How diabetics can help compare apples to apples

Posted at 12:00 PM, Apr 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-27 12:00:18-04

FLORENCE, Ky. — Comparing apples to apples might not make much sense to the average person, but for people with Type 2 diabetes it’s a part of life.

While a small apple has about 15 carbohydrates, a large one can have more than 30. Choosing the wrong one at snack time could mean a blood sugar spike. And that’s a big no-no for those living with the disease. 

While the apple scenario is pretty straightforward, what about other foods? One carbohydrate is not always equal to another: There are “good carbs” for those trying to properly manage the illness, and there are “bad carbs.” Where does exercise fit in? And which prescription medications are best?

Welcome to the complex world of Type 2 diabetes.

It’s a tough diagnosis, but there is hope. It comes in the form of education, according to Julie Shapero, a certified diabetes educator for the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

“Education is imperative,” Shapero said. “It lowers the A1C (average blood sugar level) in patients with diabetes. And if we can catch pre-diabetes, lifestyle changes can often prevent it altogether.”

Locally, there’s also a resource for those struggling to manage the disease. Shapero leads the Northern Kentucky Diabetes Coalition, a group that aims to improve access to diabetes information, education and treatment options. It’s comprised of a variety of stakeholders, including local nurses, dietitians and pharmacists.

And the group hosts outreach and education events throughout the year to help combat the disease, which is prevalent in the commonwealth. 

Type 2 differs from Type 1 diabetes, an unpreventable autoimmune disease that occurs when the body destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. With Type 2 diabetes, a person’s body makes but does not use insulin properly, which causes hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). Over time, the body can't make enough insulin to keep blood sugar at normal levels. Uncontrolled, it can cause serious health complications. 

Because it can often be controlled, and even prevented, with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, community outreach and education is an important step in helping curb problems associated with Type 2 diabetes. Similar coalitions have been formed in regions across the U.S.

According to the 2015 Kentucky Diabetes Report, nearly 11 percent of the state’s population has diabetes. That’s higher than the national average, which is 9.7 percent. And many more are living with the illness, undiagnosed, or considered at high risk of developing it, Shapero said.

The statistics are certainly distressing, but the local coalition takes a positive approach. That means education outreach includes fun events, like food demos, supermarket tours and even upcoming cardio and belly dancing classes.

It partners with a variety of organizations, including the state’s Cooperative Extension Service and public libraries, to offer the free programming.

As summer approaches, the group will be busy with programs intended to reach communities across Northern Kentucky.

Its next event will focus on healthy eating. To help those with or at risk for Type 2 diabetes navigate the barrage of food choices they encounter each day, the local coalition is offering help at the main source: the grocery store. 

A supermarket tour is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Florence Meier. Another will be held May 24 at Meier’s Cold Spring store.

“Research tells us that 76 percent of food decisions are made at the store,” Shapero said. “It’s the perfect place to learn about what to buy, and eat, to live a healthier lifestyle.”

Volunteers from the Northern Kentucky Diabetes Coalition at a supermarket tour earlier this year.

Registered participants will get tips on healthy shopping, nutrition label reading, carbohydrate counting and medications. They’ll also hear from professionals who will dispel misinformation about managing diabetes.

“People think diabetes is all about watching sugar intake, but it’s not,” said Joan Geohegan, a registered dietitian, who is part of the coalition. “It’s more about carbohydrate counting. Carbs turn to sugar, so even if something is sugar-free it’s not necessarily carb-free.”

Also coming up are diabetes self-management classes. A three-part class is set for Wednesdays in May at the Kenton County Public Library’s Covington branch, and a two-part class will be available Fridays in June at the Boone County Cooperative Extension Service in Burlington. A one-day course will be held June 25 at the Grant County Cooperative.

This June, the coalition is teaming up with the Boone County Cooperative Extension Service again to get people moving on Thursday evenings. Three free classes that month aim to jump start participants' fitness routines; first with a class on posture and balance, and another with a seated, full-body workout. They’ll save the best for last, according to Shapero. The series will wrap up with belly dancing instruction.

“It can be fun,” she said of making healthy lifestyle changes. “It doesn’t have to be a guessing game… Education and resources are available for everyone.”

Registration is required for events. Email