How can I reduce my risk of diabetes?

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1. Focus on prevention

There are four million people with diabetes in the UK – that's one in every 16 people.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is less common and is not preventable. Type 2 is predominantly associated with weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle, but there are other risk factors. In the UK, 90% of diabetics are type 2. If your blood sugars are abnormally high, but are not in the diabetic range, you may be diagnosed as prediabetic. This means you have a high risk of developing diabetes.

The good news is that around 80% of cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable. Find out what you can do to reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.

2. Are you at risk?

Type 2 diabetes can come on slowly and the signs may not be obvious, so it is important to understand the risk factors.

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People with type 2 diabetes who have not yet been diagnosed can display symptoms such as extreme thirst, tiredness and needing to go to the toilet more often, but you could also be symptom free and still have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

3. Eating well to beat diabetes

If you are overweight or have a large waist, type 2 diabetes can be avoided or delayed by reducing your weight and waist size. Along with increased activity, a healthy diet will help you manage your weight. But what exactly is a 'healthy' diet?

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Every kilogram lost is associated with a 16% reduction in diabetes risk. No one weight-loss plan has been proven more effective than any other, so a healthy, balanced diet is recommended. If you have already been diagnosed as prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes, it is particularly important to control your weight. Being a healthy weight makes diabetes easier to manage and can delay the onset of some of the most unpleasant complications of the disease.

4. Portion distortion

In our supersized world it’s tricky to know what a sensible serving is. Click for some easy tips.

Plate size

It's not just the size of our dinners that has increased over the years – our plates have too.

Top tip

Smaller plates = smaller meals

A sensible serving of food will look much larger on a smaller plate and many of us fill up our plates no matter how big they are.

Use your hand as a guide

Knowing what a sensible portion looks like is half the battle.

Top tip

Your personal portion guide

A portion of protein is about the size of your palm; breakfast cereal and pasta a clenched fist; butter and fats a fingertip.

Freeze leftovers

Batch-cooking is usually a good thing, but not if you can't resist second helpings.

Top tip

Skip seconds

Pack up leftovers immediately ready to use for future meals. If it's frozen, rather than stored in the fridge, you are less likely to nibble.

5. Burning calories: gym v everyday activity

calories burned during exercise

Figures based on calories used by an 11-stone adult during 30 minutes of activity. Infographic compares washing car and brisk walk; mowing lawn and badminton; playing children’s games and jogging; energetic cleaning and aqua aerobics.

Exercise is essential for good health, but all activities count. Exercise not only helps to maintain a healthy weight, but can lower blood-sugar levels because it helps your body to use insulin more effectively. Aim for high levels of everyday activity, including walking, housework, playing with children and hobbies – anything that gets you moving.

6. Can a strict diet reverse type 2 diabetes?

New research has shown that blood-sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes can be returned to normal by following a very low-calorie diet over a period of eight weeks.

The participants in the study undertook an extremely low-calorie diet under close medical supervision. Researchers selected highly-motivated individuals who were most likely to stick to the diet. The study found that significant weight loss reduced the amount of fat present in the liver and pancreas. This in turn caused blood-sugar levels to return to normal and improved insulin function. The results were less encouraging for participants who had had type 2 diabetes for more than four years.

Although the research is very promising, more detail is needed and weight loss has to be maintained to retain the health benefits. This is often difficult to achieve and many people struggle to stick to restrictive diets. For this reason a more holistic change of lifestyle, including exercise and routine, may be preferable and easier to maintain.

Trying this approach without medical assistance could be dangerous, so it is important to seek medical advice before embarking on a strict diet regime.

7. Healthy tweaks to make a big difference

You can still enjoy your favourite meals. Small changes can add up to a huge reduction in calories.

Replace potatoes with root vegetables to reduce the carbohydrates in a traybake and add plenty of spice to turn up the flavour. This Ras el hanout baked chicken is ready in less than an hour and is really easy to prepare.

Ditch the sandwiches for a hearty soup with added beans or lentils. It's cheap, easy to make and really filling, so you won't need a side of bread. Cook up a batch and freeze portions so you always have a healthy meal available.

Thai curries are wonderfully quick to prepare and they can easily be made healthier. Use low-fat protein (such as tofu or prawns), reduced-calorie coconut milk, add plenty of veggies and go easy on the rice for an easy dinner that feels like a treat.

Stews are a great choice when you need comfort food, as long as you use a lean cut of meat and include lots of vegetables. Even dumplings are an option – just avoid recipes loaded with suet and butter.

Drop the fatty mince and add extra beans and vegetables to increase fibre and decrease fat in your chilli. It makes a quick and filling midweek dinner, which also freezes well.

Swap sweetened instant oats for traditional oats served with frozen berries. Instant oats are more processed so higher GI and often contain extra sugar, which is a no-no. Adding a few nuts increases protein – a great way to start the day.

Indian curries are still on the menu, but a few tweaks will make them much healthier. This chicken and vegetable balti contains less fat and extra vegetables, but doesn’t compromise on flavour. Serve with brown basmati rice.