Nutrition to conquer the “diabetes blues”

My mood is feeling super low today, and I’m not sure why. I wonder, could I possibly have the diabetes blues?

Hi friends! Your friendly neighbourhood diabetes dietitian here has got a case of the blues.

I went for a walk along the New Westminster Quay, but it didn’t help.

A hard, 45-minute indoor bike workout didn’t help either.

I chatted with my brother, who notoriously makes me laugh, but as soon as the conversation was over my blues were back.

Is this just an “off” day? Or, is it a sign of the Diabetes Blues?

Low mood can be chronic or acute. Nutrition can help with both.

Defining the Diabetes Blues

Did you know that type-1 diabetes is a risk factor for depression?

Yes folks, you read that right.

Not only are we saddled with having to keep on top of our blood sugars, calculate appropriate insulin doses, and monitor foods that we eat, among so many other things, we are also at a heightened risk for several other conditions.

Today, I want to talk specifically about T1D and depression.

People with type-1 diabetes have an increased risk of developing mental health disorders including diabetes distress, depression, anxiety, impaired sleep and disordered eating.

It’s not that surprising, though, is it.

We have so many things to manage and consider related to diabetes, and it can be super overwhelming at times.

This includes:

  • Monitoring blood sugars
  • Treating low blood sugars
  • Planning meals
  • Considering all foods we eat
  • Calculating insulin
  • Making sure to be physically active
  • Attending healthcare appointments
  • Heck, even listening to the alarms on our insulin pumps that notify us to change the insertion, or the alarms on our CGM that notify us of lows or highs can be too much

So, what can we do about it?

Signs and Symptoms

The first thing to be aware of when it comes to the Diabetes Blues is recognizing the signs and symptoms.

Is your low mood a regular occurrence, or is it a one off? If it’s out of the ordinary, it might just be one of those days. You know, you woke up on the wrong side of the bed kind of days. But, if you’re noticing it more regularly, this is the time to start closely monitoring other symptoms, such as

  • Sleep patterns: are you having trouble falling asleep or waking up earlier than usual and can’t fall back asleep?
  • Energy levels: are you wanting to stay in bed all day, not wanting to spend time with others, disinterested in activities that you previously enjoyed?
  • Change in appetite: are you eating significantly more or less than usual?
  • Concentration: are you finding it difficult to pay attention in school or stay focused on work tasks? Do you feel like your thoughts are overwhelming other activities?
  • Mindset: Do you often feel guilty, or feel like you’re a burden on others, or feel anxious and nervous?

Some of these symptoms can certainly happen in the absence of depression. But, if they’re happening frequently, and if they’re happening in conjunction with some of the other symptoms, that is potentially a cause for concern. It’s recommended to seek professional help in this case.

Battling the Blues with Nutrition

Can the foods we eat help manage low mood with or without depression?

Anti-inflammatory foods such as tomatoes can help combat the Diabetes Blues

Nutrition can definitely play a role in reducing the effects of depression and other mental health conditions. However, the research is somewhat limited in showing the breadth of effectiveness.

Here are a few nutrition-specific areas that we can boost up for positive mental health benefit.

  • Increase anti-inflammatory foods: Because chronic inflammation has been linked to depression (as well as cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease) it’s recommended to choose more often anti-inflammatory foods, which are high in antioxidants and polyphenols that protect against inflammation. Some of these include tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, nuts, olive oil, leafy greens, and fatty fish.
  • Decrease inflammatory foods: These include highly processed foods, deep fried foods, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and high sugar foods. We’re not saying don’t ever eat these, but choose them more in moderation
  • Oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene is also important, because the mouth is a significant source of bacteria, which can lead to inflammation.

Finally, balanced meals can be beneficial also. Believe me, I know it’s easy to reach for that bag of chips or the super sweet chocolates during these times – they are comfort foods after all. But, they can actually cause more harm to our mindset than good if that’s all we’re choosing. Whereas, eating more often a balance of macro- and micronutrients can help improve our mood AND keep our blood sugars in check at the same time too!

But, keep in mind, it’s all about balance. We don’t want to stress about food either. So, if you do grab that chocolate, please don’t fret. Rather, consider your next food item to be something more of the balanced nature.

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