LAWRENCE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Diabetes is a lifelong disease and chronic condition, in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. It can be responsible for loss of limbs, blindness, organ failure and even death.
It is a serious problem in Alabama where one in 10 people have the disease. Alabama has the 3rd highest rate in the country.
When East Lawrence resident Liz Hill was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992, it was a big surprise.
"Well, I got sick at my stomach and they just put me in the hospital and said my pancreas had quit working," said Hill.
She could not eat food for 2 weeks. When she did, she immediately began lifestyle changes including diet. She said it was tough.
"Quit eating everything I like... No sugar. I've never eaten salt, so that wasn't a problem," said Hill.
But it's not just sugar that can hurt a diabetic; high fat and high carbs can also be detrimental.
Kim Donohue is a registered dietician.
"For diabetics, it used to be that you read. Diabetics read grams of sugar. Now we know you need to read total grams of carbohydrates," Donohue said.
High fiber and multi-grains are also important.
"You can still have most of what you're used to eating. It's all about portion size and moderation and balance," said Donohue.
That can be tough in the South, where good cooks were raised to fry everything and season with fatback.
"In the South, we cook everything in fat - season it up, make it really tasty, simmer it down. This is one serving of green beans. Vegetables are very good for you. They're very low in carbs," said Donohue.
In order to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, Donohue suggested substitutes for seasoning with low salt bouillon or other replacements.
Diabetics need to be cognizant about "natural sugars" and carbs.
"You can eat fruit. It's all about the serving size," Donohue said.
She suggests adding protein like peanut butter to the fruit. And buying low sugar fruit juices.
Hill said portion size is also important. And before you buy - read those labels.
"I used to cook fried potatoes in grease, and I fried everything. And now I have to bake everything," she said.
Most community hospitals have a registered dietician on staff. And many of those hospitals also offer classes for diabetics. That's very important when it comes to managing "your health."