What is diabetes?
Diabetes is characterised by a high blood glucose level, due to the body losing its ability to properly use glucose. When blood glucose levels remain elevated without being regulated or treated, it can cause serious health complications to all parts of the body such as the kidneys, eyes, heart, feet and nerves.
There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2, as well as other variations of the condition such as gestational diabetes (during pregnancy), maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), and neonatal diabetes.
Having your glucose tested through a health check is a simple and easy way to gain an indication of your blood glucose levels.
How diabetes develops – The key and lock system
Insulin is generally described as the ‘key’ to unlocking the door on the body’s cells to allow glucose through to be used as fuel. It helps transport glucose from your blood into your cells. When this system does not work, the glucose stays put and blood glucose levels are therefore elevated.
In Type 1 diabetes, there is no insulin (the key) being produced. This is a result of the body attacking itself and destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It is an auto-immune condition and is not linked to lifestyle factors.
With Type 2 diabetes, the insulin we produce is either not enough, or we have become resistant to its effects. So the ‘key’ is there but is unable to unlock the door properly, and/or the ‘key’ is there but the lock is broken.
About 90% of diabetes cases are Type 2, and nearly 60% of all cases can be delayed or prevented through lifestyle choices such as healthy nutrition and physical activity habits.
Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes:
- Obesity & carrying excess body fat (linked to insulin resistance)
- Inactive lifestyle
- Unhealthy diet
- High blood pressure & cholesterol
- Previously having gestational diabetes
- Close family history of Type 2 diabetes
Top tips for preventing Type 2 diabetes:
Among our lifestyle behaviours, two of the biggest factors in preventing the development of Type 2 diabetes are our nutritional and physical activity/exercise habits.
Glucose is our main fuel source, which comes largely from our carbohydrate intake.
If we use the fuel terminology, a good way of thinking about regulating our fuel (blood glucose levels) throughout the day comes back to the quality (nutrient density) and quantity (portion sizes) of the fuel we consume.
Foods that are high in protein and fibre are linked to greater feelings of fullness, and a reduced chance of overeating over the course of the day.
Top nutrition tips:
- Choose high fibre wholemeal and grain varieties of carbohydrates when possible rather than the refined, white versions of rice, pasta, bread and cereals.
- Include sources of protein such as chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, chickpeas, lentils, and beans to help increase protein and fibre intake.
- Moderate your portions: Even if it is a ‘healthy’ dish, a large serving can still contribute too many calories, cause an increase in your blood glucose levels and lead to weight gain. Particularly keep an eye on the amount of carbohydrate per meal if you are having issues with controlling your blood glucose levels.
- Limit high-calorie foods and beverages that can contribute to increases in body fat mass to occasional treats, not everyday choices.
- Plan ahead: it’s much easier to incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle with some planning in advance. Make a list of healthier meal and snack options before you hit the supermarket and stick to it (and avoid food shopping on an empty stomach!)
We know that exercising helps burn excess body fat, but when we move, our muscle contractions also play a role in helping glucose pass from the bloodstream into the cells to use as fuel in the same way that insulin does. It also increases our sensitivity to insulin, increasing our ability further to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and into our cells in the hours and days following exercise, helping to keep blood glucose levels within the ideal range.
Exercising at a moderate intensity (something that increases your heart rate and breathing rate above a normal level) requires greater use of glucose as a fuel to help us workout, which is why the national guidelines for exercise include at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise and physical activity, in blocks of at least 10 minutes or more to gain a health benefit.
Examples of moderate intensity exercise:
- Brisk walking
- Strength training
- Recreational sports
So we really need to focus on ways to make our days a lot more active and make some food swaps to ensure we are taking on the right fuels in the right amounts so as not to lead to significant increases in body fat mass or spikes in blood glucose levels.
Look at your weekly routine; can you spot an opportunity or window to build in some extra exercise or increase your daily activity time?
If you would like more information on diabetes, and in particular diabetes week, please head to Diabetes UK, or to gain a further insight into knowing your own diabetes risks through personal lifestyle and health assessments, please Contact Us via our website, email us email@example.com or call 0800 170 1777.