• Jaybee tells SBS how a test revealed he was pre-diabetic and what he did to turn his health around. (Maskot)
For Jaybee Serrano his diabetes story started in 2017 and the 35-year-old nurse tells SBS about how reducing the amount of white rice he ate helped to improve his blood sugar levels.
By
Jaybee Serrano, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

30 Jul 2018 - 10:45 AM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2019 - 11:19 AM

My diabetes story started in early 2017 when I developed a pain in my neck. One morning at 3am, I presented to the emergency department at Blacktown Hospital, NSW. It’s a hotspot for diabetes in the area, so staff regularly conduct diabetes screening on patients.

They tested me for diabetes. My results showed that I was in the pre-diabetes range [a precursor to Type 2 diabetes]. I was shocked.

I soon received a letter saying that my blood sugar levels were on the high side, and if I didn’t do something about it, I would get diabetes. It was as plain and simple as that.

I have a family history of diabetes – my mum has it and almost all of my relatives have it. I also work as a nurse and I’ve seen people in the hospital who have had complications because of their diabetes. So I knew I didn’t want to develop the condition if I could avoid it. I knew I had to make changes to my diet. If I wanted to be healthy, I had to act – now.

I soon received a letter saying that my blood sugar levels were on the high side, and if I didn’t do something about it, I would get diabetes. It was as plain and simple as that.

I saw my GP. I was told that I had to change my lifestyle, start watching what I ate, do regular exercise and do follow-up screenings to check my blood sugar levels.

The rest – the ‘how’ to reduce my risk and turn my health around – was up to me. So with sheer determination, I tried to change my life and diet to prevent diabetes.

I acted, to save my health

Like many other Filipinos, my diet has always been full carbohydrates: rice. White rice is a staple food I used to eat three times a day with meat, mostly pork.

Since being made aware, I’ve since cut back on the amount of white rice, pork and highly processed foods. I eat more whole foods now with fruits and vegetables.

To do this, I started to surround myself with fruits and vegetables at home, putting them on the table and in the fridge so that I could be prompted to eat a little bit healthier. What I can control is the food I eat and what I can within my immediate environment.

I believe that healthy eating is not about missing out or depriving yourself of various types of food. It’s about balance, moderation and eating sensibly. I still go out with my wife and family and have dinners out. But I control the food I eat and what I can within my immediate environment.

Like many other Filipinos, my diet has always been full carbohydrates: rice. White rice is a staple food I used to eat three times a day: rice and meat, mostly pork.

My current eating plan

I work in a hospital so my breakfast needs to be something that is readily available and quick. I’m usually rushing to go to work so I might grab a can of baked beans, which fills me up. I also carry around a piece of fruit, usually a banana, and I’ll have a coffee in the morning – that’s my staple.

I try to bring a prepared lunch to work. I’ll have frozen vegetables or a serving of dinner leftovers from the night before. My lunch may not be fancy but it works for me.

Dinner is my main meal consisting of a home-cooked Filipino dish. I might have bitter melon with pork, as bitter melon is good for diabetes control. Another dish we have at home is Sinigang, a Filipino soup that is both sour and spicy made with meat and vegetables.

Filipino sour soup (seafood sinigang)

This is a traditional Filipino stew of seafood and vegetables, with a strong tamarind flavour. When I first came across this recipe, I immediately fell in love with it.

My health, today

It hasn’t been easy to change my diet. To be honest, there have been some struggles along the way because we live in an environment where there are so many foods around us that contain so much hidden sugar. But I have made small changes to my lifestyle and diet. Those changes have collectively made a big difference to my health.

Just recently, I received good news. My blood sugar is no longer on the pre-diabetes range.

I was so pleased. I truly believe that if I can improve my health with dietary and lifestyle changes then anyone can (or perhaps they can do even better than I have?).

One key change I made to the way I lived was my job. I used to do shift work in mental health nursing prior to my diagnosis. However, when I was told I had pre-diabetes, it marked a turning point for me. I became so passionate about diabetes that I applied for a job as a diabetes nurse educator and I’m happily working as one now.

I’m going to have a son at the end of the year. I’m really excited. I know I will pass on my diabetes genes to him, sadly. But I know I will also pass on my good eating habits...

I’m currently using my experience to help the people I look after in hospital. I initially did it because I wanted to help my mum who has diabetes but now, I’m a diabetes nurse educator because I want to help others too. To be honest, I don’t see this position s a ‘job’ as I wake up each day and feel so enthusiastic about working. It’s a real joy for me.

I think if you can prevent diabetes or – if you have it, if you can manage it properly – then that is the best thing for your health and for your family as well.

I had a son at the end of last year. I’m really excited. I know I will pass on my diabetes genes to him, sadly. But I know I will also pass on my good eating habits and all the knowledge I’ve acquired about diabetes as well. That’s the part I can control, to be able to teach him about how to prevent diabetes, so I like his chances.

Why even healthy obese women face a risk of heart disease
A study from Germany has found that your BMI can influence your heart health, even if you’re metabolically healthy - free of diabetes and high cholesterol.
Intermittent fasting could help tackle diabetes – here's the science
Research into intermittent fasting suggests it's not a health gimmick.
Surge in obesity and diabetes could be linked to food additives
Additives found in your favourite foods, like ice cream, may be linked to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disorders.
Diabetes Explained
Ahead of Insight's look at the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, get your head around the disease: its causes, types, treatments and complications.