Diabetes frequently asked questions

Read the FAQs below to find out more about diabetes, including the main symptoms, how to eat healthier with diabetes and whether sugar causes the condition.

1. What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a long term condition that affects the body’s ability to process sugar or glucose. Consequently, the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood becomes too high, because the body cannot use it properly. In the long term this can lead to circulatory and heart problems, kidney disease and blindness.

There are 2 types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

2. What are the different types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body doesn’t produce insulin, a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes usually appears in people under 40, most often in childhood. It is treated by insulin injections, improving diet and increasing physical activity.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It develops when the body does not produce enough insulin, or when the body fails to respond properly to the insulin that is produced.

Type 2 diabetes usually appears in people over 40 who may be overweight or doing little or no exercise. It’s usually treated by diet alone, or by diet and medication.

3. How many people have diabetes?

There are around 3.5 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK. Around 10% of these people have type 1 diabetes and 90% have type 2 diabetes. About 549,000 people have diabetes but don’t know about it. It’s estimated that by 2025 five million people will have diabetes.

4. What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Needing to go to the toilet more often, particularly at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of cuts and wounds
  • Genital itching

The signs and symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are not always obvious, as the condition develops slowly over a period of years. So it’s important that you visit your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

For more information visit the Diabetes UK website: diabetes.org.uk or call their Careline on: 0345 123 2399. Scotland: 0141 212 8710.

5. I have diabetes. What should I eat?

If you have type 2 diabetes, a balanced diet and active lifestyle will help control your blood glucose levels. Choosing foods sensibly and adopting healthier eating habits will help you manage your diabetes and help protect your long-term health.

Read our tips for healthier eating with diabetes.

Diabetes UK advise that there is no need to buy special diabetic foods. Diabetic foods will still affect your blood glucose levels and they can contain just as much fat and calories as the ordinary versions, if not more.

What’s most important is achieving a healthy weight, choosing a healthy balanced diet and leading an active lifestyle. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain) and be low in fat (particularly saturated fat) and salt. Adults and children over the age of five should follow the Eatwell plate guidelines for healthier eating.

6. Can I eat sugar and sugary foods if I have diabetes?

Yes, sugar does not need to be totally excluded from your diet. Sugar intake should be limited as part of any balanced diet, and good blood glucose control can still be achieved when diabetics eat sugary foods in limited amounts. However, eating a lot of sugar and fatty foods can make it easy to consume more calories than you burn, leading to weight gain, which can increase your risk of other diseases such as heart disease.

Read more tips for healthier eating with diabetes

7. What does Sainsbury’s do to help those with diabetes?

We are committed to making all our own-brand food and drinks healthier, by reducing calories, saturated fat and sugar and increasing nutrients such as fibre.

In line with advice from Diabetes UK, we do not make products specifically for people with diabetes. If you are looking for ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘no added sugar’ products to help you follow a balanced diet, look out for our blue ‘reduced sugar’ and ‘no added sugar’ labeling on our Sainsbury’s Own Brand products. Our reduced sugar products, such as our reduced sugar jam and squashes have at least 30% less sugar than our standard Own Brand products.

We also provide informative nutrition labelling on our Own Brand products, showing the amount of carbohydrate and sugar a product contains, to help type 1 diabetics ‘carbohydrate count’.

Front of pack multiple traffic light labelling indicates whether the product is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in sugar per portion, providing you with at-a-glance nutrition information.

For more information and lots of useful hints and tips, download our guide to diabetes