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Breakfast does a body good

Over the past few years, regardless of the country I was visiting as a global health consultant, I inevitably met at least one taxi driver who would share his personal experiences dealing with diabetes, a disease that affected at least 382 million people around the world in 2013. During one taxi ride in Delhi several years ago, as I sat in traffic, over the honking and beeping of cars and motor rickshaws, the driver told me he was diabetic and his doctor had prescribed some medicine that he was not taking regularly; to my shock, he then asked me whether he could drink alcohol with his friends each night. During another taxi ride in Melbourne, the driver told me about his diabetic mother and how he wished he knew more about how he could help her manage and control her diabetes symptoms. Being a taxi driver and having irregular hours, as well as working night shifts, attending formal classes for family members of diabetes patients was nearly impossible. In Dubai, another driver asked what his wife should do to improve her condition since she was diabetic.

These days, almost everyone knows someone who lives with diabetes. Very soon, if we haven't reached this point already, everyone will know not just one person but many people affected by diabetes. By 2035, the International Diabetes Federation estimates that 592 million people around the world will be living with diabetes. The brief encounters with taxi drivers I have described are just three out of many I have had over the past decade. What these three encounters indicate is that diabetes is no longer a "rich man's" disease but affects many in the developing world as lifestyles have been impacted by economic growth.

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More importantly, it illuminates the great need for all people affected by diabetes to have access to quality information and education about diabetes. One of the most effective ways for a diabetes patient to manage and control their symptoms is by self-management. However, patients need to receive quality education about what to do and when to do it. Their support network, often times their immediate family members, also need to receive education about how to provide support and encouragement.

From my experience of working with dedicated experts globally to address diabetes, healthy living — this year's theme for World Diabetes Day — is the best way to prevent the onset of diabetes; and if one already has diabetes, it is the best way to manage the disease as well. For more than five years, I have been working together with international experts in the field to promote healthy living through our work in diabetes prevention and management. We have learned over the years that whether you are a child at school trying to prevent diabetes, or an adult working in an office trying to prevent and manage diabetes, one fundamental fact is a need to start the day with a healthy breakfast.

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Why is eating a healthy breakfast important? There are three main reasons: It helps to control blood glucose concentrations and decreases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, and skipping breakfast is associated with weight gain. What are healthy food choices for breakfast? Unsweetened coffee, tea, low-fat milk or water instead of fruit juices, smoothies and flavored milk; whole grain bread or brown rice instead of white bread, pastries and croissants; unsweetened peanut butter instead of jam, honey or chocolate spread; unsweetened yogurt instead of sugar sweetened yogurt; grilled chicken, turkey or fish instead of fried foods; eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Ideally, in addition to starting your day with a healthy breakfast, if you also do aerobic activity 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, manage stress, cut down on alcohol to two standard drinks per day and quit smoking if you smoke, you are taking steps toward healthy living — and a longer life.

Akiko Otani is a global health and development management consultant. Her email is akikootani2012@gmail.com. Nivedita Sharma Vij, a registered nutritionist and diabetes self-management educator with the Auckland, New Zealand, District Health Board contributed to this article.

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