Rise of Diabetes in the U.K

August 14, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes prevalence in the U.K has surged over recent decades.
  • Multiple factors, including lifestyle changes and genetics, contribute to this increase.
  • Timely interventions, led by professionals like registered dietitian nutritionists, can help manage and potentially reverse certain types of diabetes.

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Diabetes is increasingly becoming a public health concern in the U.K., with rising numbers that indicate a significant shift in the nation's health landscape. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, my aim in this article is to shed light on the intricacies of this condition and the factors contributing to its escalation in the country.

Understanding Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way our bodies manage glucose, a form of sugar, in the blood. There are two primary types. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body doesn't produce insulin, a hormone needed to regulate blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is where the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to it, often linked to lifestyle factors.

The Extent of the Problem

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and the number of cases is on the rise, particularly in the United Kingdom. According to the National Diabetes Audit, the number of people living with diabetes in the UK has reached an all-time high, with over 4 million people currently diagnosed with the condition. This is a cause for concern, as diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure if not properly managed.

Contributing Factors to the Rise

  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to use insulin effectively.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and decreased insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of diabetes.
  • Unhealthy Diet: A diet high in processed foods, added sugars, and saturated fats can contribute to the development of diabetes. These foods can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and insulin resistance.
  • Genetics: Some people have a genetic predisposition to developing diabetes, which means that their risk of developing the condition is higher due to inherited factors.

The Role of Diet in Diabetes

Diet plays a pivotal role in diabetes, both as a contributor to and a potential solution for the condition. Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods can increase the risk, while unbalanced diets low in fibre and high in unhealthy fats can contribute to insulin resistance. On the other hand, a balanced, nutritious diet can help in preventing or even reversing the onset of type 2 diabetes.

  • Eating a balanced diet: A healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help to prevent and manage diabetes. This type of diet can help to maintain a healthy weight, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce inflammation.
  • Limiting added sugars: Consuming too much added sugar can increase the risk of developing diabetes. It is important to limit your intake of sugary drinks such as full sugar coke and lemonade and foods such as refined white bread, cakes, biscuits and sweets, 
  • Eating more fibre-rich foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and pulses, can help to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, which can help to improve blood sugar control.
  • Staying active: Regular physical activity is essential for preventing and managing diabetes. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Foods to eat :

  • Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, and other vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They can help to control blood sugar levels and provide essential nutrients.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread are high in fibre and can help to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream.
  • Lean protein: Fish, poultry ( eaten without skin), tofu, and legumes are great sources of lean protein that can help to control blood sugar levels and support muscle growth.
  • Healthy fats: Nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil are good sources of healthy fats that can help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.
  • Low-fat dairy: Milk, yoghurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium and protein to help stabilise blood sugar levels.
  • Herbs and spices: Adding herbs and spices to your meals can add flavour without adding sugar or salt. Some great options include cumin, turmeric, ginger, cilantro, basil, etc.

  • Whole fruits: Aim to eat the skin of whole fruits rather then in puree form or fruit juice. Apples, berries, oranges, and other fresh fruits are excellent choices for people with diabetes. They provide natural sweetness, fibre, and antioxidants.

Foods to eat in moderation when you have type two diabetes

  • Sweets and sugary treats: Ice cream, sweets and cake, and other high-sugar treats can cause blood sugar spikes and make it difficult to manage diabetes. Try opting for healthier sweet treats like fresh fruits,unsweetened yoghurt or lower sugar whole grain or oat based crackers. 
  • White bread and other refined carbohydrates: White bread, pasta,rice and other refined carbs can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for whole-grain versions and more beans and pulses. 
  • Fried foods: French fries, fried chicken, and other fried foods can be high in calories and unhealthy fats, making them a less-than-ideal choice for people with diabetes. Try baking, grilling, or steaming your food for a healthier alternative.Additionally only have takeaways in moderation.
  • Processed snacks: Look to make your own meals and snacks instead of buying them so you can control the sugar and salt content.
  • Alcohol in excess: Drinking alcohol in excess can raise blood sugar levels and interfere with diabetes management. It is recommended to drink in moderation or avoid it altogether.

How a Dietitian Can Help

Addressing diabetes, especially type 2, requires a comprehensive approach, particularly focusing on dietary habits. A registered dietitian nutritionist can offer guidance on creating balanced meal plans tailored to individual needs. They can also educate on the role of specific foods in managing blood sugar levels and suggest lifestyle interventions that complement dietary changes for optimal results. For a personalised plan to manage or reduce your risk of diabetes, consider booking a session with a dietitian on Stove.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can diet alone reverse type 2 diabetes?

Diet plays a crucial role, but it's often combined with other lifestyle changes. In some cases, significant dietary changes can lead to remission of type 2 diabetes.

Is the rise in diabetes specific to the U.K.?

No, many countries are seeing an increase, especially in type 2 diabetes, due to similar lifestyle and dietary changes.

Are children in the U.K. also seeing a rise in diabetes?

Yes, type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult-onset disease, is now being diagnosed in children, largely due to obesity and lifestyle factors.

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