If UK’s leading diabetes charity wants better care for diabetics, it should start by getting its own house in order

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Baroness Barbara Young is the chief executive of the UK’s largest diabetes charity – Diabetes UK. She’s been on the warpath recently, calling the UK Government out on a ‘lack of political will’ to do something about substandard testing and care of those with diabetes. Baroness Young has this week performed something of a media blitz, appearing on radio and television to raised awareness regarding the plight of those with diabetes. Here’s an except from an item about this that appears on Diabetes UK’s own website.

Health professionals are constantly telling us how frustrated they are about the constraints the system places on them and we want the Government and the NHS to give them the tools they need to provide the excellent care that people with diabetes deserve. It is time to stop just talking the talk on diabetes healthcare and start walking the walk.

I don’t have any issue with Baroness Young’s desire for those with diabetes to receive the best care possible. But, if she really would like more of us to ‘walk the walk’, then I suggest she starts with some of the dietary advice dispensed by her own charity.

Here’s a link to Diabetes UK’s ’10 steps to eating well’. Some of the advice is good, but one piece of advice is especially bad, I think. It is this:

2. At each meal include starchy carbohydrate foods
Examples include bread, pasta, chapatis, potatoes, yam, noodles, rice and cereals. The high fibre varieties of starchy foods will also help to maintain the health of your digestive system and prevent problems such as constipation. The amount of carbohydrate you eat is important in controlling your blood glucose levels.

My objection is this: diabetics’ primary problem is that they tend to run blood sugar levels that are too high, and this can lead to complications such as eye disease and blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and the need for amputation. Proper regulation of blood sugar is important. Why then, would diabetics be advised to include foods at every meal which are known to be generally disruptive for blood sugar?

What important nutrients in starchy foods such as bread, rice and pasta that cannot be gained more healthily elsewhere? Answer: there are none. The advice tells us that:

The amount of carbohydrate you eat is important in controlling your blood glucose levels.


And Diabetes UK are bang on the money here. The more carbohydrate people eat, the higher blood sugar levels tend to be, and the greater the need for medication and likelihood of complications. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have seen dramatic improvements in their blood sugar control and need for medication by cutting back on or cutting out starchy carbohydrate from their diets. The effects are consistent and predictable.

If Baroness Young wants diabetes sufferers to get better care, I reckon she should start with getting her own house in order.

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