Food plays an important role in managing your diabetes but there is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet’. The aim is to follow a diet based around the general healthy eating principles that apply to everyone. You should eat foods from each of the main food groups every day to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs. Many factors affect how much and how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating. The portion size of foods eaten is important. The type of food or the glycaemic index of a food - how quickly the sugar from the food is absorbed into your system - plays a key role too.
Type 2 diabetes diet for healthy eating
Medication for diabetes, whether in tablet or injection form, is definitely not the only way to control your blood sugar (glucose) levels. The first-line treatment involves making changes to your lifestyle, through diet, weight control and physical activity.
The food you eat on a daily basis plays an important role in managing your diabetes, as well as ensuring you keep well and have enough energy for your daily activities. The same healthy eating principles apply whether you have diabetes or not. In fact, getting the whole family to eat this sort of balanced diet if you have diabetes can benefit their health as well as yours. Including foods from each of the main food groups described below will provide your body with the essential nutrients.
|FOOD GROUP||DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS|
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES
✔ Rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals
✔ Low in calories and fat
✔ An important energy source and source of fibre
DAIRY AND DAIRY ALTERNATIVES
✔ Rich in calcium and other vitamins and minerals
Meats, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts and other proteins
✔ High in protein for building and repairing processes in the body
✔ Source of iron
✔ Keeps you hydrated
✔ Lowering your intake can reduce blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart disease
|Foods high in fat and sugar|
Which foods cause your blood glucose levels to rise?
All carbohydrates cause your blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise. This includes:
- Starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and cereals.
- Sugary carbohydrates found naturally in milk and fruit and in refined forms in sweets, chocolates and sugary drinks.
Starchy carbohydrates and foods containing natural sugars form part of a healthy balanced diet, so you should eat them daily. Be aware of and stick to the recommended portion sizes for these foods - the amount of carbohydrate you eat or drink determines how much your blood glucose levels rise.
What is the glycaemic index?
The glycaemic index (GI) of a food tells you how quickly the food is digested and absorbed, and how quickly your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise (low GI = slowly, high GI = quickly). Foods with a lower GI release energy more slowly, helping you to feel fuller for longer. They also help reduce sharp fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
Healthy lower GI foods include pulses, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables, and wholegrain starchy varieties. The GI of foods should not be the only focus of your diet. This is because unhealthy low GI options do exist - chocolate being an obvious example. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that if you eat these in large quantities, lower GI foods will still cause a large rise in your blood glucose levels. The focus should remain on general healthy eating principles and portion control.
Why is food portion size important?
Controlling your portion size can be a really helpful way to stabilise or lose weight. It can also help you to manage your blood sugar (glucose) levels better. Top tips for portion control include:
- Use smaller-sized plates.
- Measure out portion sizes.
- Fill your plate with low-calorie food, such as salads and vegetables, before adding other types of food.
- Drink a glass or two of water about 15 minutes before a meal.
- Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register how much you’ve eaten, so if you eat fast you may have overeaten long before your bran tells you you’re full.
- Don’t do anything else while you’re eating. Research shows we all tend to eat more if we’re distracted (for example, watching television or playing on a computer).
- Resist the temptation to return for seconds.
Example portions: 2-3 tablespoons rice, pasta or cereals, 1 slice of bread, 30 g cheese, a palm-sized piece of meat/fish/poultry.
What are the benefits of weight loss if you're overweight?
Losing weight if you’re overweight can greatly improve your blood sugar (glucose) levels. Losing weight can also help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This in turn helps to reduce risk of stroke and heart disease. Weight loss of 5-10% of your current body weight is enough to gain significant health benefits. Whether you lose weight through diet, physical activity or a combination of both, it doesn’t matter. The key to success is finding out what works for you and sticking to it.
Do 'diabetic foods' need to be included in your diet?
Foods labelled as ‘suitable for people with diabetes’ on the supermarket shelves do not provide you with any special benefit above that of ordinary foods and so are not recommended. These foods are often more expensive, high in calories and still able to cause your blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise.
Five take home messages
- There is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet’ - a normal, healthy and balanced diet is key!
- Your diet should be high in fibre with plenty of fruit and vegetables, low in fat (particularly saturated fat), low in sugar and low in salt.
- Be mindful of the portion size of foods you eat - portions which are too large can contribute to weight gain and lead to poorer management of blood sugar (glucose) levels.
- If you're overweight, aim for 5-10% weight loss - using a method you are likely to stick to.
- ‘Diabetic foods’ offer no additional benefit above ‘normal’ foods and so are not advised.
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Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.