This section answers some of the questions you might have about type 2 diabetes generally.
Q What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a long term medical condition that develops when the body becomes less able to turn glucose in the bloodstream into energy in the body cells. This happens because less insulin – a vital hormone produced in the pancreas – becomes available to process the glucose, or because the body becomes resistant to the insulin that’s produced. This leads to a surplus of glucose in the blood, which over time is very damaging to tissues: it increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, and can give rise to other complications with the kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and nerves. Because the complications can be very serious, it’s important to prevent type 2 diabetes developing if possible – and if not, to diagnose it early and to manage it carefully with lifestyle and medication.
Q Why have I got type 2 diabetes?
It may be that you are in a high-risk group for developing type 2 diabetes; the risk tends to get higher as we get older, and it also runs in families. Some ethnic groups, particularly South Asian people, are at higher risk than others. Gestational diabetes affects a small percentage of women during their pregnancy.
Other major risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese and having a sedentary lifestyle. You can check your Body Mass Index here; a BMI of over 25 counts as overweight, and over 30 is obese.
Waist measurement is also an indicator of risk: for a man, this means a waist of 37in (94cm) or more – or 35.5in (90cm) for South Asian men – or for a woman, a waist of 80cm (31.5in).
One myth to explode is that you haven’t got type 2 diabetes because you’ve eaten too much sugar.
The important thing to remember is that with the right approach to lifestyle and treatment, you can minimise the effects that type 2 diabetes might have on your overall health and wellbeing.
Q What is the right diet for type 2 diabetes?
It’s often said that people with type 2 diabetes don’t need a ‘special diet’: they should eat the same healthy diet that is recommended for everyone else. That is true, but the key word is ‘recommended’. It doesn’t mean you can eat exactly what everyone else does – because most people do not follow the healthy-eating guidelines! And it probably means that it would be wise to change the way you have been eating up to now.
The Eatwell plate sets out the guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet.
For people with type 2 diabetes, it’s especially important to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, sources of protein such as meat, fish, beans and eggs, and to include some healthy fats. You don’t have to give up sugar, but cutting down on fatty, sugary and salty foods is vital. Choose high-fibre carbohydrates rather than processed ones, and if you aim to lose weight, watching the total number of calories you eat is important, as is keeping an eye on portion sizes. There is no room for alcohol on the Eatwell plate, although very moderate drinking is not banned.
DiabetesChoices is designed to help you make sense of all this general information about healthy eating and to turn it into practical tips and ideas, so you’ll find more detail in other sections of the site.