Type 2 diabetes and food: most frequently asked questions

We receive a large number of questions from people of African and Caribbean origin or heritage living with diabetes. Here are some of the most common questions related to Type 2 diabetes and food.

This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Joan St Joan, General Practitioner with a Special Interest in Diabetes. 

Some people talk about ‘a touch of sugar’, what is it?

Saying that someone has ‘a touch of sugar’ or that they have ‘mild diabetes’ is not an accurate way to describe their condition. It can also be misleading, and give the impression that they do not require medical oversight. 

Diabetes is a serious condition. Diabetes can cause serious complications to the eyes, kidneys, feet, nerves, brain and heart and other parts of the body, so we should not call it mild, or a ‘touch of sugar’. Becoming blind, losing a toe or a limb, having an on-going foot ulcer that does not heal for months is devastating for the person living with diabetes and can also affect their livelihood, their social life and mental health and that of their families. That is why it is so important to take the diabetes seriously.
The good news is that studies show that if diabetes is well looked after, the chances of developing these complications are very much less.

Can you only get diabetes by eating sugary foods?

Often people used to call diabetes ‘sugar’ and so confusion has arisen that it is eating sugar alone that causes diabetes -we are talking here about Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes results when a number of factors come together, and for each individual the effect of each element can differ.

Some of the main things that can come together to cause Diabetes are usually:

  • Family history: if someone in your family has it, it makes it more likely that you could develop it;
  • Being overweight and having too much body fat: for the Black community recent studies have shown that what is considered overweight ( with regards to body mass index) is different to that for other communities. We are gaining an understanding that each community may have a different critical weight that increases their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The latest evidence that we have available suggests that this is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of around 28Kg/m2 for people of African, African-Caribbean/ African-American origin;
  •  Unhealthy eating (including ultra processed foods) which can cause increase in weight and body fat;
  •  Not enough physical activity;
  •  Age: as we get older, we are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

There are other factors but these are some of the main ones.

When I’m taking diabetes medications, can I eat as I like?

Diabetes medication is there to work alongside all the other things you would do to look after your diabetes and your health. Examples include eating healthily, being active, having regular checks, getting enough sleep and trying to reduce stress. If you don’t carry on trying to do all of those things while taking medication, then you don’t give the medication the best chance to work for you, and it will be more difficult to make progress.

There are many diabetes treatment options that can be offered to you, so please do discuss medication with your local diabetes specialist team. Some medicines can help with weight loss, improve blood glucose levels, or protect against complications associated with the heart and kidney.

Do only ‘fat’ people get diabetes?

It seems that with regards to Type 2 diabetes, we may all have a critical amount of fat in our bodies and as individuals what is ‘too much’ fat may differ from person to person. It is not the case that only ‘fat’ people get diabetes. This idea may have arisen because we know that being overweight increases your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, but this is not the case for every individual as there are other factors that can play a part (see here)

Can I cure my diabetes by eating herbs and taking traditional (native) remedies?

People have used ‘natural’ remedies for lots of conditions throughout the world, and although there are some herbs and natural remedies that can have an effect on blood glucose levels, they have not been shown to cure diabetes. If traditional medicines are used, they should be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyles (see some examples of healthy behaviours here), and importantly informing your healthcare team. Monitoring your blood glucose levels and getting regular health checks, as well as being aware of the effects of traditional remedies is also very important.

Is the Keto diet good for reversing diabetes?

Early intervention at the onset of Type 2 diabetes offers a better chance of attaining Type 2 diabetes remission.

The best way to think of it is like an elastic string: if pulled apart for a long period of time it loses it’s elastic ability to bounce back, but if for a short period it can go back to normal state.

The longer an individual remains in a high state of glucose (sugar) in the blood, the more likely they are to develop diabetes complications, and less likely they are to achieve Type 2 diabetes remission (long-term normal blood sugar levels without using diabetes medication).

The best diet plan is the one you can sustain and be happy with for the long-term and that will become your new long-term normal.

Ketosis diet can help some people with managing diabetes, however it is always best to discuss your diet plans with your local diabetes specialist, so other factors can be considered in helping you decide and design the diet plan that is safe and best suited to your lifestyle and other health considerations that you may have.

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