Healthy Eating and Type 2 Diabetes

Lesson 3

How to eat healthily with Type 2 diabetes?

…Your options for healthy eating

 Eating healthily is one of the three key elements of every comprehensive diabetic care. The other two are medications and lifestyle modifications, which include physical activity, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. So, it makes sense that we look at the options you have when it comes to maintaining a diabetes-friendly diet.

But before we delve into what food is good and not good for you, let’s refresh our mind on what happens in Type 2 diabetes and how it should shape the type of food you eat.

Key facts about Type 2 diabetes and the diet implications

The problem in Type 2 diabetes is that your body cells are resistant to insulin, which is often associated with many factors including being overweight or having too much abdominal fat. Since insulin helps to push glucose into the cells, glucose accumulates in the blood when the cells can’t respond to insulin. Prolonged accumulation of glucose in the blood can damage blood vessels, especially in the presence of bad cholesterol and other unhealthy fats.

Thus, diabetes-friendly diets should

  • Does not elevate your blood glucose levels by a lot
  • Help you achieve a healthy weight
  • Be high in healthy fats and low in unhealthy fats

One of the ways to check how much effect any particular food can have on the blood glucose level is the glycemic index (load). A food’s glycemic index is determined by the amount of fiber, protein, and fat it has. Foods with a low glycemic index (load) don’t tend to increase the blood glucose much, so they are a good choice for you.

Healthy food options for you

Generally, a diabetes-friendly diet is one that is low in carbohydrates, especially refined carbs, and high in protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. But what you eat and how much you eat depends on your taste and the portion sizes you arrive at with your dietician or doctor.

Nevertheless, these are the right food options to choose from:

  • Complex carbohydrates: Examples include brown rice, whole wheat, steel-cut oatmeal, whole wheat bread, rye bread, quinoa, all-bran cereals, peas, etc. They are mostly whole grain products and are low in glycemic index. A little portion of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, squash, and corn, may be fine.
  • Fiber-rich foods: These are foods that your body cannot easily digest and absorb, so they have minimal effect on your blood sugar level (low glycemic index) while keeping you full for a long time. Examples are legumes like beans, peas, and lentils; nuts; vegetables; low-glycemic fruits; and whole grains.
  • Proteins: They keep blood sugar levels stable and also prolong digestion, thereby keeping you satiated for a longer period. Examples include beans, peas, and other legumes; tofu and soy foods; skinless chicken and turkey; organic dairy products; eggs; and healthy fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.
  • Healthy fats: They don’t have direct effects on your blood sugar levels, but more importantly, they are good to your hearts, blood vessels, and brain because they supply HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and omega-3 fatty acids. Examples are canola oil, flaxseed oil, peanut oil, olive oil, cottonseed oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
  • Vegetables: Rich in fiber, vegetables are important sources of vitamins and minerals. Examples are kale, artichoke, asparagus, spinach, carrots, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, tomato, cabbage, bok choy, and others.
  • Fruits and nuts: They are rich in vitamins and healthy fats. Examples include walnuts, peanuts, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, avocados, almonds, and others.

Foods you need to avoid

It is necessary to avoid or drastically reduce your intake of the following foods:

  • Simple carbohydrates and processed food, such as refined sugar, white pasta, white bread, soda, fruit juices, pineapples
  • Unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats (red meat, hot dogs, bacon, bologna, palm oil, etc.), trans fats (like margarine, baked foods, French fries, etc.), and cholesterol sources like egg yolks and liver
  • Canned foods because they have too much salt.

Making a diet plan

It is not enough to know the food options to take; you need to know how to plan your meals and the portion sizes to use. Here is a simple meal planning guide from the American Diabetes Association (ADA):

  • A half plate of a nonstarchy vegetable, such as tomatoes, spinach, and carrots
  • A quarter plate of a protein, such as skinless chicken or tuna
  • A quarter plate of a whole-grain product (like brown rice or quinoa) or a starchy vegetable, like green peas
  • Add some healthy fats such as nuts or avocados in small amounts
  • Complete with a serving of fruit or dairy and drink enough water
  • You may drink unsweetened tea or coffee

You must discuss with your dietician to arrive at the most suitable food choices for you in each meal. The dietician will also show you how to do carbohydrate counting if need be, especially if you’re on insulin.