There are an estimated 5 million people living with diabetes in the UK, yet we know it's a complex disease and there are still many misconceptions about it. Is sugar the enemy, can a healthy lifestyle prevent it, and how can we maintain a healthy diet given the high prices of food at the moment? It seems the cheaper options are always the more processed. So keep reading, to boost your diabetes awareness and get the low-down on budget-friendly healthy eating tips.
Diabetes UK estimates in 2022, 4.3 million people in the UK live with diabetes and an additional 850,000 people could be living with diabetes who are yet to be diagnosed. Around 8% of this figure refers to those living with Type 1, compared to 90% living Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is more complex than Type 2 but a healthy lifestyle and diet contributes to managing both (less so for Type 1) and even preventing Type 2 developing, which this blog will focus on.
Is sugar the enemy?
While it is a common misconception, consuming too much sugar alone does not directly cause diabetes. However, a high-sugar diet can contribute to weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. It's important to understand that the development of diabetes is influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and overall diet.
When we consume sugary foods and beverages, our blood sugar levels rise. Over time, consistently high blood sugar levels can put a strain on the body's insulin production and function. Insulin is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, and when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn't produce enough, it can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
It's important to remember that not all sugars are created equal though. Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables, for example, are accompanied by fibre and other beneficial nutrients that can help regulate blood sugar levels. But added sugars found in processed foods and sugary beverages should be consumed in moderation to maintain a healthy diet.
In fact, processed food itself can contribute to diabetes, and feeling generally unwell from physically sluggish right after a meal, to emotionally volatile, mentally drained and even disrupting your sleep. So reducing our processed intake wouldn’t be a bad idea for any of us!
But when we’re conscious of eating well and our spending habits, navigating the supermarket aisles, making dinner plans and choosing something for lunch every day (and the rest) ain’t easy.
Here's how to avoid processed foods when you're on a tight budget:
Shop the perimeter of the supermarket:
Did you know processed foods tend to be found in the inner aisles of supermarkets? While the perimeter is usually home to fresh produce, meats, and dairy products. Focus on shopping from the perimeter, to encourage you to choose healthier, less processed options. If late-night shopping is an option for you, fresh items that will expire soon are reduced in the evenings which can be frozen and used for longer, so you can save even more money.
Opt for Frozen Fruits and Vegetables:
Frozen fruits and vegetables are often more affordable than fresh produce, and do retain their nutritional value. They can be a great alternative when fresh options are expensive or out of season. Just make sure to choose plain frozen fruits and vegetables without added sauces or seasonings.
Read Labels Carefully:
When you do purchase packaged foods, take the time to read the ingredient list and nutrition label - some of those 'healthy' options have some sneaky ingredients in them. Avoid products with a long list of artificial ingredients, additives, and excessive amounts of sugar or sodium. Opt for things with minimal and recognisable ingredients - as much as possible.
Meal Plan and Prep:
Planning meals in advance can avoid last-minute processed food purchases when we’re feeling lazy or uninspired. Batch cooking and meal prepping on weekends can save you time and money throughout the week. You could portion out meals into individual containers, so you have healthy options readily available.
Buy in bulk:
Buying staple items in bulk can help you save money in the long run. Your cupboard staples like rice, oats, beans, and nuts can be bought in larger quantities and stored for extended periods. You could even consider joining a wholesaler.
Remember, eating healthy on a budget is all about making smart choices and prioritising whole, unprocessed foods. With a little planning and creativity, you can enjoy nutritious meals without breaking the bank.
But we understand that we can’t always eat well, even the most organised and creative of us have days where they head to those golden arches instead of cooking at home, or settle for a pot noodle for lunch all the while knowing it could’ve been a meal prep rice noodle salad - but it ain’t. Don’t beat yourself up, and remember the key is balance, not perfection.