Greenwich Hospital dietitian to explore link between heart health and diabetes

February 10, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — Many people have misconceptions about diabetes, despite its widespread and growing presence in the population. Federal health authorities say 9.4 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, an all-time high, and millions have prediabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to diabetes within five years.

Public knowledge about diabetes has been lagging behind its growing numbers — especially about how it can lead to heart disease. Diabetics are at far higher risk for heart attacks and other cardiac problems. As educators promote heart health in February, a specialist at Greenwich Hospital will share her knowledge about the links among nutrition, heart disease and diabetes.

Nancy Ryan, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, hopes the public will gain a better understanding of the issue, which is of vital importance to overall health.

“People are becoming much more aware - diabetes and heart disease are related,” said Ryan. “People with diabetes have a much greater risk of heart disease, and not just heart disease - but stroke and vascular disease.”

The connection between diabetes — the inability of the body to process blood sugar — and heart disease will be the topic when Ryan gives a free presentation at the hospital Monday evening. She will talk about the role of nutrition in maintaining good health.

Many people have the wrong idea about nutrition, especially if they have been diagnosed with diabetes, Ryan said.

“They think that they can’t eat the foods they love, they can never eat sugar again,” she said. Some patients are also too focused on the issue of sugar itself, to the exclusion of other health issues.

“When people learn they have diabetes the first thing they think about is sugar, and don’t make the connection necessarily with other factors,” she said. “It’s three things with diabetes — it’s controlling blood sugar, controlling cholesterol and controlling blood pressure.

“If we don’t control all three, we’re not taking care of diabetes.”

Ryan talks with patients about the need for portion control: Diabetics need to cut down on carbohydrates but not eliminate them completely.

“Watch the portions. Include heart-healthy fat,” Ryan said. She counsels people to include a few nuts at mealtime, because unsaturated fats found in nuts can have beneficial properties, as well as avocado and olive oil. “Eat sensibly,” she said. “And you can never go too far wrong with any non-starchy vegetables. It’s hard to overdo it with those.”

The rise in cases of diabetes can be curtailed. For those at risk, she advises “weight loss and moderate physical activity. There’s a reduction in the risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.”

The nutritionist says she hopes to make the public aware that they have control over their health.

“It’s lifestyle, eating well and moving,” said Ryan, “The medication will never work well without the lifestyle.”

The free presentation on diabetes and heart health will be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Noble Conference Room on the first floor of Greenwich Hospital, 5 Perrybridge Road.