Diabetes Week: Make a connection

A long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood, diabetes affects some 3.7 million people in the UK alone, and it is estimated that a further seven million are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes week 2012

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This year, Diabetes Week is taking place from June 10 to June 16 and the charity Diabetes UK is hoping to get as many people as possible involved in their Make A Connection campaign to help raise awareness and money to help support those living with the condition.

Type 2 diabetes can begin years before diagnosis but there are simple ways in which you can slow the progress or cut your risk of developing the condition.

A lack of exercise, obesity and an unhealthy diet are all major causes of type 2 diabetes but that means there is something you can do to lower your chances.

You don't have to be sweating it out in the gym to benefit from exercise - a brisk half-hour walk, five days a week can help to lower your risk.

Similarly, losing weight can only help. Diabetes UK recommends a well-balanced three meals a day, including plenty of fibre, fruit and veg and at least two portions of oily fish each week.

Reducing the amount of sugary foods, salt and alcohol is also a good idea, and of course, giving up smoking can only benefit your general health as well as reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other related problems.

The same advice applies to those who have been diagnosed with diabetes. By making such changes to their lifestyle, many sufferers find they can continue to live a normal and fulfilled life.

If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, these healthy eating tips from Diabetes UK could help...

1. Eat three meals a day
Avoid skipping meals and space out your breakfast, lunch and evening meals over the day. This will help control your appetite and your blood glucose levels, especially if you are on twice-daily insulin.

2. Include starchy carbohydrate foods as part of your diet
Carbohydrates will have an effect on your blood glucose levels, so it is important to be aware of the amount you eat, and it is better to spread your intake throughout the day. The actual amount you need will vary from person to person. Examples of starchy carbohydrates include bread, pasta, chapattis, potatoes, yam, noodles, rice and cereals. Especially try to include those that are more slowly absorbed (have a lower glycaemic index) as these won't affect your blood glucose levels as much.

Better choices include: pasta, basmati or easy cook rice, grainy breads such as granary, pumpernickel and rye, new potatoes, sweet potato and yam, porridge oats and natural muesli. The high-fibre varieties of starchy foods will also help.

3. Cut down on the fat you eat, particularly saturated fats
A low-fat diet benefits health. Choose unsaturated fats or oils, such as mono- or polyunsaturated fats (eg olive oil, rapeseed oil and vegetable oils), as these types can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. As fat is the greatest source of calories, eating less fat will help you to lose weight if you need to. To cut down on the fat you eat, here are some tips:

Use less saturated fat by having less butter, margarine and cheese.
Choose chicken, turkey, lean meat and fish as low-fat alternatives to fatty meats.
Choose lower-fat dairy foods such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat or diet yogurts, reduced-fat cheese and lower-fat spreads.
Grill, steam or oven bake instead of frying or cooking with oil or other fats.
Watch out for creamy sauces and dressings and swap for tomato-based sauces instead.

4. Eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim for at least five portions a day to provide you with vitamins, minerals and fibre to help you balance your overall diet. One portion is, for example: a banana or apple, a handful of grapes, a tablespoon of dried fruit, a small glass of fruit juice or fruit smoothie, three heaped tablespoons of vegetables or a cereal bowl of salad.

5. Include more beans and lentils
Examples include kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas or red and green lentils. These have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels and may help to control your blood fats. Try adding them to stews, casseroles and soups, or to a salad.

6. Aim for at least two portions of oily fish a week
Examples include mackerel, sardines, salmon and pilchards. Oily fish contains a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega 3 which helps protect against heart disease.

7. Limit sugar and sugary foods
This does not mean you need to eat a sugar-free diet. Sugar can be used in foods and in baking as part of a healthy diet. Using sugar-free, no-added-sugar or diet fizzy drinks/squashes instead of sugary versions can be an easy way to reduce the sugar in your diet. Sugary drinks are best used as a treatment for hypos.

8. Reduce salt in your diet to 6g or less a day
More than this can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart disease. Limit the amount of processed foods you eat (as these are usually high in salt) and try flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.

9. Drink alcohol in moderation only
That's a maximum of 2–3 units of alcohol per day for a woman, and 3–4 units per day for a man. For example, a single pub measure (25ml) of spirit is about 1 unit or half a pint of lager, ale, bitter or cider has 1–1½ units. Over the years the alcohol content of most drinks has gone up. A drink can now contain more units than you think – a small glass of wine (175ml) could contain as much as 2 units. Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely to occur. Remember, alcohol contains empty calories so think about cutting back further if you are trying to lose weight.

10. Don't use diabetic foods or drinks
They offer no benefit to people with diabetes. They will still affect your blood glucose levels, contain just as much fat and calories as the ordinary versions, can have a laxative effect and are expensive.

Diabetes UK can also offer help and advice to those affected, whether through online information, confidential support via Careline or through peer support groups.

If you are struggling to cope with diabetes or would like to get involved with a fund-raising idea, visit www.diabetes.org.uk to find out how.