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New guidance from Diabetes UK

bowl of fresh blackberries diabetes guidance
More than 3.2 million people in the UK have a diagnosis of diabetes, but it’s estimated that many more of us – up to one in 17 people, or six per cent of the population – may be living with the condition. Those with South Asian and Afro-Caribbean heritage are at much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (3 or 4 times the risk). Numbers across the whole population are rising year on year. That’s a huge concern, as while it is possible to manage diabetes well with a combination of diet and medication, it is a serious health problem that increases risk of kidney damage, stroke, heart disease, blindness and other complications.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented; but around three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active. As we launch into Diabetes Awareness Week (11-17 June 2018), it’s worth looking at the latest recommendations on reducing risk diabetes risk. And if we are already living with diabetes, how to eat to in order to enjoy food and manage our symptoms better.

Preventing diabetes
What’s the same
For at-risk groups (those who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes), the advice is to aim for at least five per cent weight loss where appropriate and to make lifestyle changes (restricting energy intake, increasing fibre intake, reducing total and saturated fat intake and increasing physical activity).
For the general population, a healthy balanced diet can help to reduce risk. This might include a Mediterranean-style diet, vegan and vegetarian diets, but also moderate carbohydrate restriction.

What’s new
The updated guidelines are the first to specify which foods could help ward off Type 2 diabetes. Among the recommendations are wholegrains, fruit (particularly apples, grapes and blueberries), green leafy vegetables, low-fat dairy, tea and coffee. Foods in the ‘avoid’ list include red and processed meat, potatoes (especially chips), sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice.

Managing diabetes
In a significant change to previous advice, Diabetes UK is recommending that adults with Type 2 diabetes consider restricting their carbohydrate intake, particularly cutting back on refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice and pasta. This is to improve glucose management (refined carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugars in the body), as well as restricting weight gain and heart disease risk. However, it’s not the only approach to weight loss.

Another new focus is the recommendation to lose weight soon after a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, as studies have shown this can lead to remission.

mediterranean diet for diabetes

Key message
The core message from Diabetes UK is that one type of ‘healthier’ diet doesn’t fit all, and a more individualised approach should be used. For example, if you have Type 2 diabetes, you may find it easier to follow a low-fat diet, prefer a low-carbohydrate approach, or enjoy a Mediterranean-style diet – all of which may promote weight loss. Although the evidence for low-carb diets has increased, Diabetes UK is keen to emphasise that a diet which restricts carbs should feature healthier fats, such as olive oil, rather than saturated fats (derived from animal products). An individualised approach is also recommended for physical activity, and surgical and medical strategies for people with diabetes.

Nourish by Jane Clarke and diabetes
Our approach is always to advocate for food that nourishes your life, not just your body, and that’s as true for anyone living with diabetes as those who have a diagnosis of cancer, dementia or another serious health condition. So we’re pleased that Diabetes UK is recommending an approach that focuses on the individual, not just the condition. If you want to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, or to manage your symptoms well, then finding an approach to eating that works for you is key.

To help, you might want to keep a food diary to see how the meals you eat affect your blood sugar. Then if a food or meal is flagged up, you can look at simple swaps or tweaks that can improve how you feel, without piling on the pressure to overhaul your diet radically overnight. For example, switching to fruit and yoghurt for breakfast instead of toast and jam; or having a bowl of porridge topped with a few nuts instead of cereal, as it will release energy more slowly into the bloodstream.

Related article
Diabetes: let’s not sugar coat the risk

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