Diabetes jargon buster

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Here are some brief definitions of words you will see quite often on Diabetes DietChoices. Follow the links for more information about each one where indicated.

The food group that includes starchy and sugary foods ranging from potatoes and wheat to table sugar. Most carbohydrates are digested to produce glucose, which is the body’s principal source of energy. Some carbohydrates are not digested but pass through the body as dietary fibre.

Carbohydrate counting

Some people whose diabetes is treated with insulin count the grams of carbohydrate in foods to match the amount they eat with the insulin they need. People with Type 2 diabetes generally do not need to be so precise, although it’s important to be aware of how much carbohydrate they are eating, and what kind it is.


The body’s main source of energy, glucose is a sugar produced by the digestion of carbohydrates in the diet and is transported in the blood to every cell in the body. Keeping your blood glucose level steady and within normal limits is one of the main aims of treatment for Type 2 diabetes.

Glycaemic index (GI)

A measure of how quickly or slowly the glucose from different types of carbohydrate-rich foods are released into the blood.

Glycaemic load (GL)

Similar to GI, but also takes into account the amount of carbohydrate in a food as well as the speed of glucose release.


Haemoglobin A1c is the part of a red blood cell that has glucose attached to it. The HbA1c test measures the average level of glucose in the blood during the previous two to three months and so is more accurate than a one-off test.


A state of having too much glucose in the blood, which in diabetes can lead to short term crises such as ketoacidosis (see below) and long term is very dangerous to health. Avoiding hyperglycaemia is one of the main aims of treatment for Type 2 diabetes.


A state of having too little glucose in the blood, which can affect people with diabetes in different ways, ranging from a general feeling of being unwell or tired to blackouts or coma.  People whose Type 2 diabetes is treated with diet do not generally get hypoglycaemia; it is more likely with some forms of medication and insulin treatment .


The essential hormone produced in areas of the pancreas called the Islets of Langerhans that controls the release of glucose into cells in the body. People with Type 1 diabetes who do not produce their own insulin must inject it several times each day, or use an insulin pump. Insulin cannot currently be taken orally as it would be digested before it is needed.

Insulin resistance

People with Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes produce plenty of insulin but develop a resistance to it, which means it is less effective in controlling their blood glucose. This can be improved with lifestyle changes and with drugs, but over time, insulin injections may also be needed.

Type 1 diabetes

About 15 per cent of people with diabetes in the UK haveType 1. It is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s defences destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. At present it cannot be predicted, prevented or cured and it often affects children, which is why it used to be known as ‘juvenile diabetes’. It is always treated with insulin.

Type 2 diabetes

Most people with diabetes have Type 2. It is a condition in which the body produces less insulin than necessary, or the insulin it does produce is less effective than it should be. Having the right diet and exercise, and being a healthy weight, are all vital parts of the treatment as they can all influence the insulin balance. Drugs and, for some people, insulin can also be required. Some people are more at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than others but lifestyle often plays a big part. This means that many cases of Type 2 can be predicted, prevented and, with the proper treatment, halted in their tracks, but once it has developed, not completely cured.

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