Managing and preventing diabetes

 

A selection of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices

There are now over four million people in the UK with diabetes. Diabetes can lead to many health complications, including sight loss.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where your body is not able to use glucose properly. The hormone insulin moves glucose from your blood and into cells of your body where it is used as energy. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t respond to insulin as well as it should, then the glucose stays in your blood instead of being used up as energy.

Type 1 diabetes is where your body doesn’t produce any insulin. This normally develops at a young age, before your 30s, and most people will need to control this type of diabetes by using insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes is where your body doesn’t make enough insulin or isn’t able to use it properly.  This type of diabetes normally develops later in life, typically over the age of 40 for most people. Type 2 diabetes is often managed by changing your diet and exercising. Some people may need to use tablets or in some cases, insulin injections to control this type of diabetes.

 

There is a well-established link between diabetes and sight loss. Which type of diabetes can lead to this?

Both types of diabetes can lead to an eye condition known as diabetic retinopathy, although people with type 1 diabetes are more at risk.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs where, over time, diabetes affects the network of blood vessels supplying the retina at the back of the eye. This can affect how the retina works. There are different types of diabetic retinopathy and how it can affect vision will depend on the severity of the changes to the blood vessels. Not everyone with diabetes develops this eye condition or sight loss.

How can we help to prevent diabetes and associated conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy?

Sadly, we can’t prevent type 1 diabetes because it’s not entirely known what causes it.

But with type 2 diabetes, there are lots of risk factors that can lead to a diagnosis of diabetes. Some of these are out of our control, such as our genetic background and family history.

However, some things we can control. Our lifestyle, particularly being overweight, having a large waist and a sedentary lifestyle are big risk factors.

Whether we have diabetes or not, we should all be aiming for a healthy, balanced diet. That should include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and be low in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Diabetes UK has a wealth of information as part of their Enjoy Food campaign.

What are some of the key points to remember when eating to prevent and manage the condition?

The latest data shows that we’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables. They provide us with lots of important vitamins, minerals and fibre, so it’s vital to look to increase your intake.

The tips around a healthy, balanced diet are crucial. Keeping an eye on your portion sizes is important, and added sugars should be kept to a minimum. These now have the new name of "free sugars". That’s anything that’s added to products and also syrups, honey and fruit juices.

So even purely natural products like honey should be enjoyed in small amounts?

It may be natural, but there’s no evidence that it’s different from any other type of sugar. It has no additional health benefits. It raises your blood sugar in the same way.

Fruit juice is also classed as a type of free sugar, because once the juice is extracted, the sugar within is no longer contained in the structure of the fruit. Although this may provide important vitamins and minerals, you should limit your intake to no more than one small 150ml glass a day.

Making lifestyle changes

Connect member Ibra Siddiqi changed his lifestyle after being diagnosed with diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.

“I was 23 when I was diagnosed with diabetes. When I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy at 37, it hit me really hard. The thought of losing my sight really got to me. I was seriously overweight and I had to do something positive.

I took a look at my diet. The traditional Asian diet uses a lot of ghee, butter and oil. On a daily basis, I substitute these with olive oil, and I always measure it out rather than just pouring it.

I use lots of herbs and spices, as we normally do in Asian cooking, to substitute salt. I still have a sweet tooth, so I still enjoy some traditional mithai (sweet rice) but I have it in moderation.”

Watch the video where Ibra talks about how he made changes to his diet after being diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.

Find out more 

If you’d like more information on eating well and some recipe ideas, whether you have diabetes or not, visit Diabetes UK and check out the Enjoy Food section

For more information about eye conditions related to diabetes, visit our eye condition page or call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999.