 per cent of the Malaysian population is overweight or obese.

It is during the festive season that it is becomes more important for diabetics or those at risk of developing diabetes to watch their diets carefully.

Dr Jeyakantha reminds Malaysians to get themselves screened regularly for diabetes, particularly if they are at risk of diabetes. “Individuals at risk includes people who are overweight or obese, with hypertension and high cholesterol, history of gestational diabetes, abdominal obesity (increased waist circumference), a strong family history of diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and those on steroids. Looking at the list, in particular those who are overweight or with a family history of diabetes, it basically means almost all Malaysians should be screened.”

He added that most Malaysians who are diabetic or have pre-diabetes, think they are healthy because diabetes is often asymptomatic. It is therefore crucial to get yourself screened regularly. Screening is the best way to prevent diabetes and its complications.

To address this pressing need, the “For Your Sweetheart Campaign” invites all Malaysians to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy with a free diabetes HbA1c screening at participating clinics nationwide.

The National Diabetes Registry Report 2013-2019 showed that an alarming number of diabetes patients in Malaysia suffer from heart disease. Awareness and the knowledge of whether one has diabetes or have a risk of developing diabetes is the first step towards managing the complication of diabetes-related heart diseases.

This is even more crucial amid the Covid-19 crisis as diabetics are also at risk of being infected with Covid-19. Therefore, early detection, prevention, and treatment are important. Register for the free screening today.

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