Summer Wabasse, co-host of the diabetes awareness workshop, discussed the value of healthy eating. "We can never go wrong with fish, for example, since it’s known for lowering negative cholesterol levels and increasing positive cholesterol levels,” she said. Photo credit: William Bailey

A great deal of knowledge was gained during the diabetes awareness workshop, held at the Mamidosewin Centre on Monday, March 27 at Algonquin College.

This event, hosted by Elizabeth Peña-Fernández and Summer Wabasse, defined diabetes and the varied types. The talk also explained how lifestyles could play a role in developing diabetes and explored solutions about how it can be prevented.

“Since March is nutrition month, we feel it is important for people to understand more about what diabetes is because it’s a very common chronic disease that affects many families here in Canada,” said Peña-Fernández, acting health promotion and education coordinator of health services.

Diabetes affects over 3 million people in Canada, taking up almost 9 per cent of the country’s population. It is also prevalent in the Indigenous community, as 17.2 per cent of First Nations individuals living on-reserve are directly affected by it.

“Even though there are certain foods that should be avoided for health’s sake, we still enjoy eating our traditional foods because it ties us with our identity and sense of belonging,” said Wabasse, the events and communications officer. “But there are also alternatives that we love. We can never go wrong with fish, for example, since it’s known for lowering negative cholesterol levels and increasing positive cholesterol levels.”

Characterized as having high levels of blood sugar, diabetes is comprised of three main types.

Type 1 diabetes is the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Although the cause is unknown, type 1 diabetes can be acquired from family genetics. Type 1 diabetics make up 9 per cent of all cases in Canada.

Type 2 diabetes is the pancreas not producing enough insulin. Although it makes up 90 per cent of all diabetes cases in Canada, type 2 diabetes can be preventable.

Gestational diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy but typically goes away after delivery. However, someone with gestational diabetes and their babies are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is the rarest type of the three, accounting for less than 1 per cent of all diabetes cases in Canada.

Prediabetes is another common form of diabetes, defined when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, yet not high enough to be a type 2 diabetic.

Some symptoms that come with having diabetes are tiredness, hunger, weight loss or loss of sensitivity in the limbs. The main causes of diabetes include unhealthy eating, a lack of physical exercise and the use of tobacco. Reversing these habits, however, will greatly reduce the risk of diabetes.

But beyond these physical factors, there are other causes that most people don’t consider.

“Diabetes can also be caused by various social, economic or mental factors,” said Peña-Fernández. “Income can be a huge factor that impacts our lifestyle choices. For those who live on a lower income, they will tend to gravitate towards less nutritious foods because they are cheaper. We can also be greatly affected by our emotions and thoughts. Sometimes the thought of food can make us lose control, and we prioritize eating foods that make us feel satisfied over more nutritious options.”

Those in need of health assistance can visit Health Services in C-141, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.