Health + Wellness

Worried about diabetes? Here’s how you can prevent, or manage it better.

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By Dr Yau Teng Yan, Chief Medical Officer, Holmusk

There are 415 million people living with diabetes today, and rising. In fact, Singapore has the 2nd highest proportion of people with diabetes among all developed nations, according to the International Diabetes Federation. Even more worrying, 3 in 10 patients develop diabetes before the age of 40. This has led the Health Minister in Singapore to declare a ‘war on diabetes’ earlier this year.

This means that the traditional approach to healthcare isn’t working well enough. Our hospitals are stretched to the seams, with longer waiting times to see a doctor. Patient care needs to be moved forward, focusing on prevention – before you have the disease or develop complications from it. And we need to bring patient care out of the hospitals or clinics, and into the community and homes.

Most healthcare organisations, such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the Ministry of Health (Singapore), recognise that lifestyle management is the cornerstone for good diabetes management.  Unfortunately, due to operational challenges, it is often difficult to engage people in positive lifestyle changes, which requite constant engagement and support.

And for the individual person living with diabetes, it is a difficult and often lonely journey. Diabetes is a disease that is with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And yet, a typical patient with diabetes spends less than 1% of that time with a medical professional at the clinic or hospital. The rest of that time is spent on self-management at home, at work, often with no one reliable to turn to for advice or help.

One of the most common questions from someone worried about diabetes is “What food can I eat?”. Our food intake, particularly carbohydrates, is the most important contributor to our blood glucose levels, and even our risk of diabetes (a recent study published by Harvard School of Public Health showed that eating white rice regularly may raise your diabetes risk). Yet only a minority of people have a good understanding of the relationship between our food and our bodies. In my personal experience, many people with diabetes have not had the chance to visit a dietitian or diabetes nurse educator to get professional advice. There is a general lack of public awareness on nutrition, which needs to be addressed.

And to make matters worse: if you attempt to do an online search on Google for this information (eg ‘best diet for diabetes’), you will come across a variety of conflicting information – some which are credible, some misleading, and some plainly trying to push unproven herbal supplements. It’s easy to be confused and overwhelmed.

So, what are some ways you can prevent diabetes, or manage it better?

  1. Participate in a lifestyle program. The Diabetes Prevention Program Trial in the United States showed that lifestyle interventions, focused on diet, exercise and weight loss, can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by more than half. And for people with diabetes, another large study shows that it can help you to improve your glucose control and reduce your risk of long-term complications.  An example of this is the diabetes prevention and lifestyle programs run by the SGH LIFE Center in Singapore.
  1. Visit a dietitian. We think we’re experts at food, but we’re really not! Dietitians have years of education and experience in this field, and can help you to understand your food habits and how to make the right changes to stay healthy. There are dietitians at most polyclinics and hospitals, and your doctor can refer you to see one. Alternatively, you can also make an appointment for a consultation with a private dietitian. Here is a list of dietitians accredited by the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association.
  1. Use GlycoLeap. If you’re busy and don’t have time to participate in a face-to-face lifestyle program or visit a dietitian in person, you can consider this simple and convenient alternative. GlycoLeap is a smart coach that lets you worry less about diabetes. It combines expert human coaching with mobile technology – to help you develop healthier habits for a better life.

GlycoLeap is a smart coach that lets you worry less about diabetes. It combines expert human coaching with mobile technology – to help people with type 2 diabetes, or who want to reduce their risk of diabetes, develop healthier habits for a better life. Here’s a video introduction to GlycoLeap.

How it works: You take photos of your meals using the mobile app. Through the mobile app, you can chat with a real-life health coach who will rate your meals and provide daily feedback and support. This promotes accountability and helps you to develop good, sustainable eating habits over time. The coaches are accredited dietitians with years of clinical experience in the hospitals.

There are also weekly interactive lessons that provide practical tips on nutrition, exercise, monitoring, medications and stress management.

Does this new approach work? We have a list of stories from people who’ve shared with us how they’ve managed to improve their glucose levels, achieve a healthier weight, and love what we’re doing.

Holmusk is a digital health and data analytics company that developed GlycoLeap.

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