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8 Diabetes Summer Health Hazards to Avoid
Have a Diabetes-Safe Season
This time of year, a poolside frozen margarita or a carb-centric BBQ are the makings of a perfect weekend. But if you have diabetes, seasonal happenings require careful pre-planning to protect your health and keep you feeling your best. “During the summer, people with diabetes are faced with parties that tend to offer sugar-laden and high-carb foods,” says Alana Fiorentino, RD, a certified diabetes educator in New York City. “It’s important for these people to continue to carbohydrate count when they're out, and to carry diabetic-friendly snacks when traveling for long periods of time.” And navigating the barbecue spread is just one of many tricky situations that arise this season. Here are eight common health hazards that those with diabetes face in the summer to early fall months — and tips on how to navigate them.
Youcanhave that pasta salad or slice of crusty bread that you’ve been eyeing, but stick to a small serving and load up the rest of your plate with non-starchy veggies and lean protein. When you have diabetes, excessive intake of carbohydrates can have negative effects on blood vessels, as high blood-sugar levels can cause vessels to become enlarged, says Maureen Yorke, CDE, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Over time, this can damage artery walls.” Although everyone’s carbohydrate needs are different, most experts suggest getting between 45 and 65 percent of calories from carbs. An 1,800-calorie diet, for example, would equal about 203 grams of carbohydrates. Experts recommend eating small, frequent meals, and spreading carbohydrates evenly throughout the day. If you end up overloading on carbs, take a walk, which may help lower your post-meal blood-glucose level. A person with diabetes on fast-acting insulin may need a larger dose to cover a high-carbohydrate meal.
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An Easy-Going Attitude
The summer months are characterized by a laid-back vibe. So when the host asks you to cook up a dish, you reply, “no problem.” But if that dish is carb-laden, it may be a big problem for your blood-sugar levels. Going with the flow can put your health at risk — especially if the party planner is a fan of high-carb foods and little else. Offer to bring a diabetic-friendly dish, such as grilled vegetables or meat- and veggie-kabobs, suggests Fiorentino. If you’re assigned a typically carbohydrate-rich drink or food and don’t feel comfortable requesting a change, look up recipes for lower-carb options such as homemade lemonade made with artificial sweetener, unsweetened iced tea, or marinated chicken.
Alcohol on an Empty Stomach
Enjoying a beer or cocktail without food can cause your blood sugar to plummet — so be sure to always imbibe with a meal or snack close-by. “The prevailing wisdom is that most women with diabetes can have one drink daily, and men can have two,” says Yorke. Five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits all contain about 15 grams of carbs and count as one carbohydrate serving. Be sure to consider any mixers like juice that add additional carbohydrates, and when ordering out, double check that the bartender serves you diet soda if that was what you requested.
Exposing Insulin to Hot Temperatures
While temperatures in the 80s and above may make for the perfect beach day, they're far from ideal when it comes to storing insulin. “Excessive exposure to high temperatures can render insulin ineffective,” explains Fiorentino. Use a cooling case made especially for insulin, and don’t place insulin in the freezer to cool it down — getting it too cold can also render it ineffective.
Running Low on Supplies
When traveling, always store your medical supplies in a carry-on bag, and take along at least a few days’ worth of insulin, syringes, oral meds, and other supplies — including paper prescriptions so that you’re not caught without medication should your flight be delayed, or you run into another travel jam. To make air travel as smooth as possible, obtain a doctor’s note to verify your usage of syringes and other sharp supplies, and fill out a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Disability Notification Card. “These things won’t prevent a pat down, but they may make an inspection be less intrusive,” says Yorke.
In-Flight Meals and Snacks
When jet setting on your vacation, it’s best to bring along a reserve of snacks in the event that snacks are served late on the flight, or not at all. Smart options include oatmeal, yogurt and nuts, a lean meat sandwich on whole-grain bread, veggies and hummus, or an apple and peanut butter. You can pack them at home or find most for sale at the airport. For longer flights, keep a supply of carbohydrate-rich foods that can immediately raise your blood sugar levels if they drop — consider glucose tablets or glucose gel in addition to hard candy, gumdrops, jelly beans, raisins, and dried cranberries. You’ll want to eat a serving that contains 15 grams of carbohydrates.
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Exercising on an Empty Stomach
Warm weather makes for a great time to get outdoors and be active, and while a walk or bike ride is a smart way to burn off indulgent meals, it’s safest to hold off on exercising until after you've eaten. If you manage diabetes with insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications, you’ll need to monitor your pre- and post-exercise blood sugars closely. If your pre-exercise blood-glucose level is lower than 100 milligram/deciliter (mg/dl), have a snack with 15 grams of carbs during the 30 minutes before exercise. And always take along a carbohydrate-rich food or drink — such as juice, a sports drink, or glucose tablets — in case your blood sugar drops mid-workout. If you're engaging in long bouts of exercise, you'll need to retest your blood-sugar during activity to ensure it's still in a safe range.
Exercising Outdoors — and Not Rehydrating
While it's important for everyone to stay hydrated while exercising, dehydration is especially a concern for people with diabetes, since falling short on fluid may cause your blood sugar to spike. When your body is dehydrated, sugar in the bloodstream becomes more concentrated. And exercising outdoors can lead to even greater dehydration due to higher temperatures and your body's need to perspire more to keep cool. Always keep water and calorie-free beverages, such as unsweetened iced tea, on hand. “Avoid sweetened beverages such as soda and energy drinks, because they may cause blood-sugar spikes and further aggravate dehydration,” says Fiorentino. However, those with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 doing extended periods of exercise may need a quick-acting carb to keep their blood-sugar levels up.
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