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Diabetes UK sees increasing demand for support from those confused about diet and lifestyle

Despite around 4.5 million people in the UK living with diabetes, Diabetes UK says many people are still confused about how different foods or specific types of diets can affect the condition.

The charity says more people than ever are contacting them seeking advice about the link between diet and diabetes. Last year, its Helpline supported thousands of people, with diet and lifestyle advice being the most common reason for getting in touch.

Diabetes UK says its Helpline, which is manned by trained counsellors, is an ‘increasingly important’ service to help all people living with, at risk of or affected by diabetes to better understand how lifestyle can affect the condition.

Colette Marshall, Director of Operations for Diabetes UK, said: “Our Helpline provides a vital service to many; our counsellors were contacted more than 20,000 times last year by people looking for information and guidance. We’re seeing the number of calls about diet and lifestyle steadily increase, which highlights what a wide and growing issue this is.

“Questions can range from very broad issues about healthy eating in general to very specific questions about particular types of food and how they might affect someone’s diabetes. It’s far from a straightforward issue and can be very confusing, particularly for people who are newly diagnosed.”

Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight is known to reduce a person’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and some people with this type of diabetes may be able to manage their blood glucose levels simply by improving their diet. Food choices are also an important factor for people with Type 1 diabetes: different carbohydrate foods can affect blood glucose levels in different ways, which can make it difficult for people to manage their diabetes day-to-day.

In addition to managing blood glucose levels, people with all types of diabetes usually need to also manage their blood pressure and cholesterol levels to reduce their long-term risk of diabetes complications. This is why a healthy diet is important for everyone in managing their condition. 

Helen Wills’s daughter, Maddie, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years ago. Helen, who writes candidly about her family’s experience of living with diabetes on her blog, Actually Mummy, said: “Diabetes is so much more complicated than you imagine before you're diagnosed with it. Diet plays a massive part, but not always in the ways you'd expect. You assume that sugar is bad unless you're hypo, and that if you avoid sweet treats and take your insulin, everything should be quite simple. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Ask me if I'd rather give my daughter candy floss or pizza, and I'll come down on the side of the pink stuff every time. It's a simple sugar, so it's easy to predict, and as an occasional treat after a meal with insulin, we can manage it. Pizza, on the other hand, can cause me to be up all night with her, correcting a high glucose level. 

“At the end of the day, we're fans of the 'moderation' approach [and] make healthy choices. We do have to think hard about how and when she doses her insulin, but we've found that with careful attention to how her body responds to different foods, she can enjoy the same as her friends, in sensible amounts.”

Through its National Charity Partnership with Tesco and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Diabetes UK is working to support people with diabetes and their families, and help people understand the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.

The partnership has raised more than £21m since January 2015, which is helping Diabetes UK to keep its Helpline running and provide greater support to young people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and their families.

More widely, the National Charity Partnership between Diabetes UK, the BHF and Tesco is helping people to understand how diet can affect their risk of Type 2 diabetes. It is funding a series of healthy lifestyle clubs for families in six areas of the UK where such support is most needed [1]. These Make, Move & Munch Clubs enable families to learn more about how they can reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease through healthy eating and physical activity.

The clubs are part of a campaign by the partnership called Let’s Do This. It aims to raise greater awareness about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how it can reduce people’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease. So far, the campaign has helped to get around one million people more active, and thousands of families cooking nutritious meals from scratch.

Almost all of the money raised for the National Charity Partnership has been thanks to the efforts of Tesco colleagues. For their latest fundraising challenge, thousands of them are taking to the streets to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the biggest ever fundraising event in Tesco’s history. Find out more and follow their journey at www.thegreattescowalk.com