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Eat your way towards a healthier life

We all know our diet plays an important role in our health, but the nutritional advice for healthy people does not necessarily apply to someone who suffers from an illness.

Perhaps they have to omit certain foods that exacerbate their symptoms, or eat more of others that can offer some relief. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or arthritis by your GP, you can do more than take medication -- simple dietary changes can increase your quality of life. If you are already following a diet provided by your GP, then it is important to consult him or her before making any additional changes.


Diabetes occurs when there is too much sugar (glucose) in your blood. A hormone called insulin is normally produced in the pancreas, which allows glucose in food to be removed from the blood and used by the body for energy.

The diet recommended for those with diabetes doesn't really differ from a normal, healthy diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt, with a lots of fruit and vegetables, fibre and carbohydrates -- however, the consequences of not eating the right foods can lead to larger health issues.

Eating regular meals without skipping any will help control your appetite and blood-glucose levels. Starchy carbohydrate foods (like bread, pasta, rice, noodles and potatoes) provide energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and should be consumed at each meal. This will also help to control blood-glucose levels. Choose high-fibre varieties, as these aid digestion and are absorbed slower.

Sugary drinks cause blood-glucose levels to rise quickly, so opt for sugar-free, no-added-sugar or diet fizzy drinks and replace sugar with sweeteners. Too many high-fat foods will cause weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease, so cutting down on fat (particularly saturated fat like fatty and processed meats, pastry, crisps, chocolate, cake, biscuits and full-fat dairy products) is essential.

Eating your five-a-day of fruit and veg is important, but make sure your fruit portions are spread evenly throughout the day to avoid high blood-glucose levels. Increased amounts of pulses (beans, peas and lentils) can help control blood-glucose levels and can help reduce blood fats.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS can develop when the natural rhythm of the bowel is upset. Symptoms can vary but are usually worse after eating, and common ones include alternating constipation and diarrhoea, stomach pain or discomfort, bloating and wind. The cause of IBS is unknown, but it may be linked to stress, anxiety or depression. It can also happen after a stomach upset or taking antibiotics, when there can be a change of bacteria in the bowel. Eating regularly without missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating can alleviate symptoms. Try to eat small, regular meals, take time to relax during meal times, chew food well and avoid overeating. You should drink eight to 10 glasses of fluid each day, especially water, and restrict alcohol and fizzy drinks. Tea and coffee should be limited to three cups a day.

There are two main types of fibre: insoluble fibre -- a coarse, bulky fibre found in wholemeal bread, bran, high-fibre cereals, and skins of fruit and veg; and soluble fibre -- a gel-like fibre found in oats, pulses, fruit and vegetables. IBS sufferers should adjust their fibre intake according to the effect it has on their symptoms.

If you suffer from constipation, gradually introduce more foods high in both soluble and insoluble fibre into your diet. If you eat a high-fibre diet, this may aggravate diarrhoea, so avoid Sorbitol (an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free or 'diet' sweets and drinks), and limit foods that have been processed or re-cooked (cold or re-heated potatoes, oven chips, crisps, fried rice, dried pasta, cereal products containing modified starch -- like cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, and partly baked or preheated bread).

If your symptoms include bloating or wind, then reducing insoluble fibre can offer relief. Limit fruit and veg to three portions a day, and include more insoluble fibre and linseeds. Gradually build from one teaspoon a day to one tablespoon a day of linseed, and limit foods that have been processed or re-cooked, as above.