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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Summer eating and diabetes

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Now the weather’s nicer and the evenings are longer, we’re often eating and drinking outside – enjoying barbecues, picnics, parties, festivals and days out at the beach with family and friends.

But for people with diabetes, summer eating and drinking presents a few challenges – from how to tackle being confronted by an array of tempting but unhealthy food, to dealing with fluctuations in your blood glucose levels caused by the heat.

It goes without saying that having diabetes doesn’t stop you enjoying parties, barbecues and festivals, but if you want to manage your diabetes well, here are our top tips and healthy swaps... 

In the heat

  • If you use insulin, it will be absorbed more quickly from the injection site in warm weather. This increases the risk of hypos, so test your levels more often.
  • Insulin is damaged in the heat, so keep it in the fridge or a cool bag, making sure it doesn’t freeze. You can buy portable insulin protectors from our online shop.
  • The heat can also affect your blood glucose meter and test strips. Keep them as close to normal room temperature as possible and out of direct sunlight. Don’t keep them in the fridge as cold temperatures can also lead to misleading results.
  • If you have neuropathy, you may not be aware when your feet are burning, so apply sunscreen and wear flip-flops on hot ground.

Being less active

  • If you are sitting around at a barbecue, picnic or party and are normally active, this could affect your diabetes control and make your blood glucose levels higher than usual. So test regularly and be ready to adjust what you eat or the amount of insulin you need to take.

Change of routine

  • If the timing of the barbecue means you’ll be having lunch or dinner later than usual, you will generally be able to delay your mealtime insulin dose until food is ready. However, you may need to have a carb-containing snack, such as a piece of fruit, a pot of yogurt or bread especially if you are on twice-daily insulin injections. This will help to prevent a hypo. 

Keep hydrated

  • In hot weather, you are at risk of dehydration, so drink plenty of water, no added sugar squashes and diet drinks. If you are drinking alcohol, keep to safe drinking guidelines, alternate with non-alcoholic drinks and use sugar-free mixers.

Eating

  • Most of us, whatever type of diabetes we have, are trying to keep an eye on our weight and a barbecue or picnic often means there’s a huge variety of food and an abundance of alcohol on offer – much of which isn’t healthy or what we usually eat. This can mean we relax our healthy eating resolve and are more likely to reach for the crisp bowl and more alcohol… Psychologist Dr Jen Nash, who has Type 1 diabetes, has advice on how to keep in control of your eating and drinking.  
  • If you have type 1 diabetes and are carb counting, you may find it useful to read up on the carb content of carb-containing foods that are likely to be served at the party. Check the food labels when you get there, but if food is not packaged, resources like our Carb and Cals Guide – or an app on your phone might be useful. This advice is also helpful for people with type 2 diabetes who are keeping an eye on diet, too. 
  • Don’t forget that the fatty foods served at barbecues, eg some dips, mayonnaise, crisps and fatty meats, can slow down the absorption of carbohydrate into your blood stream, so take this into consideration when working out your insulin doses and when to inject.
  • Try not to graze all day long or you’ll never feel satisfied and may end up eating more than you realise. 
  • Take a plate and pile half of it with tasty salad veg and dress with a lower-fat dressing. One option is to divide the other half in two between protein – in the form of meat or vegetarian alternatives – and carbs, such as pasta or bread. You can purchase a plate from our online shop, which gives you guidance on portion sizes.  
  • Some people find it useful to gauge their portion sizes using their hand. As a guideline, a suggested portion of cooked meat would be the size of a clenched hand or for fats the size of your thumb. 

Healthier swaps

Whether you’re at a barbecue or a picnic, knowing how to make clever choices and swaps will mean significant savings on fat, sugar and calories.

Barbecue food

Top tips for healthier barbecue food. 

Burger/kebabs

A barbecued, grilled beef quarter pounder has nearly three times the amount of calories compared with a Quorn burger, and a chicken kebab is an even better choice. 

  • Beef burger (114g): 240 Kcal; 17g fat
  • Quorn burger (50g): 78 Kcal; 3.7g fat
  • Barbecued grilled chicken kebab (48g): 78 Kcal; 1.7g fat

Bread rolls

Save calories and carbs by having a ‘skinny’ burger, and only eating the bottom half of the roll. You could also top it up with a barbecued Portobello mushroom.

  • 1 white seeded bread roll: 240 Kcal; 42.9g carbs

Mayo

Save over half the amount of calories and fat by switching from ordinary mayo to a reduced-fat version.

  • 1 tbsp standard mayonnaise: 100 Kcal; 11g fat
  • 1 tbsp reduced-fat mayonnaise: 40 Kcal; 4g fat

Potato salad

Save over half the fat and nearly half the calories by switching from a standard potato salad to the reduced-fat version.

  • 2 tbsp standard potato salad: 180 Kcal; 14.2g fat
  • 2 tbsp reduced-fat potato salad: 110 Kcal; 6g fat

Coleslaw

Big calorie and fat savings can be made by switching from the deluxe coleslaw to a reduced-fat version.

  • 2 tbsp deluxe coleslaw: 248 Kcal; 25.6g fat
  • 2 tbsp reduced-fat coleslaw: 78 Kcal; 6.3g fat

Cheese slices

By swapping sliced, processed cheese to the reduced-fat version, you can save over half the amount of fat and some calories. If you have several slices, the savings will soon add up.

  • 1 slice processed cheese: 50 Kcal; 3.3g fat
  • 1 slice reduced-fat processed cheese: 34 Kcal; and 1.5g fat

A can of cola drink

Swap a regular ‘full fat’ can of cola drink for the diet version and save a significant number of calories and carbs (sugar).  

  • 1 x 330ml can regular coke: 139 Kcal; 35g carbs; 35g sugar
  • 1 x 330ml can diet coke: 1 Kcal; 0g carbs; 0g sugar 

Picnic food

Top tips for a healthier picnic lunch. 

Swap a bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) on malted brown bread for a reduced-fat chicken and bacon sandwich and save over 100 calories and more than two-thirds of the amount of fat. 

  • A standard BLT: 454 Kcal; 19.6g fat
  • Reduced-fat chicken and bacon sandwich: 314 Kcal; 5.8g

Crisps

You can make calorie and fat savings with a simple swap. Popcorn can save you more calories.

  • 25g standard packet of crisps: 130 Kcal; 7.6g fat
  • 25g baked packet of crisps: 102 Kcal; 2g fat 
  • 11g lightly salted popcorn: 58 Kcal; 3.4g fat

Smoothies

Swapping a fruit smoothie for a glass of no added sugar squash will save you a considerable amount of calories, carbs and sugar.

  • 250ml raspberry and blackcurrant smoothie: 114 Kcal; 26.3g carbs; 20.6g sugars
  • 250ml blackcurrant no-added sugar squash: 5 Kcal; 0.6g carbs and 0.6g sugars 
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