Rice and beans, stewed chicken, potato salad and a couple slices of fried plantain is the traditional dish that most Belizeans enjoy. This is a dish completely packed with carbohydrates that, when broken down in the body, turns into sugar. It is considered one of the many unbalanced meals of Belizean society, something that was given highlighted during International World Diabetes Awareness Day on November 14th.

To mark the occasion, the San Pedro Diabetes Association teamed up with local San Pedro Town medical doctor Giovanni Solorzano and a few medical students to conduct a public awareness day on the island. Free screenings for diabetes and hypertension were done at three locations – San Mateo, Escalante/DFC area and outside of the San Carlos Medical Clinic in the downtown area. “The purpose of the screenings was to identify people living with diabetes, give them a plan, teach them how to eat properly and refer them to a medical doctor.”

According to Belizean statistics, more people die from diabetes than from violence in the entire country annually. In fact there were 275 diabetes related deaths cases last year compared to 145 violence-related deaths in 2012. In addition, there are more people living with diabetes than with HIV and AIDS in Belize. The recent figures released by the International Diabetes Federation shows that 13.42% of the population or 44, 715 people are living with diabetes in Belize.

Considered the silent killer, Dr Solorzano explained that diabetes is a pandemic and is the number one killer in the world. “We have so many people living with diabetes. Most countries invest more monies in HIV/Aids than the do with diabetes, when really, diabetes is the number one killer in the world. More people are dying from diabetes and the complication of diabetes and nobody is doing much to build awareness in the local population.”

It is an alarming medical reality and the figure keeps getting worse every year. According to medical practitioners, the bigger problem is that people are living with diabetes and don’t even know it. In Belize, the main cause is linked to the dietary culture.

A normal day’s diet for Belizeans would include a choice of fryjacks, tortilla, bread or Johnny cakes in the morning, rice or corn tortillas at midday and flour tortillas or bread in the evening. According to nutritionists, all of the aforementioned dietary options are prime sources of the sugary/starchy carbohydrates products. For that reason, doctors say that one of the top contributing factors to diabetes in Belize is our diet. “The problem has to do a lot with our culture and diet. People eat a lot of starch or carbohydrates, which is basically sugar when digested. Belizeans need to start eating a balanced diet. The problem is worse when people with diabetes don’t know they are diabetic. People who are diabetic suffer with three things; polyuria – they urinate too much, polyphagia – they are thirsty all the time and polydipsia – they are hungry all the time. They don’t complain about it and they feel that it is normal,” said Solorzano.

According to doctors, diabetes prevention is as basic as eating more healthfully, becoming more physically active and losing a few extra pounds — and it’s never too late to start. There are four general but simple ways people can minimize the chances of being affected by diabetes – steps that are applicable to Belize.

Tip 1: Get more physical activity – There are many benefits to regular physical activity. Exercise can help in losing weight, lowering your blooding sugar and boost your sensitivity to insulin, which keeps your blood sugar within a normal range.

Tip 2: Get plenty of fiber and less Carbohydrates – It may be rough and tough for Belizeans, but it helps to reduce the risk of diabetes by improving your blood sugar control, lower your risk of heart disease and promote weight loss by helping you feel full. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Tip 3: Go for whole grains – Whole grains may reduce your risk of diabetes and help maintain blood sugar levels. It is advisable to make at least half your grains whole grains. Food sources that are made from whole grains come ready to eat, including various breads, pasta products and many cereals.

Tip 4: Lose extra weight – If you’re overweight, diabetes prevention may hinge on weight loss. Every pound you lose can improve your health.

Making a few simple changes in your lifestyle can help avoid the serious health complications of diabetes. To learn more about diabetes, you can get in contact with the Dr Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Poly-Clinic II or the San Pedro Diabetes Association located at Polo’s Golf Cart Rental at the end of Barrier Reef Drive.

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