Approximately 3.2 million people in the UK have diabetes, and an estimated 630,000 people have the condition, but don’t know it. In most instances, diabetes cases are Type 2, and this is predominantly due to our growing obesity epidemic. Recent findings from the Royal Hospital for Children in Bristol have also shown that children are developing diabetes at an alarming rate.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation predicts the number of deaths from diabetes will soar by 20% in the next decade. The extensive study says that 64% of adults in the UK are classed as being overweight or obese. North America still has the highest percentage of overweight adults at 70%.

What is diabetes?

Individuals with diabetes have too much glucose (sugar) in their blood because the body is unable to use it effectively. This is because the body’s method of converting glucose into energy is not functioning properly.

Normally, a hormone called insulin carefully controls the amount of glucose in our blood. Insulin is made by a gland called the pancreas, which lies just behind the stomach. It helps the glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. We obtain glucose from the food that we eat, either from sweet foods or from the breakdown of starchy foods such as bread or potatoes. After a meal, the blood glucose level rises and insulin is released into the blood. When the blood glucose level falls, for example after an overnight fast, the level of insulin falls. Insulin, therefore, plays a vital role in regulating the level of blood glucose and, in particular, in stopping the glucose from rising too high.

There are two main types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes or early-onset diabetes) develops when there is a severe lack of insulin in the body because most or all of the cells in the pancreas that produce it have been destroyed. This type of diabetes usually appears in people under the age of 40 with healthy weights. It is treated by insulin injections and diet.

Type 2 diabetes (non insulin dependent diabetes or late-onset diabetes) develops when the body can still produce some insulin or when the insulin produces is not recognised properly by the cells in the body. This type of diabetes usually appears in overweight people over the age of 40 but alarmingly, it is becoming increasingly common in 20 - 40 year olds. It is treated by diet alone, or by a combination of diet and tablets, or by a combination of diet and insulin injections.

Symptoms of diabetes

  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Feeling very tired
  • Losing weight rapidly without explanation
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
  • Blurred vision

Type 2 diabetes develops slowly and the symptoms are usually less severe. Some people may not notice any symptoms at all and their diabetes is only picked up in a routine medical check up.

Type 1 diabetes develops much more quickly; usually over a few weeks, and symptoms are normally very obvious. In both cases of diabetes, the symptoms quickly settle down once the diabetes is treated. Early treatment will also reduce the chances of developing serious health problems.

If any of the following factors apply to you, you may be more at risk of developing diabetes:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being between the age of 40 and 75
  • Being very overweight
  • Of Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin
  • Women who have had a baby weighing more than 4 kilos (8 lbs 8oz)

The major danger with diabetes is that people with the disease are at a much greater risk from heart disease and strokes. This problem is compounded by the fact that many people are not aware of it.

One of the groups highest at risk are women aged 40 - 59 with diabetes, who are up to eight times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The risk for men is five-fold. Taking simple measures like maintaining a normal body weight and taking regular exercise, such as walking briskly for at least half an hour a day, helps to reduce the risk of developing both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here are some healthy eating tips to help prevent and control type 2 diabetes:

Eat regular meals based on low Gi complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, pasta, new potatoes, brown or basmati rice and wholegrain cereals. These will help you to control your blood glucose levels. Always choose high fibre varieties of foods like bread and cereals, as energy is released more slowly from food and blood sugar levels do not fluctuate so rapidly.

  1. Cut down on fat. This will also help you to control your weight. Avoid using too much butter or margarine and switch to a low fat version; eat cheese in small portions or switch to a low fat product; switch to low fat dairy products like skimmed milk and low fat yogurt, choose lean cuts of meat and grill, boil or bake as opposed to frying or roasting; avoid eating too much cake, biscuits, chocolate or crisps.
  2. Reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat (fat from animal products). This type of fat can raise your cholesterol level and may contribute to the development of heart disease. Choose mono-unsaturated fats when you can, for example, olive oil and rapeseed oil. Eating oily fish (such as salmon or mackerel) at least twice a week will boost intakes of essential fatty acids.
  3. Eat more fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least five portions a day to provide you with vitamins and fibre, and to help you balance your overall diet.
  4. Cut down on sugary foods and drinks. This does not mean you have to eat a completely sugar-free diet however. Use sugar-free, low sugar or diet squashes and fizzy drinks, as sugary drinks cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly.
  5. Use less salt. A high intake of salt can raise your blood pressure. Try flavouring food with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation. The recommended intake is two units of alcohol per day for a woman and three units per day for a man. A small glass of wine or half a pint of normal-strength beer is one unit. Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely to occur.

Note: Remember it is vital to see your doctor if you feel you may be at risk of developing diabetes. If you are diabetic and are interested in registering, please contact us so we can advise you further on whether we have a suitable plan for you.