Shockingly, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled in the last 20 years, according to Diabetes UK (diabetes.org.uk), and it now affects 4.6 million of us – 7,000 of them children and under-25s. New data from the British Heart Foundation (bhf.org.uk) has revealed that this rise is likely to trigger 400,000 cases of heart disease every year. Luckily, there’s lots you can do to lower your and your family’s risk of getting this disease, so we called in the experts to help us put together a list of manageable tips so you can change your ways now and prevent the onset of diabetes.
Get regular health checks
“Attending regular health checks can help you to get an indication of your risk,” says Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at health app Lifesum (lifesum.com). “I would advise doing a glucose test to detect pre-diabetes and diabetes (by testing blood sugar levels), check blood lipids and cholesterol levels, as well as blood pressure.
By doing this frequently, you’re more likely to find out symptoms before you actually get type 2 diabetes (pre-diabetes) and, as a result, you can counteract it developing into type 2 diabetes by changing your diet and lifestyle.”
“Crash diets and restrictive plans just don’t work long-term – they may provide you with quick weight loss results in the short-term, but research shows you’re likely to end up putting back on the weight you have lost, and more,” explains Dr Sally Norton, health and weight loss consultant for the NHS. “Instead, think of your weight-loss journey as the chance to create a healthier, more active lifestyle. Try making small but sustainable changes in your eating habits, and you’ll notice you will begin to lose weight and actually keep it off.”
Limit your alcohol intake
“Drinking too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and may increase your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, so stick to the recommended daily allowance [no more than 14 units a week for men and women, spread over three or more days],” explains Dr Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer at Now Healthcare Group (nowhealthcaregroup.com). Remember – dry January doesn’t have to stop on the 31st, so why not see how long you can stay sober?
Opt for water
We all know how much kids love sugary drinks but, as Kajsa explains, avoiding these beverages, including fruit juices, and simply drinking water instead is a good way to reduce the chance of developing the disease. “A European study found a link between consuming sugary beverages and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes,” she says. If your children (or you!) find H2O too plain, try adding slices of fruit, such as lemon or lime, for flavour.
“One area to cut back on is snacks,” advises Dr Sally. “A recent study showed that eating two larger meals a day (breakfast and lunch for example) is actually more effective in weightcontrol related to type 2 diabetes than eating six smaller meals. So, instead of spreading your eating out throughout your day, try switching to two larger meals, and see what effect this has.” The same goes for your kids – try giving them carrots or oatcakes with a nut butter rather than something sugary.
Control your blood pressure
Controlling your blood pressure can go a long way to slash your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. “You should be able to control your blood pressure if you get moving, eat a balanced diet and keep a healthy weight,” says Dr Andrew. “If your blood pressure is still high and you have made these changes, speak to your GP.”
“Exercise doesn’t have to mean dragging yourself to the gym at every available opportunity,” says Dr Sally. “Instead, try building fitness into your everyday routine. Set yourself targets, such as using the stairs instead of the lift, or parking further away from where you need to go and walking the rest of the way. Mix this up with some more vigorous exercise, too – research shows that women with previous gestational diabetes were found to have a 47 percent lower risk of developing actual diabetes, by performing 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (or 75 minutes per week of vigorousintensity activity).”
Eat more wholegrain foods
“Wholegrain foods, such as brown rice, rye, oatmeal and buckwheat, are better for us because the outer protective coating of the grain hasn’t been removed, meaning that they contain more nutrients, in contrast to refined grains,” Kajsa tells us. “For example, oats and rye contain beta-glutens, a type of fibre which may have a role in lowering insulin resistance and blood cholesterol, as well as reducing the risk of obesity. Both the DASH (the dietary approaches to stop hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet recommend including wholegrains as part of a healthy diet. Additionally, research by the Cleveland Clinic (clevelandclinic.org) shows that a diet rich in wholegrains may significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in overweight and obese adults who are younger than 50.” Once you’ve added a sauce, kids won’t even notice the difference – we promise.
What can you do if you already have diabetes?
“Don’t panic, there’s still so much you can do,” Dr Sally reassures us. “Stick with your recommended treatment to help control your condition, but by losing between five and 10 percent of your body weight, you can help to reduce insulin resistance and improve your condition – so much so that you may even be able to stop any drugs you are on (remember to speak to your physician). So, to avoid any of the complications that can come with diabetes (heart attacks, strokes, eye problems, kidney failure and other serious problems), the time to take action is now.”
Follow these easy lifestyle changes from Dr Andrew to reduce your risk even further
If you’re overweight and storing excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen, it can increase the body’s resistance to the hormone insulin which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Eat in moderation:
Having too much fat in your diet – especially saturated and trans fats – can lead to the disease. Eat a balanced diet packed with fruit, vegetables and high-fibre foods and cut back on salt.
Steer clear of takeaways and processed foods as they are usually high in salt, fat and calories. It’s best to cook for yourself using fresh ingredients whenever possible.
Smoking has a big link to diabetes and smokers are twice as likely to get diabetes as non-smokers.
Avoid carbs and sugar:
Sugary food and refined carbs can increase insulin and blood sugar levels, which may lead to diabetes, so try and avoid too much of these in your diet.