World Diabetes Day: It's not just about obesity or a following sugar-free diet

Let's bust the myths surrounding diabetes and explain the importance of putting healthy eating centre stage

There are 3.8 million people in the UK living with diabetes, but unfortunately there is still huge ignorance surrounding the condition.

We know it’s not easy coping with diabetes, but often it is made much harder because people are told they ‘can’t’ do this or ‘mustn’t’ do that. The truth, of course, is rather different. For instance, people with diabetes often tell us they are told they cannot eat sugar. Not true! Having diabetes doesn’t mean having to follow a sugar-free diet. In fact, people with diabetes should follow a healthy balanced diet low in fat, salt and sugar, but they are able to enjoy a wide variety foods, and that includes some with sugar.

The other myth we constantly come up against is the perception that Type 2 diabetes is a mild form of diabetes. This is worrying because if Type 2 diabetes is not managed properly it can lead to serious complications such as amputation, kidney failure, blindness and stroke. Often people don’t recognise the signs and symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, and may have the condition for many years before they are diagnosed, by which time they have already developed complications. This is unacceptable.

We need people to be far more aware of the risk factors so that they can take steps to reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Visit www.diabetes.org.uk/risk to find out more about the risks and what action you can take.

Sadly we know that children are often asked if their diabetes was caused by eating too many sweets. In fact, the vast majority of children have Type 1 diabetes, which is not linked to diet or lifestyle. All too often the overwhelming perception is that all people with diabetes are overweight. Wrong! Being overweight may be the biggest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, but many people who have the condition are not overweight. Family history, ethnicity and age are all other risk factors that play an important part.

Not being safe to drive and not being able to play sport are a couple of other myths that I’m keen to dismiss. If people with diabetes have good control of their blood glucose levels they are no less safe than anyone else on the roads. And when it comes to sport, people with diabetes are encouraged to exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. I always like to point out that Olympic gold-winner Sir Steve Redgrave achieved sporting greatness, and that was after he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. So there’s no excuse not to exercise.

At Diabetes UK, we are committed to helping people with diabetes enjoy their food and make sure they don’t feel restricted or pushed into buying food they don’t need. We don’t recommend ‘diabetic’ foods for people with diabetes because these foods can be high in fat and calories and still affect blood glucose levels. They are often very expensive and can even cause diarrhoea.

In a YouGov poll of 2,026 people, commissioned by Diabetes UK and Tesco for today’s World Diabetes Day, just 40 per cent of people said they would find it easy to tailor a meal for someone with diabetes.

We know that people with diabetes can struggle with healthy eating, and those cooking for them can also find it hard to know what to cook, so today we are launching Enjoy Food.  It’s a new guide on our website to help everyone affected by diabetes put the excitement back into cooking and enjoying a healthy diet. 

Enjoy Food offers recipes, advice and expert diabetes nutritional information online: from your weekly food shop, to serving up a delicious family-friendly meal and healthy swaps, there’s simple, practical advice for all budgets.

The main symptoms of diabetes are going to loo all the time, feeling very thirsty and drinking a lot, feeling very tired and unexplained weight loss. Regular episodes of thrush, or genital itching, blurred vision and slow healing of cuts and grazes can also be symptoms. In type 1 diabetes these symptoms come on very quickly but in type 2 they can be much more gradual, which means that people are often not diagnosed until they have developed complications. That’s why it’s so important to understand your risk and take action to reduce it. A diagnosis of diabetes can be life-changing, but with the right support people can learn to manage the condition well and reduce their risk of complications.

Vsit www.diabetes.org.uk/enjoyfood or order a free information pack by calling 0800 585 088

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