For N.J.’s South Asian Community and All Diagnosed with Diabetes: Start with Education

Central New Jersey’s community is highly populated with residents of South Asian descent. Asians are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes due to genetic factors. One may notice much of the Asian community is not obese or overweight, however, often weight is centered in the belly, known as central obesity. This type of obesity is a genetic factor linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart attack. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has recognized genetic factors as raising the risk of diabetes in the Asian demographic and hence recommends screening patients of Asian descent even if they are not obese. As such, the Body Mass Index (BMI) cutoff for diabetes screening of Asian individuals is 23, rather than 25 for the non-Asian population.

No matter your racial heritage, after being diagnosed with diabetes, it is most important to become educated about the disease. There is a lot to learn, including effective day-to-day diabetes management, achieving optimal nutrition, and managing your medications. And many patients with diabetes are unaware that diabetes self-management education is covered by many medical insurance companies.  There are many questions you should be able to answer. What should you do when your sugar is 60? What should you do when your sugar is 300? When should you call your doctor? When should you go to the Emergency Room? What adjustments should you make to your medications if you accidentally skip a meal? There are dozens of such questions that you may not even think about until a time arises when there is a problem. So, it is important to be well-educated and prepared.

In addition to becoming educated, it is also important to pay close attention to your diet. Increase your overall fiber intake, while reducing your “plain carbohydrate” consumption; including white rice, bread or pasta. Explore alternatives to white rice such as quinoa, couscous, and brown rice. As potatoes are a key ingredient in many of our diets, try selecting green leafy vegetables as an alternative. Keep in mind that a full meal does not always need to consist of roti sabzi daal chaawal. Choose your beverages wisely and make water your primary choice. Soft drinks, sugar-sweetened juices, lassi, and even frequent cups of coffee or tea with added sugar can raise blood sugar levels. Those of South Asian descent and in fact all lineages will benefit from increasing fiber in their diets by following these nutritional tips:

  • Cereal – Oatmeal is a cereal alternative that is high in fiber. Be cautious when selecting a cereal as often there are added sugars which may raise your sugar levels.
  • Rice – Replace white rice with brown rice, quinoa, or couscous. Add garlic, ginger, onions, or peppers to transform them into a traditional delight.
  • Roti – Avoid purchasing naans and frozen parathas. These items are generally unhealthy as they are high in carbs and cholesterol.
  • Beans, Peas, and Lentils – These are a staple of South Asian cuisine and are high in fiber in addition to being a great source of protein. Try to eat more meals that emphasize these ingredients.
  • Bread – Avoid white and potato bread. Focus on bread choices that are high in fiber, such as multigrain or whole wheat.
  • Fruit- Eat fruit to boost your fiber intake, however, you must carefully control the portion size. Eating fruits in large amounts especially mango, watermelon, pineapples, and grapes can cause high blood sugar.

No matter your ethnicity, if you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes, ask your primary care provider if diabetes education would be beneficial for you. Learn everything you can to effectively manage your diabetes to live a long healthy life.  

Reema Patel, M.D., FACE, is medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center, Affiliate at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center–Old Bridge. She is board certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism and Internal Medicine.  The center provides the latest advances in diabetes treatment, patient education and support services, and is accredited with the ADA’s Education Recognition Certificate. Dr. Patel also treats conditions such as thyroid diseases including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, osteoporosis, menopause, low testosterone, polycystic ovarian syndrome, adrenal and pituitary disorders, hirsutism and a variety of other hormonal problems.  She is fluent in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu. To make an appointment, call 732-360-4070.

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