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Healthy Eating Tips for Expats with Diabetes

Diabetes is on the rise

According to the International Diabetes Federation Atlas, the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise. In the Middle East and North Africa alone, around 35.4 million adults aged 20-79 are diabetic. And this number is expected to double by 2040.

The figures in Southeast Asia are even more alarming. More than 78 million adults are estimated to suffer from diabetes. That’s almost twice as many adults as in the Middle East and North Africa. And the number of sufferers in Southeast Asia is only forecast to rise: as much as 79% by 2040.

There are two primary types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type-1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition, whereby the body destroys those cells that create insulin. Type1 diabetes is not caused by lifestyle but it is true to say that dietary choices together with appropriate medication (insulin) is very important in reducing the risk of complications. Type-2 diabetes usually develops later in life, with lifestyle factors such as diet and physical inactivity playing a crucial part in its development and how it’s managed.

What is the difference between Type-1 & Type-2 Diabetes

Type 1 Type 2
What is happening?
Your body attacks the cells in your pancreas which means it cannot make any insulin. Your body is unable to make enough insulin or the insulin you do make doesn’t work properly.
Risk factors
We don’t currently know what causes type 1 diabetes. We know some things can put you at risk of having type 2 like weight and ethnicity.
The symptoms for type 1 appear more quickly. Type 2 symptoms can be easier to miss because they appear more slowly.
Type 1 is managed by taking insulin to control your blood sugar. You can manage type 2 diabetes in more ways than type 1. These include through medication, exercise and diet. People with type 2 can also be prescribed insulin.
Cure and Prevention
Currently there is no cure for type 1 but research continues. Type 2 cannot be cured but there is evidence to say in many cases it can be prevented and put into remission.

Source: – Managing your diabetes: healthy eating

The challenge for expats

While genetic factors do have an impact, expats often face additional health challenges of living and working in a country where cultural differences make it harder to source a diet that can help control either diabetes, in particular avoiding the onset of type-2.

Access to a higher standard of living, with more disposable income and a lifestyle which makes eating out much more practical, can exacerbate these challenges. Plus, the expat lifestyle is often rather hectic – split between work and socialising – so it can be difficult to do sufficient exercise.

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Solving the diet puzzle

Weight is one of the main risk factors and indicators in the development of type-2 diabetes. You can reduce the possibility of putting on weight by:

  • eating more balanced meals at home
  • consuming less alcohol
  • regularly exercising
  • and avoiding late-night eating
It’s important for expats to look for ways to reduce their intake of processed foods that have a high sugar and fat content, particularly desserts and sugary drinks, if they want to minimise their risk of type 2 diabetes.
Zeina Soueidan
Clinical Dietician, The Right Bite Nutrition Centre – Dubai
Couple shopping in outdoor market, Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand

Zeina’s advice is to reduce the temptation for snacking on high fat and sugary foods by shopping smarter, learning to control portion sizes, and eat to satisfaction (not fullness)!

Eat smaller meals at intervals of no more than 3-4 hours and aim for more fruits and vegetables, plus high-fibre products such as beans and grains.
Zeina Soueidan
Clinical Dietician, The Right Bite Nutrition Centre – Dubai

A more consistent approach to eating over time teaches your body to avoid sugar cravings which, when supplemented with regular exercise, can help shed any excess weight.

Zeina suggests even a minimum of 2.5 hours a week exercise can make a difference, along with getting enough sleep and rest to balance hormones.

William Russell blog - How Much Sugar Infographic - Diabetes Healthy Eating Tips For Expats

Glycaemic Index

One way of staying informed about what you are eating is using the glycaemic index (GI). This is a scale that ranks food from 1 to 100 to tell you how slowly or quickly they will increase your blood glucose levels. You should try to avoid food with high GI numbers and replace them with food with low GI numbers, which are better for you.

A separate measure, glycaemic load, tells you both how quickly glucose will be absorbed and how much glucose is in a certain food, per serving.

Cultural differences can make it tougher for expats to structure their diet effectively in order to tackle diabetes. For example, if you are moving to China then it may be tough to avoid white rice, given it’s a staple of many dishes. But it’s also widely regarded as key to the country’s diabetes epidemic. Replacing white rice with brown rice reduces the risk of diabetes by 16%, according to a Harvard study, as brown rice has a lower glycaemic index and glycaemic load.

William russell blog healthy eating tips - brown rice vs white rice

Health complications from diabetes

It’s important to realise that long-term complications associated with diabetes can include heart problems, strokes, kidney failure, eyesight issues and loss of limbs. So make sure you take care of your eating habits and you exercise regularly. Together, these simple practices should go a long way to help preventing the onset of type-2 diabetes and other health complications in the future, wherever you are in the world.

Are you covered?

Knowing you have international health insurance that suits your circumstances and gives you access to the best possible care overseas can give you peace of mind. But it’s essential to check cover limits carefully, as not all global health insurance plans offer the same benefits, particularly for pre-existing conditions.

At William Russell, we offer international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays to take one more thing off your mind. Speak to our award-winning customer service team today to see if our policies could be right for you.

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