2013 diabetes campaign image“Who Are You Fighting For?” is this year’s Diabetes Awareness Campaign in Canada. Throughout the campaign, Canadians are encouraged to raise awareness by sharing personal stories and photos of who they are fighting for. Let me break down the types of diabetes and how lifestyle choices can help manage the disease. There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 (often lifestyle related due to poor diet and lack of exercise) and Gestational Diabetes. There is no cure for Type 1 Diabetes, and if left untreated or improperly managed, all diabetes can lead to heart, kidney, eye disease and nerve damage.

Type 1 usually starts in childhood. Various factors may contribute to Type 1 Diabetes, including genetics and exposure to certain viruses. It is an autoimmune disease with the destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells and it is required to metabolize glucose in the body. Consequently, there is depletion of insulin. Of the people with diabetes, only up to 10% have Type 1 requiring external insulin for life. Type 2 Diabetes on the other hand, occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Often it is diagnosed over the age of 40 years.

What is shocking is that over 9 million Canadians (one in four) are living with diabetes or prediabetes! With the majority of these people having Type 2 Diabetes, let’s examine how lifestyle changes can lead to better diabetes management. First the skinny on glycemic index, glycemic load and insoluble fibre. Then I’ll wrap up with the importance of exercise and activity.

What are the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load?

  • The glycemic index measures the body’s glucose response to certain amounts of carbohydrate in food.
  • The glycemic load takes into account the amount of available carbohydrate in the meals consumed by the individual. The glycemic index of foods has an effect on diabetes management. Ideally, the lower the glycemic index value of the food and/or beverage, the less of a flux in insulin response resulting in fewer extreme blood sugar peaks. This promotes good glycemic control. A blood measurement called the glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) indicates glycemic control over a prolonged period of time. Research has shown HbA1c levels may be more favourable when people follow a low glycemic index diet (1). To help identify the glycemic index ratings of some foods, use this useful resource from the Canadian Diabetes Association.

How can Soluble Fibre assist in Managing Diabetes?

  • Soluble fibre is found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains. These fibres are known to reduce blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.
  • Barley and oats contain soluble fibre, specifically beta-glucans. The stickiness of these grains is referred to as viscosity which is caused by the beta-glucans.

Research has shown eating barley and oats with beta-glucans allows for better glycemic control (2). The fibre decreases the influx of glucose (sugar) into the body, thereby decreasing the insulin response. The absorption of the glucose is slowed by the fibre in the intestine (3). Often people with diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease. When you eat more foods with beta-glucans there can be a decrease in low density lipoproteins (LDL), the lousy or bad cholesterol . This reduction can decrease the risk for heart disease. So fibre up and enjoy steal cut oatmeal for breakfast and a bowl of low sodium barley vegetable soup for lunch!

Exercise and Diabetes Physical activity is another key factor in diabetes management (4). For people with Type 1 diabetes, insulin sensitivity increases during and after exercise. Therefore, they may require less external insulin. Type 2 diabetics who exercise often have shown better glycemic control along with less insulin resistance. When people with Type 2 diabetes exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight their disease state is well managed.


Do you need a hearty winter recipe to add to your collection? Try this low sodium diabetic friendly barley risotto from tasteofhome.com


  1. Esfahani A et al. The glycemic index: Physiological significance. Journal of the American College of Nutrition.2009; Aug 28 Suppl: 439S-445S.
  2. Kim H, Stote K, Behall K, Spears K, Vinyard B, & Conway J. Glucose and insulin responses to whole grain breakfasts varying in soluble fiber, β-glucan. European Journal of Nutrition [serial online]. 2009; 48(3): 170-175.
  3. Poppitt SD et al. Supplementation of a high-carbohydrate breakfast with barley beta-glucan improves postprandial glycaemic response for meals but not beverages. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 16(1): 16-24.
  4. Sigal RJ et al. Physical activity and diabetes. Canadian Journal of Diabetes. 2013.37: S40-S44.