Blood testing for people with diabetes

3 readings

I was rather concerned to hear today that there are more than 3.3 million people with diabetes in the UK – an increase of nearly 60% in the last decade. There’s a clear link between Type 2 diabetes and bad diet, and it worries me that many youngsters have unhealthy diets which could lead to them getting this disease.

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 35 years. The perfect balanced diet for me – plenty of fruit and vegetables, but low in fat and avoiding highly refined carbohydrates (and especially sugar), is a good one for everyone to follow. I am very well aware of the consequences of not having a good diet – diabetes can cause blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and result in gangrene and amputations.

I’m writing this post to tell you about what I consider to be the one of the biggest things I’ve discovered to help people with diabetes in 35 years – the Freestyle Libre glucose monitor. Now I know exactly what is happening to my blood sugars 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The system involves me applying a sensor to the back of my arm:

Freestyle Libre Sensor

You wouldn’t normally see it, as even a short sleeved shirt will hide it. To check my glucose levels I merely hold the reader over where the sensor is.

Scanning glucose levels using Freestyle Libre monitor

In a second it shows the current glucose reading, the latest 8 hours of glucose data and a trend arrow showing if glucose levels are going up, down or changing slowly. The trend arrows are particularly useful – a reading of 4.1 and going up is within the normal range,  but a reading of 4.1 and going down could mean I’m about to go into a coma (if I don’t take any action).

I can see trends:

Daily graph of glucose levels from Freestyle Libre sensor

and already I’m changing my diet to improve my control.

If this sounds like a commercial, I can assure you I’ve received no money from the manufacturers. I think it’s an exceptionally well designed product, it’s very easy to use and there’s good support from the manufacturers (see the videos here).  My biggest complaint about this product is the cost (it costs me nearly £4 a day). I’m hoping the price will come down, as more people use it, and also that the NHS might provide some help – as I believe it’s helping me to avoid all those undesirable complications….

Web: http://www.freestylelibre.co.uk

Independents’ Day

Today (the 4th July) is Independents’ Day. I believe there’s another, similar sounding festival across the Herring Pond, but the one I’m talking of aims to help independent retailers and those who serve consumers to get and stay open for business!

How did I celebrate Independents’ Day? I visited Cheerbrook Farm Shop
The Marquee at Cheerbrook
my local independent farm shop. We’re very lucky where I live – I could have gone to many other excellent small independent traders.

Andrew and Sarah Shufflebotham opened this award winning shop 15 years ago, and it’s gone from strength to strength. Today we had a chance to meet many of their (local) suppliers. They all take a pride in what they do, and are even anxious for you to have a free sample, because they know you’ll enjoy it (and hopefully buy it again in future).

That’s the beauty of shopping local. They don’t have expensive transport costs (or blocking motorways) and if something isn’t perfect they’re keen to know how they could improve it! There are no expensive accountants (saying we can’t afford to do that) and marketing teams who are more about conning you, than informing you.

I enjoyed talking to their producers, and finding out how their products are made and also getting tips on how to serve them.
Local cheeses
Take Wrenbury Cider for instance. Paul and Gill Sweeney are producing Cheshire cider and helping preserve traditional English orchards. Their cider is made from traditional cider apples, grown on their own land just 7 miles away. It’s made with 100% apple juice (the big producers are allowed to use only 30% apple juice and still call it cider)! If you’re counting your (alcohol) units, it’s weaker than wine. It’s also packed full of flavour, without any nasty additives. We didn’t just discuss cider, I had to ask how their Cheshire Shropshire sheep were (they live in Cheshire, but the breed is Shropshire).

My wife didn’t come with me, as she needed to go Nantwich Market. That’s because we think London Road Bakery GI bread is fantastic (and good for your health). They also do amazing gingerbread – but always sell out (by about 8:30am)! However when you shop local you can build up a relationship with your suppliers (so there’s always a bag for our family, providing we’re there by 10:30am).

Similarly our wonderful fishmonger (Stuart Hornby in Nantwich Market), looked after me when I lost my job last year. He suggested cheaper fish (that also tasted great) and occasionally I’d find an extra “gift” in my shopping. I don’t remember getting that sort of treatment in the big multiples, just BOGOF’s of things I only wanted one of…

So that’s way I was only too happy to support Independents’ Day. It makes shopping a pleasure and not a chore!

Web: www.independentretail.co.uk

Why I don’t like foodbanks

Foodbank sign inviting donationsI’ve always felt uneasy about foodbanks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re run by kind and caring people – who care pasionately about some very vulnerable people. However, I watched an academic debate about foodbanks, and realised that I was right to have concerns.

I think it should be a basic human right to be able to have some choice about what you eat. I’m not talking about whether to have beluga caviar or foie gras (and I wouldn’t want to eat either). I’m talking about the right to choose my own basic food items. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if my diet consisted of items chosen by others.

The Trussell Trust, a Christian charity, is the main  organiser of foodbanks in this country. They are also the main source of information/statistics (which the debate I watched felt was a cause for concern). Their site shows nearly a million people were being helped last year:People helped by foodbanks

and I fear this figure is rising.

The Trussel Trust ask for donations of the following items:

  • Milk (UHT or powdered)
  • Sugar (500g)
  • Fruit juice (carton)
  • Soup
  • Pasta sauces
  • Sponge pudding (tinned)
  • Tomatoes (tinned)
  • Cereals
  • Rice pudding (tinned)
  • Tea Bags/instant coffee
  • Instant mash potato
  • Rice/pasta
  • Tinned meat/fish
  • Tinned fruit
  • Jam
  • Biscuits or snack bar

So where’s the fresh and healthy ingredients like fruit and vegetables? I realise why they’re not asking for these items – it’s not very practical for the operation they’re running.

So if you’re destitute, our society now thinks you should live on sugary processed goods (to help your health deteriorate)?

I have a particular problem with fruit juice:

Food Bank request for fruit juice
– because it includes the word “fruit” many people think it’s a healthy choice. As someone who has diabetes I know it makes my blood sugars soar (and crash) almost as fast as pure sugar. That leaves me feeling first tired and then irritable, and once your blood sugars become unstable it’s a job getting them right again.

The politicians like foodbanks, as they can pretend the problem is being dealt with – at no cost to them.

The supermarkets also love supermarkets, as it’s an opportunity to increase their sales and pretend they have a conscience! You see messages like “Buy an extra tin and leave it on the way out”. Wouldn’t it be better, from a logistics point of view, to ask for cash and buy exactly what was needed (in bulk from a cheaper supplier)?

In Each One of Us is Precious, Eddy Knasel talks about inequalities in pay, and how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. That article led me to read The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets…

So when politicians come knocking on my door, I’ll be asking them what they intend to do about food poverty – so that foodbanks, like slavery, can hopefully become part of our history.

Closed Shops

Closed sign on shop A report today, by the Local Data Company, tells us that one in five shops in the North are now empty.

I’m not surprised –  3 of the 10 towns with the highest vacancy rates:

  • Burslem 29.4%
  • Hanley 27.7%
  • Hartlepool 27.3%
  • West Bromwich 27.1%
  • Droylsden 26.8%
  • Morecambe 26.8%
  • Stoke 26.6%
  • Bootle 26.4%
  • Walsall 26.2%
  • Stockport 25.9%

are part of Stoke-on-Trent. This city has a wonderful heritage, but the traditional employers (coal mining, pottery, steel and making tyres) have more or less diasapeared. As a result the city is the 16th most deprived local authority area in England, with 29.9% of Stoke-on-Trent’s children classified as living in poverty.

Looking through the worst ten towns list, most are in the north. The survey shows one in five shops in the North are now empty, compared with one in 10 in the South, and social deprivation is part of the problem.

What’s the answer?

With more consumers shopping on-line and the growth of supermarkets some of this is inevitable. However there are things that can be done. The village of Saltaire in Yorkshire had a large mill that closed down. But now Salts Mill is a thriving tourist attraction with a gallery of David Hockney’s pictures. Saltaire village is a World Heritage Site, and as a result Saltaire has lots of thriving local independent shops (see here).

Burslem (which is top of the closed shop list with almost one in three shops closed) needs a bit of love and promotion. It’s got a wonderful Victorian park, fine statues of Sir Henry Doulton and Josiah Wedgwood, the wonderful Wedgwood Institute and how many other towns can boast three town halls? Fans of Arnold Bennett will love the Bursley Trail.

A big problem is poorer education in poorer areas. People in poor areas tend to eat less well and shop in supermarkets rather than local independents because they are perceived as more expensive. Do our children know their vegetables – and how to cook them to make cheap nutritious meals? No wonder greengrocers are disappearing and we’re all geting fatter!

I hope that those who are in a position to influence things will take note, and not adopt a “Let them eat cake” attitude – we all know what happened to the rich in the French revolution!

Farmers’ markets, and artisan markets, can help draw people to an area. The town I live in (Nantwich) has regular street entertainment and festivals etc and the town appears to be flourishing. Thankfully people’s shopping habits are changing, and many are abandoning the big shop at out of town supermarkets – which sucks money out of the area.

Lastly the onus is on you to help support local shops. Sometimes the supermarkets may be a few pence cheaper (but they’re good at conning you) and do you want your high street to look like this (taken in Anfield):

Retail shops closed down

Go on a diet – and lose ££££s!

diet

At this time of the year everyone seems to be on a diet! The word diet originally comes from the Greek word diaita, meaning “way of living”, but now many people seem to be in a permanent cycle of dieting and overeating!

There’s a long history of dieting.  One of the first dieticians was the English doctor George Cheyne who, in 1724 wrote An Essay of Health and Long Life. Then there was the Vinegar and Water Diet, made popular by Lord Byron in the 1820s.

However in Victorian times being obese was a way of showing you were financially successful, just think of all the corpulent characters like Mr Bumble in Dicken’s novels.  The picture below (from Wellcome Images) is an advert for the effectiveness of J. Morison’s pills (the aim of these dodgy medicines was to put on weight)

An obese man exhibiting a placard

Apparently according to this site, James Morrison (the quack doctor behind these pills) appealed to the general public because of the missionary like zeal in which he opposed “orthodox” medicine!

You’d think today, with all the information about nutrition, we’d know better.  However our waist bands are expanding:

Belly_of_an_obese_teenage_boy

and even kids are getting diseases like Type 2 diabetes (which traditionally affected just elderley people).

A whole industry has sprung up to give us quick fix pills and silly diets.  There’s that much confusion that people have forgotten the basics – the more you eat the more weight you’ll put on, and exercise helps you lose weight:

The relationship between calories, exercise and diet

The food industry haven’t helped, introducing sugar (and even worse fructose) into foods which don’t need it and over processing everything. Wholefoods help you to feel full, but most people don’t eat much.  Tasty vegetables, like turnips and swede, are out of fashion – but contain around 90% water (and there’s no calories in water).

So, as I sit down to a bowl of delicious homemade vegetable soup, I’m not worried about putting on pounds.  Remember a diet is for life – and not just after Christmas!

Happy 2015

Happy 2015

A new year is often a time when we decide to make changes. After 17 years, as a rural business consultant with ADAS, and just over 17 years as a lecturer at Reaseheath College, I’ve decided it’s time to have another change. So in April I plan to be working for the best person I know ;-), and will be self employed.   It will mean that I can concentrate on things that I really care about, like supporting small artisan food producers and sellers, or helping you to use your computer better. So if you need any help with things like

or you just need an extra pair of hands at a trade show (or when staff haven’t shown up), please get in touch.

I was very proud that last year my blog on Good Food Shops has now received over two million page views, from an amazing 194 different countries! My partner thought I’d run out of placees to visit, and stop doinging it after 3 months! Hopefully it’s helped you to find better food, and also helped the businesses it features to remain viable (and helped the economy by bringing in tourists).

As I will probably, like many, be on a reduced income, I’m also planning to do a new blog, or web site, on how you can still eat well, and healthily, with less money.

I’d like to wish you all good health and happiness in 2015, and hope to work with some of you later in the year.

Loyalty cards and the politics of a Christmas dinner

Loyalty cardsI’ve always been fascinated by consumer profiles.  When Tesco introduced the Clubcard, David Sainsbury initially rejected the idea of introducing a similar scheme. However when Sainsbury’s saw the adverse affect that the Clubcard had had on Sainsbury’s sales, they soon changed their minds.

The value that you the consumer get from “loyalty cards” (usually expressed as points – so you don’t realise how little it is) is nothing compared with the information you’re giving the retailers.

Clive Humby, from marketing firm Dunnhumby, helped Tesco to establish their Clubcard in 1994. Lord MacLaurin (who was then the chairmen of Tesco) famously said “What scares me about this is that you know more about my customers after three months than I know after 30 years”.

It’s very easy to see how profiling works. YouGov kindly let you search their information online: www.yougov.co.uk/profiler

Enter your favourite products, and it will tell you all sorts of things about other people who like that product:

The possible lifestyle of a Warburtons customer

So the shops can use this data to predict what sort of thing you may want, and more importantly what they can try and sell you to make more profits.

As it’s nearly Christmas, and just for a bit of fun, I thought it would be interesting to compare the politics (and possible gender) of people for different roasts:

Politics of Christmas Roasts

£64 million of wasted food at Christmas

graph showing Christmas Food Waste

I was horrified to read reports in the press this week about a Unilver poll which found that we waste £64 million of food on Christmas dinners!

Apparently

  • 17.2 million Brussels sprouts
  • 11.9 million carrots
  • 11.3 million roast potatoes
  • 10.9 million parsnips
  • 9.8 million cups of gravy
  • 7.9 million slices of turkey
  • 7.9 million cups of stuffing
  • 7.5 million mince pies
  • 7.4 million slices of Christmas pudding
  • 7.1 million pigs in blankets

will end up in peoples waste bins!

How did we end up in such a state, where there’s around 925 million undernourished people in the world and we’re feeding our bins! As a small boy I’d loved to have done potato prints – but my mum told me food was for eating, and not to be wasted.

How times have changed, we even have have competitions to see how quickly people can stuff obscene amounts of food into their stomachs:

Picture of people eating ridiculously large burgers

We definitely need more education for our our children (and their parents). Portion control is a good way to teach kids maths. If we’re having 10 people for dinner and 50% of people like sprouts, and the sprout lovers eat 6 sprouts each, how many sprouts do we need?

Leftovers are some of my favourite meals. We will buy a sensibly sized turkey, the bones will make stock, and we will enjoy tukey and ham pie, turkey risotto and turkey curry etc.

Have a look at sites like Love Food Hate Waste for more inspiration. You’ll save money and feel better. Perhaps you could join me and donate some of your savings to Oxfam?

A nation of drug takers?

Prescription drugsIn 1776 Adam Smith (in The Wealth of Nations) described us as “a nation of shopkeepers”. With our high streets in decline, this is no longer true. If Adam Smith was alive today, perhaps he would call us a nation of drug takers?

Nearly half of us now take prescription drugs, with a cost of over 15 billion pounds! I can feel my GP’s blood pressure rising as he reads this. So before any more angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are prescribed for hypertension, let me make some things clear. As an insulin dependant person with diabetes, the medical profession have saved my life. Without insulin, I would have been dead many years ago, and the plethora of other drugs I take help prevent me get complications like strokes and heart attacks. These days, with the help of Google (other search engines are available) everyone is a “medical expert” and I don’t have any medical qualifications. However there are some obvious facts, which many are chosing to ignore, about what could be done to reduce drug costs and make us healthier.

A nation of fatties?

What worries me is that our GPs now barely have time to treat symptoms, let alone find and treat the underlying causes. It’s not hard to find what’s wrong with the nation’s health. The Health Survey for England, published yesterday, show us that we’re getting fatter:

Weight of adults

It’s now almost become politically incorrect to suggest to someone that they should loose weight. Nearly half the population don’t do sufficient physical activity, and we’re eating more junk food . More than 27% of women consume more than 3 units and 37% of men conume more than 4 units of alcohol. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to be affected. There’s a very clear link (particularly with women) between waist circumference and social deprivation:

Waist circumference & social deprivation

source: www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB16076/HSE2013-Ch10-Adult-anth-meas.pdf

Sadly it’s these people who are often the least mobile, and often have had a poorer education. So there’s no point in telling them about health vegetarian meals, made with ingredients from Waitrose, when their nearest shop is Home Bargains or Poundland.

Building up trouble for the future?

It’s even more worrying when you look at the data concerning childrens’ health. Eat up your greens? The number of children geting their five a day has fallen in the last 6 years and is now only 16%:

Children five a day

Over half our kids get less than three portios of fruit and veg a day, and 7% don’t get any! Last year 15% of girls and 16% of girls were classified as obese! In 2012 0nly 18% of our children did the recommended physical exercise (compared with 24% in 2008);

Who’s to blame?

I believe this problem has come about as a result of lack of education. Our politicians need educating, and also need to stop listening to some of the very effective lobbying from the food industry.They need to be aware that having more people educating us on exercise and diet could save prescription costs.

The parents of today’s children also need educating. Many of them rely on ready meals, and don’t now how to cook good simple meals with fresh ingredients which are cheap and nutritious.

The last person I want to blame is our GPs.

What can you do?

If you’ve got kids, take them on a hike! The endorphins you get as you climb a hill beat anything their local dealer can supply, and theyll lose weight and be less likely to be depressed. You’ll also feel better.

Read books like Joanna Blythman’s Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite to find out how we got into this mess, and then read (by the same author) What to Eat: Food that’s good for your health, pocket and plate, to find out what you can do. about it.

Visit (and preferably walk to) your local shops and find (if you’ve still got them) your local butcher and greengrocer. The butcher can tell you how to cook the cheaper (and tastier) cuts and your greengrocer will show you cheap seasonal foods (which will be riper and better tasting than the supermarkets).

Cook with your family – it’s far more fun than watching celebrity chefs on MasterBore. If you make a mistake have a laugh and learn from it. As a small child I loved visiting an aunty who’s cooking sometimes went wrong. When the sponge she’d baked turned out to be a bit runny in the middle she used a tin can to sut out the middle and then called it a polo cake!

Co-operate with your neighbours. If you can’t afford a sack of potatoes, share one. You’ll both save money and you don’t have to worry if they won’t keep as you’ll get through a smaller quantity twice as quickly.

Change food from being a chore to a source of fun – and feel better at the same time.

Healthy hospital food?

White toast

 

Last week I was admitted into hospital. I can’t fault the wonderful staff, all were professional and friendly at the same time. However I can’t believe some of the unhealthy foods we’re still being offered in hospitals.

I’ve had insulin dependant diabetes since 1980, so am very careful what I eat. The ideal diet for someone with that condition, is a good diet for most of us to follow. I aim to eat a balanced diet, that is low in fat, sugar and salt and contain a high level of fresh fruit and vegetables. In particular I aim to eat carbohydrate foods which have a low GI (Glycemic Index).

My first meal was breakfast. A lady asked me if I would like some toast. I asked if I could have some granary or wholemeal bread. Only white bread was available (pictured above). I wasn’t expecting hand crafted rolls from an artisan baker. But I do think that in hospital I should have at least been offered (and preferably encouraged) a more healthy alternative to this mas-produced white bread. A local bakery does a sliced oatmeal bread, which would have been better, and is not expensive.

I then found I could have had cereals, including Rice Krispies! I suppose I should have been pleased that we weren’t offered Ricicles (although that decision was probably made by the accountant and not the nutritionist).

I was offered sugar in all my drinks, despite having insulin dependent diabetic written above my bed.

I tried to choose my lunch carefully. I certainly didn’t choose this:

Healthcare orange juice

but one arrived anyway! Most of the people in my ward had diabetes and I noticed were drinking this. The only time I ever drink orange juice like this is when I’ve got hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). I find it’s almost as good as Lucozade (which is high in glucose syrup) for getting my blood sugars up.

The problem highly processed foods, like white bread and orange juice is that they make your blood sugars shoot up and then drop as quickly. This applies to everyone, not just people with diabetes.  That’s why people on unhealthy diets can get irritable when they get hungry (as their blood sugar drops). Most people in ward had a poor understanding of good nutrition, and (despite havingdiabetes) didn’t appear to have spoken to a nutritionist.

I realise the NHS has a very difficult job to do, and there are financial pressures.  Sadly our food industry often makes healthy eating dearer (white bread is usually the cheapest – which I don’t understand as the flour needs less processing).

In 1980, when I first had diabetes, I was surprised to be offered white bread, ice-cream and jelly (not low sugar) in hospital! I was hoping that things would have improved more than they have.

A hospital visit is a great opportunity to make people rethink their diet, make healthier choices and hopefully cut down the chances that they are readmitted. That would actually save the NHS money.