Woman injecting herself with insulin

Diabetes is a health condition that occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to effectively move the glucose (sugar) in the blood into our cells, resulting in blood glucose levels being too high.

It can be a life-long condition that causes serious health implications if not managed effectively.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – This is an auto-immune condition where insulin-producing cells are gradually destroyed and the pancreas stops making insulin. It usually starts in childhood and continues through adulthood. Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes and has to be controlled with insulin injections or insulin pump therapy.
  • Type 2 diabetes – This occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin that is produced does not work effectively. This type of diabetes is more common and is generally developed as people grow older. It is caused by genetic or environmental factors. It can be controlled by diet and lifestyle changes and so is known as non-insulin dependent diabetes.
DID YOU KNOW? Only about 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. The remaining 90% have type 2 diabetes.

Dietary and lifestyle factors contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes

Diet alone cannot help us tackle diabetes, our lifestyle is important too.

Priority Health Issues – Diabetes
  • Being overweight/obese – Being overweight can increase your risk of developing diabetes, especially if body fat is concentrated largely around your middle. Obesity is believed to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Age – Your risk of developing diabebtes increases with age. You are more at risk from type 2 diabetes over the age of 40 if you are white European, or 25 if your ethnic background is South Asian, African or Caribbean.
  • Inactivity – If you do not exercise, you have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to the risk of having high blood pressure or being overweight.
  • Family history – If you have a parent, brother, sister or child with type 2 diabetes, you will have a two to six times higher risk of developing it.
  • Ethnic background – If you are of South Asian, African or Caribbean descent, you have a two to four times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those of a white European background.
  • Gestational diabetes – If you developed diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after you have given birth increases.

Dietary advice to manage type 2 diabetes

  • Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight is the largest risk factor for type 2 diabetes. If, for example, you are of white European descent and have a BMI higher than 25, or of Asian descent with a BMI higher than 23, then you should try and lose any excess weight.
  • Follow a healthy balanced diet – When planning meals, follow the Eatwell Guide and the eight tips for eating well. This will ensure you do not overeat in certain food groups, such as fats, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables each day – Fruit and vegetables are high in fibre, which can reduce the risk of diabetes by improving your blood sugar control. Fibre will also keep you feeling full, helping with weight loss.

Lifestyle advice to manage type 2 diabetes

  • Increase physical activity – Exercise can boost sensitivity to insulin, which helps keep blood sugar levels within normal range. It will also help maintain a healthy weight.