Diabetes - the facts
In collaboration with The British Diabetic Association
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is caused when the pancreas is no longer able to produce sufficient insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Diabetes occurs in several forms. The most common are type-I and type-II diabetes. In type I, the pancreas produces no insulin at all, and the onset is usually at a very early age. In type-II diabetes, the body does produce insulin, but the organism is resistant to it. Insulin is essential to control the blood sugar level. It is also needed to break down the glucose ingested with food when it reaches the muscles and liver and to metabolise any excess glucose stored in fat.
Type-II diabetes is a true civilisation disease, even though its causes have to this day not been identified. The main triggers are excess weight and lack of exercise.
Quality of life in spite of diabetes
Even today, diabetes is still incurable. However, there is scarcely any other disease where the patients themselves can do so much towards their own well-being. Early diagnosis, correct diet, exercise, the right medication and information on how to deal with the disease can help patients control the symptoms and reduce the risk of secondary effects.
How to recognise diabetes
The two main symptoms of untreated diabetes are severe frequency of urination and excessive thirst. Should the blood sugar rise above a certain level, the kidneys begin to excrete sugar in the urine. To dissolve the sugar, large quantities of water are taken from the body - hence the raging thirst. Further signs of a lack of insulin are an unexplained weight loss - with no loss of appetite - and extreme tiredness coupled with a decrease in physical ability.
Learning to live with diabetes
It is estimated that there are 194 million people with diabetes worldwide. The diagnosis usually requires a change in the patient's lifestyle - above all, healthy nutrition takes centre stage. To be sure the patient can abide by it, this lifelong 'diet' should be tailored to suit the personal preferences, circumstances and needs of the diabetic. The feeling that the food is different or less enjoyable than that of non-diabetics should never arise in the first place, for, in reality, a diabetic's nutrition follows the rules of a modern, balanced diet and is good for everyone.
The three main aspects of treatment of diabetes are:
- An appropriate diet
- Physical exercise
- Medication (insulin or tablets)
Self-testing - an important record for therapy
A lifestyle that is right for a diabetic includes self-testing of the urine and blood sugar and keeping a reliable record of the results in a notebook. If necessary, the doctor can make adjustments to the therapy based on this information. Your doctor or your diabetes counsellor will explain how you can control your blood sugar level and how to curb any complications.
Weight-watching - the be-all and end-all of successful treatment
Almost all type-II people with diabetes are overweight. Eating sensibly and losing weight are the most important factors in the treatment. Medication can also be important. However, it is often possible to bring raised serum lipids and blood sugar levels back to normal with a steady loss of weight and healthy eating habits.
Enjoyment can be healthy
A diabetic diet is healthy, balanced and ample. It contains the right amount of complex carbohydrates for individual needs, an adequate amount of fibre and relatively little protein. There must be as little fat as possible, and then only with a high proportion of polyunsaturated. Finally there has to be sufficient vitamins and minerals and very little salt. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar, are to be avoided.
How to keep life sweet
Most people with diabetes find it difficult to cut out sweet foods. It is totally unnecessary to do so, since using sweeteners in place of sugar can lend the desired sweetness to many foods and drinks without increasing their energy content and without having any effect on the blood sugar level.
Watch out for those hidden calories
Thanks to sweeteners, it is not too difficult to cut out sugary foods and drinks, but do be careful with sugar substitutes such as Sorbitol, Xylitol and Isomalt, which are often used in confectionery and diet foods. Although they are 'sugar free', they are not carbohydrate free. It must be taken into account that every gram contains about 2.4 calories. In addition, sugar substitutes can - sometimes even in small amounts - cause flatulence and diarrhoea.
Exercise and sport
For type-II people with diabetes who are not being treated with insulin, physical exercise and playing sports are important factors in successful treatment. Using the muscles improves circulation, aids weight reduction and has a highly beneficial effect on the blood sugar level. Insulin-dependent people with diabetes can also benefit from sport and physical exertion, as long as their insulin level is well under control and ready in advance for the extra activity. All types of stamina training, during which the pulse rate is markedly raised for at least 20 minutes, are particularly effective.
Eat your way back to health
- Eat mainly complex carbohydrates, such as wholemeal products, potatoes, fruit and vegetables.
- Divide carbohydrate foods over several small meals a day.
- Eat less fat - a maximum of 30% of the total calorie count.
- Drink lots of fluids, but only the sugar-free kind, such as mineral water or 'light/ diet' drinks. Sweeten coffee and tea with sweeteners. Count the calories in fruit juice.
- Use calorie-free sweeteners in place of sugar.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Do not drink mixers, aperitifs or liqueurs that contain sugar.
- Treat yourself to a nutrition consultation and have a diet plan drawn up that is tailored to your individual needs and your favourite foods
Questions and help on the subject of diabetes
Diabetes UK Careline
Diabetes UK Careline provides support and information for people with diabetes. Trained counsellors are available to provide information to help you learn more about the condition and how to manage it.
How to contact Diabetes UK Careline:
Telephone: 0845 120 2960, Monday to Friday, 9.am – 5pm.
Diabetes UK Careline
For questions on the subject of diabetes, please use this link to Questions and Answers or contact us direct at our consumer service department: