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Making patients aware that healthy eating can prevent diabetes

A survey Diabetes UK has just conducted shows that most of us (59%) now know someone with type 2 diabetes. Yet most people would ignore four out of six symptoms of diabetes (thrush, fatigue, increased urination and extreme thirst).

Diabetes is the fastest growing health threat. There are 3.6 million people in the UK who have been diagnosed with the condition. Around 11.9 million adults are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes but do not even know it. Its impact and complications can be devastating, causing blindness, amputations, even early death.

Simple lifestyle changes such as eating a balanced diet, including eating more fruit and vegetables and getting more exercise, are an important part of managing all types of diabetes and can reduce the risk of serious long-term complications.

A healthy lifestyle can also massively reduce risk of developing type 2 diabetes. We know that obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, with two in three people in the UK being overweight or obese. Three in five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active.

In a survey we did to promote our ‘Food you love’ healthy eating campaign, the results found that 66% of adults eat three or fewer portions of fruit or vegetables a day — well below the recommended five portions — and 46% will eat any fruit at least three days a week.

These results are a huge cause for concern because a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, including people living with diabetes.

As healthcare professionals talking on a daily basis to people dealing with a wide variety of health concerns, pharmacists are ideally placed to offer useful advice to people who might be struggling with getting a balanced, healthy diet.

Being familiar with general healthy eating principles, as set out in the government’s Eatwell Guide, is a great start for pointing people in the right direction. 

Getting portion sizes right is key. Our survey also found that three-quartera of us do not know what constitutes a recommended portion of vegetables, and two-thirds of people were not able to identify a portion of fruit (both of which are 80g, that is equivalent to three heaped tablespoons of vegetables or a handful of fruit like an apple or pear).

It is worth bearing these points in mind:

  • Everyone should eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables each day;
  • A portion of fruit is equal to a fist-sized/handful piece of fruit such as a medium apple, or two small fruits such as apricots;
  • One portion of vegetables is three tablespoons of cooked vegetables, or two spears of broccoli.

If pharmacists meet someone looking for specific advice on food, especially in the context of medical conditions, referring them to a dietitian would be the best course of action.

Every day we get questions from people living with diabetes asking for advice from our experts about what they can or cannot eat.

Enjoying what you eat is one of life’s pleasures, but when it comes to healthy eating, sometimes we all need a bit of inspiration to get us started.

Anyone who wants some new ideas could try our tasty recipes for the food we love, but healthier. They can sign up to receive free recipe videos and more at www.diabetes.org.uk/feelgood-food before 30 July 2017.

Kathryn Kirchner

Clinical Advisor

Diabetes UK

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist DOI: 10.1211/CP.2017.20203002

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