A Guide to Diabetes

The UK is facing a huge increase in the number of people with diabetes. Since only 1996 the amount of people diagnosed with diabetes has nearly doubled to 2.6 million. By 2025 it is estimated that over four million people will have diabetes. Most of these cases will be Type 2 diabetes, mainly due to our rapidly rising numbers of overweight and obese people.

What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a life-long condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high and the body cannot use it properly. This is because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced doesn’t work properly. Insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells, where it is used for energy. Glucose comes from eating carbohydrates, including starchy foods such as breads, rice and potatoes, fruit, some dairy products, sugar and other sweet foods.

Diabetes types
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes, which affects only around 10% of the population, develops when the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. It usually appears in childhood or before the age of forty.

Type 2 Diabetes, by far the most common, develops when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced doesn’t work properly. Usually it appears in people aged over 40, however due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets it’s becoming more common in children and young people.

What are the symptoms?
Increased thirst, passing urine frequently (especially at night), extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss, genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, slow healing of wounds and blurred vision.

In Type 1 diabetes the signs and symptoms will usually be very obvious, developing quickly, usually over a few weeks. In people with Type 2 diabetes the signs and symptoms will not be so obvious or even non-existent. If you’re older you may put the symptoms down to ‘getting a little older’. Taking early action is vital, so if any of the symptoms apply to you, ask your GP for a diabetes test. In both types of diabetes, the symptoms are quickly relieved once the diabetes is treated. Early treatment will also reduce the chances of developing serious health problems.

Risk factors
Nobody quite knows why the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas become damaged in Type 1 diabetes. The likely cause is an abnormal reaction of the body to the cells, possibly triggered by a viral or other infection.

Type 2 diabetes can be hereditary, but is more commonly due to an unhealthy lifestyle. People may be more at risk of developing diabetes if they are over 40, overweight, and have high blood pressure.

Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be treated very successfully. Type 1 diabetes is treated by insulin injections and a healthy diet. Regular exercise is also recommended.  Insulin cannot be taken by mouth because it is destroyed by the digestive juices in the stomach, so people with this type of diabetes usually take injections of insulin each day. 

Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet, weight loss and increased physical activity. Medication, and sometimes insulin, may also be required to achieve normal blood glucose levels.

Diabetes and diet
Making sensible food choices is vital to the successful management of diabetes. The Glycaemic Index was originally developed as a diet strategy for controlling diabetes, so low GI foods (oats, pasta & legumes) are encouraged as they produce slower and smaller rises in blood sugar levels. Also starchy complex carbohydrate foods (pasta, rice & wholemeal bread) are beneficial, along with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Sugar, saturated fat and salt intake should all be reduced.

Diabetes and exercise
Regular exercise is encouraged for better blood sugar and weight control, stress management and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cathy Moulton a representative from Diabetes UK states: “There’s no reason why having diabetes should stop someone from doing sporting or physical activities. It just requires some extra thought, particularly if a person treats their diabetes with insulin, to ensure that they’ve eaten enough so that their blood glucose levels don’t go too low, which could lead to a ‘hypo’.”

There are some exercise precautions which people with diabetes should take. It's a good idea to keep some glucose, chocolate or a sugary drink to hand while exercising. Remember that hypoglycaemia may not only occur during exercise but also some hours later. Therefore, it is important for diabetics to check their blood sugar, using a special blood test monitor, not only immediately after exercise but also some time later to ensure that extra glucose is not required at that stage.

And if you need any more encouragement to get out there and exercise, just look at Olympic gold medal-winning rower, Steve Redgrave. He has diabetes, and he has never been held back!

The following are perfect for diabetics (or anyone else for that matter!)

Granola (170 calories)
Perfect for sprinkling over natural yogurt or your favourite cereal. It will keep for two weeks in an airtight container.

100g mixture of sunflower, pumpkin & sesame seeds or unsalted mixed nuts
200g jumbo porridge oats
75g dried apricots, chopped
50g butter, melted
2 tablespoons golden or maple syrup

Simply mix together all the ingredients and spread out onto a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and crisp. Leave to cool then roughly crumble into an airtight container.

Coronation Chicken Salad (221 calories)
2 teaspoons low fat crème fraîche
4 teaspoons low-fat natural yogurt
1 teaspoon medium curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh coriander
1 large, boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked & sliced
3 fresh apricots, sliced
1 mango, peeled & sliced
3 spring onions, chopped
1x 60g bag rocket

In a bowl, mix together the crème fraîche, yogurt, curry powder and coriander.
Stir through the remaining ingredients and serve with a crisp, green salad.

Chicken Casserole (314 calories – serves 4)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
12 shallots, peeled
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 sticks celery, chopped
8 baby carrots, peeled
450g new potatoes
200ml dry white wine
450ml chicken stock
sprig thyme
2 baby savoy cabbages, quartered
1 tablespoon cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/400F gas mark 6. Place the chicken, shallots, garlic, celery, carrots, potatoes, wine, stock and thyme into a large casserole dish, cover and cook for
30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the cabbage and cornflour mix, stir well and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Oat crisp breads topped with low fat cream cheese
Low fat/low sugar bio fruit yoghurt