25 Things You Should Know About Diabetes

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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25 Things You Should Know About Diabetes


You’ve probably heard of insulin, blood glucose, finger pricks and carb counting. For the diabetic, they’re a part of daily life–but most of us have little understanding as to just how these things play a role in diabetes, or just why this disease can be so deadly.

I say this because diabetes is a complicated group of diseases. I knew very little about diabetes before I began studying to become a Registered Dietitian. At one point I even remember thinking to myself, “High blood sugar doesn’t sound so dangerous.” 

Boy, was I wrong.

It’s one thing to understand what causes diabetes and why it’s so deadly, but having to manage diabetes gets even more complex. Once I began speaking with patients in the hospital during my clinical training, I saw just how daunting controlling blood sugar could be. Frequent finger pricks, dosing insulin, remembering to take medications, choosing the right carbohydrates and diligently counting them at each meal isn’t easy–but it’s essential. 

With the prevalence of diabetes today, it’s likely you–or someone you know–lives with this disease. Today, diabetes affects 347 million people worldwide, and back in 2007 it was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Given the current global obesity epidemic, diabetes has likely only become more deadly since then.

A little knowledge goes a long way, so for World Diabetes Day, here are 25 things you should know about diabetes:


1. Glucose, a form of sugar, is a main source of energy for muscle cells and other tissues. 

2. After a meal, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. These sugars are absorbed in the gut and enter into the bloodstream.

3. Certain carbohydrates, like sweets, sodas, white rice and white pasta, are digested and absorbed faster than complex carbohydrates that contain fiber. 

4. As blood sugar increases after a meal, the pancreas produces and releases insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone that signals cells to take up sugar in your blood. The greater the amount of sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin the pancreas will produce to compensate.

5. Between meals, blood sugar levels return to normal and production of insulin from your pancreas decreases significantly.


6. In diabetes, blood sugar increases after a meal and remains high due to a lack of insulin, or a problem with insulin signaling. The three classic diagnoses of this disease are Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes.

7. Type 1 Diabetes occurs when an immune response causes damage to the pancreas and insulin can not be produced. Type 1 Diabetics must take insulin daily.

8. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when tissues in the body become resistant to insulin. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common type, making up about 95% of cases, and is associated with being overweight, poor diet and physical inactivity. The exact cause isn’t known but having excess body fat appears to have something to do with it. To compensate for insulin resistance, the pancreas produces more and more insulin, but over time the pancreas may lose the ability to produce it altogether. If this happens, Type 2 Diabetics must take insulin daily.

9. Gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy, can occur due to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes commonly goes away after pregnancy but women with gestational diabetes are at greater risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

10. Risk factors for diabetes include: being overweight or obese; having a family history of diabetes; being of African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic/Latino heritage; having a prior history of gestational diabetes; having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or being physically inactive.


11. If blood sugar is not controlled over time, high amounts of sugar in the blood will damage tiny blood vessels and nerves. The effects of chronic high blood sugar cause widespread damage in the body.

12. Eyes. High levels of sugar in the blood causes damage to the small blood vessels within the retina leading to worsening vision and possibly blindness. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults 20–74 years old.

13. Kidneys. High blood sugar damages tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, which decreases this organ’s ability to filter blood. High blood pressure, which is common in diabetes, only increases kidney damage. If kidney function decline is severe, blood must to be filtered by a machine – a process called dialysis. Dialysis is costly, time-consuming, and exhausting for those with kidney disease. One dialysis session takes 4 hours and must be done 3 times per week.

14. Nerves. High blood sugar can lead to nervous system damage leading to impaired sensation in the hands or feet, slowed digestion and other nerve problems. Ulcers may form on the hands or feet and, if left untreated, can lead to amputation. More than 50% of all lower-limb amputations occur in people who have diabetes.

15. Brain & Heart. Diabetics are at greater risk for stroke, dental, and heart disease. Approximately 20% of diabetics will die of stroke, making it a leading cause of death in this population. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults who don’t have diabetes.


16. Diabetics can safely enjoy carbohydrates and control their blood sugar. Each diabetic’s needs are different, but spikes in blood sugar may be controlled through a combination of medications, insulin injections and/or healthy lifestyle changes–like eating a balanced diet, being mindful of carbohydrate intake and exercising regularly. Because it is a protein, insulin can not be taken orally. If taken by mouth, it would be broken down during digestion. This is why insulin must be administered by injection.

17.  Diabetics monitor their blood sugar by taking a small sample of blood using a fingerprick test.  Doctors can measure longer-term blood sugar control by looking at A1C, a measure of the amount of sugar on certain proteins in the blood.

18. Improved control of blood sugar has been shown to benefit those with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. In general, one percentage point drop in A1C blood test results (for example, going from 8.0% to 7.0%) can reduce the risk of eye, kidney, and nerve diseases by 40%.

19. When it comes to Type 2 Diabetes, lifestyle changes to lose weight (think healthy eating and regular exercise) are more effective in preventing or delaying diabetes than medications. Not surprisingly, making small, healthy lifestyle changes are less costly, too.  

20. Type 2 Diabetes may be reversible. Weight loss, regular exercise and adopting healthy eating habits have allowed many Type 2 Diabetics to get off medications completely.


21. At one time, Type 2 Diabetes was called Adult Onset Diabetes. This changed because, unfortunately, more and more cases are surfacing in children. In some countries, Type 2 Diabetes accounts for almost half of newly diagnosed cases in children and adolescents. Poor diet, lack of physical activity and childhood obesity are thought to be major contributors.

22. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have depression. This can complicate diabetes management, which requires a high level of self-care. In addition, depression is associated with a 60 percent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

23. Diabetes is known as the “silent killer” because many people with Type 2 Diabetes are unaware they have it. Unless very high, the effects of elevated blood sugar may go unnoticed.

24. People diagnosed with prediabetes, higher than normal blood sugar but not high enough to be called diabetes, are much more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes. Progression to diabetes may be avoided through weight loss and increased physical activity, and blood sugar levels may normalize.

25. Losing weight—even as little as 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight—can prevent or delay Type 2 Diabetes or even reverse prediabetes. For a 200 pound person, this is just 10-20 pounds!

I hope you’ve learned something about diabetes today! Feel free to share this post with someone you know who might be able to benefit from these facts. Who knows, you may be able to help them prevent diabetes, or even save their life.

Up next I’ll be sharing some tips for using MyFitnessPal to better manage diabetes. If you have any tips or tricks for using MyFitnessPal to manage diabetes, leave them in the comments below or on Facebook. I’ll be sure to check back and incorporate some of them into the next article!

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.


31 responses to “25 Things You Should Know About Diabetes”

  1. Avatar mrsgrimsdale says:

    thanks that was very interesting

  2. Avatar averagejoeusername . says:

    Type 2 diabetes is caused by repeatedly eating too much sugar so your cells become “tolerant” to insulin the same way a drunk gets a high tolerance for alcohol. Its behavior. Its not a disease any more than cirrosis of the liver is a “disease” when you drink too much.

    • Avatar Mark R. Mach says:

      @averagejoeusername:disqus A disease is an abnormal condition in the body of an organism—regardless of how it is caused. I am not sure why either diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver would not fall under this definition. Would you consider either of these conditions “normal?”

    • Avatar Fred Verhulst says:

      So I take it your a doctor

      • Avatar averagejoeusername . says:

        your logical fallacy is….wait for it…a combination of “appeal to authority” and “ad hominem”. Fail

        • Avatar Eleanorjane says:

          And your comment is pointless because the causes of diabetes are addressed in the well written and researched article above. Weight and low activity are one of the several risk factors. Also, look up the definition of disease – there’s nothing in there about how it’s caused (other not ‘not directly a result of physical injury’). Finally, use apostrophes if you want to look clever but better yet, judge not least ye be judged!

          • Avatar averagejoeusername . says:

            My comment is pointless? Pot calling the kettle black much? So you attack my punctuation instead of my logic…GTFO. People everything a “disease” and its RIDICULOUS. Instead of sugarcoating it with bull, lets tell the truth. TYPE TWO DIABETES IS CAUSED BY FAT AMERICANS EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

          • Avatar KBo says:

            You don’t have to be fat to have Type 2 diabetes.

          • Avatar averagejoeusername . says:

            It would be extremely rare. Yes, lets focus on the situation that hardly ever occurs and forget about the situation that mostly occurs…

          • Avatar Evelyn Grabas Smith says:

            Twenty percent (20%) of those with Type 2 diabetes are NOT overweight. That is one out of every five! I would hardly consider that rare, much less extremely rare.

          • Avatar Christina says:

            I am aware these are old posts, but am throwing in my two cents for anyone who stumbles across this like I have… Certain medications can increase your risk for developing diabetes, particularly steroids such as prednisone and hydrocortisone. I think this article is trying to help people be aware, it would be good for all to know their individual risks and think twice about presuming to know someone else’s life.

          • Avatar JofJLTNCB6 says:

            You also don’t have to be American.

          • Avatar Alicia H says:

            I have type 2 diabetes and I am not even over weight. I had gestational diabetes with my 2 pregnancies and after that it just stayed. It was because of genetics…both of my grandmothers had it and so did my dad. Don’t assume its just because of too much sugar.

    • Avatar Evelyn Grabas Smith says:

      I guess you missed this part: “having a family history of diabetes; being of African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic/Latino heritage; having a prior history of gestational diabetes; having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or being physically inactive.”

  3. Avatar Monkina says:

    I may be too late with this comment, but when using MFP to help track carbs, still check labels whenever possible. Products change formulations, and many users enter only the nutrition components that are important to them, which results in an incomplete entry. This can be inconvenient or even dangerous.
    That said, the recipe function has been a sanity saver. I can cook for the whole family, even added guests without doing pen-and-paper math. I merely scan or type in the ingredients (checking that they’re correct!) and tell it how many people I’m splitting it over. Even though I only re-use maybe 10% of my recipes, I LOVE the simplicity.
    My son has T1 and MFP is his food log. It’s given him more independence and more confidence when figuring a meal and dosing. If the endocrinologist wants to see, I can just hand over the iPad!

    • Avatar Millie says:

      Thank you for the positive informative info rather than ranting & raving with comments that serve no positive explanations. I have been diagnosed 3 times this year with prediabetic. With help of MFP I have lost over 20# with exercise & keeping track on nutrition, MFP makes keeping track simpler for me.

  4. Avatar Neush22 says:

    I would like to comment on the “25 things you should know about diabetes article.” First I have been a registered, licensed dietitian and a certified diabetes educator for the past 20 plus years. The article written by Elle, RD was well researched, informative and written. I would however like to address a few comments made pertaining to the article ie. ” Eating too much sugar causing diabetes.” This is simply not the case. For type 2 diabetes: 1. It is an excess of calories of ANY form coupled with 2. a lack of activity and 3. a genetic tendency. Due to the 3 problems mentioned your pancreatic beta cells number decline and so does the ability to produce insulin. The glucose level in the blood rises because it is not being used for energy by the body. Hope this info. helps clarify for people

    • Avatar averagejoeusername . says:

      If I’m reading this correctly, youre saying that type 2 diabetes patients dont have enough insulin and just “need more” and glucose is high because its just “not being used”. I’d say as a diabetes educator you should rethink those two items. Glucose is high because the cells no longer react to insulin and cannot take in the glucose-although to be fair if you were constantly overeating there could be just too much glucose in the blood to be used….

    • Avatar Christina says:

      Another risk factor that wasn’t listed is long term use of steroids, especially at stress-doses (such as prednisone). This medication raises blood sugar and increases the propensity toward diabetes.

  5. Avatar Evelyn Grabas Smith says:

    I will have to disagree with #20. Diabetes can be CONTROLLED, but it is NOT REVERSED. If you resume eating carbs like a non-diabetic your blood glucose will go up again. Additionally, diabetes is a progressive disease, as you age your body will decrease in its ability to regulate your glucose/insulin ratio. You can stop medication and control your BG for awhile with a meal plan and exercise, but eventually you will return to needing something to help your body regulate.

  6. Avatar Madalene Kesner says:

    I would definitely add to this incomplete list the importance of constant & daily exercise & movement. Literally, I find I exercise my butt off to keep my blood sugar low.

  7. Avatar Sunstoned says:

    Nice job explaining ‘diabetes’ … Thank you.

  8. Avatar Karen V says:

    Would you also cover diabetes insipidus? I know its also more hormonal and he is very thin, but want him to use the my fitness pal to try to help him regulate better. Any recommendations? Thanks

  9. Avatar Guest says:

    Wow..so the medical professionals out there want to assure people they can “still enjoy carbohydrates”. What a crock of CR**. You want to control your blood sugar? Eat low carb and moderate protein and fat (20 % carbs, 30-Stay under 20 grams of carbs a meal (10 for snacks). Move your body vigorously for one HOUR a day,

  10. Avatar sarahsmilesCA says:

    Wow..so the medical professionals out there want to assure people they can “still enjoy carbohydrates”?!! What a crock of CR**. Not in any real sense as when you were younger, and indestructible. You want to control your blood sugar? Eat low carb, and moderate protein and fat at EVERY meal (20 % carbs, 30% protein and 50% fat, yep I said fat there, and I mean nuts,avocados but also meat, butter and coconut)-Stay under 15-30 grams of carbs a meal with at least 8 grams of fiber PER MEAL (10 for snacks) and eat FAT and PROTEIN at EVERY meal to slow the digestion of CARB (not just fiber). Move your body vigorously for one HOUR a day (yep MOVE IT BABY). If you stay under 60-70 grams of carbs a day and 20 of those are fiber and you MOVE you will NOT need insulin if you have Type 2. Yeah she did not say this because Big Pharma has people like her in their back pocket…EAT LOW CARB…that SHOULD be the message from doctors and until they say that toss out what they say as helpful. IF they were helpful LESS people would die from the disease.

    AND if you are overweight (or just want to watch your calories) use MFP to help keep track of all of it like I do…it works. Period

  11. Avatar Tj says:

    Can someone please recommend a good way to log my blood sugars within MFP? Right now using a separate app which although nice, is still separate…

  12. Avatar Tj says:

    Also in defence of the writer I’m thinking it’s not meant to be everything you need to know about DM, nor is it meant to be an exhaustive list.

  13. Avatar HBD says:

    I am using MFP to track my son’s diet managing against type 1. I cannot seem to find a way to track carbs on the summaries seen on the cell phone app. I have to finish entries and then go to the iPad or computer to view it on the full website to see totals clearly displayed. Love the app, just wish I could change the focus from cal to carbs on each meal. Suggestions?

  14. Avatar Allen Cash says:

    I guess it’s just more easy to just blame eating too much sugar as opposed to actually understanding Diabetes and knowing what the hell you are talking about. Sad really and dangerous. Anyway… great read!

  15. Avatar tricia says:

    That was very interesting. I am kinda at a loss as to what I should do. I had a 5.7 A1C reading which is the low end of pre diabetic. I didn’t believe it so I have been taking my blood sugar for the last week and it is within the range to be considered pre diabetic. I am 5’4″ and 122lbs. I eat a healthy diet that is high in protein and fiber with almost no fast acting carbs. I work out 5 days a week for about 1.5hrs. If my readings are higher than they should be and I am already at goal weight range with a healthy diet and a very active workout schedule, what am I suppose to do to fix this? I used to weigh 220lbs. I worked really really hard to get healthy and I would like to stay that way.

  16. Avatar Richael says:

    You all NEED THIS OK.

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