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Diabetes

10 tips about nutrition and diet

There’s nothing you can’t eat if you have type 2 diabetes, but you’ll have to limit certain foods.

1. Choose healthier carbohydrates

All carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels, so it’s important to know which foods contain carbohydrates. Choose the healthier foods that contain carbohydrates and be aware of your portion sizes. 

Here are some healthy sources of carbohydrates: 

  • whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, and whole oats
  • fruit 
  • vegetables
  • pulses, such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils
  • dairy, such as unsweetened yoghurt and milk. 

At the same time, it’s also important to cut down on foods low in fiber, such as white bread, white rice, and highly processed cereals. You can check food labels when you’re looking for foods high in fiber if you’re unsure.

2. Eat less salt

Eating lots of salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. When you have diabetes, you’re already more at risk of all of these conditions.
Try to limit yourself to a maximum of 6 g (one teaspoon) of salt a day. Lots of prepackaged foods already contain salt, so remember to check food labels and choose those with less salt. Cooking from scratch will help you keep an eye on how much salt you’re eating. You can also get creative and swap out salt for different types of herbs and spices to add that extra flavor. 

3. Eat less red and processed meat

If you’re cutting down on carbohydrates, you might start having bigger portions of meat to fill you up; however, it is not a good idea to do this with red and processed meat, such as ham, bacon, sausages, beef and lamb. These all have links with heart problems and cancer. 
Try swapping red and processed meat for these: 

  • pulses, such as beans and lentils
  • eggs 
  • fish 
  • poultry, such as chicken and turkey 
  • unsalted nuts

Beans, peas, and lentils are also very high in fiber and don’t affect your blood glucose levels too much – making them a great swap for processed and red meat and keeping you feeling full. Most of us know that fish is good for us, but oily fish like salmon and mackerel are even better. These are rich in something called omega-3 oil, which helps protect your heart. Try to eat two portions of oily fish a week.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables

We know eating fruits and vegetables is good for you. It’s always a good thing to eat more at meal times and have them as snacks if you’re hungry. This can help you get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs every day to help keep you healthy. 
You might be wondering about fruit and if you should avoid it because it’s sugary? The answer is no. Whole fruit is good for everyone and if you have diabetes, it’s no different. Fruits do contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. This is different to the added sugar (also known as free sugars) that are in things like chocolate, biscuits, and cakes. 
Products like fruit juices also count as added sugar, so go for whole fruit instead. This can be fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (in juice, not in syrup). It’s best to eat it throughout the day instead of one bigger portion in one go. 

5. Choose healthier fats

We all need fat in our diet because it gives us energy, but different types of fat affect our health in different ways.
Healthier fats are in foods like unsalted nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, olive oil, rapeseed oil, and sunflower oil. Some saturated fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, increasing your risk of heart problems. These are mainly found in animal products and prepared food like:

  • red and processed meat
  • ghee
  • butter
  • lard
  • biscuits, cakes, pies, and pastries. 

It’s still a good idea to cut down on using oils in general, so try to grill, steam, or bake foods instead. 

6. Cut down on added sugar 

We know cutting out sugar can be really hard at the beginning, so small practical swaps are a good starting point when you’re trying to cut down on excess sugar. Swapping sugary drinks, energy drinks, and fruit juices with water, plain milk, or tea and coffee without sugar can be a good start.

You can always try low or zero-calorie sweeteners (also known as artificial sweeteners) to help you cut back. Cutting out these added sugars can help you control your blood glucose levels and help keep your weight down. If your diabetes treatment means you get hypoglycemia and you use sugary drinks to treat this, then they are still important for your diabetes management and you shouldn’t cut them out. However, if you are having regular hypoglycemia, it is really important to discuss this with your diabetes team.   

7. Be smart with snacks 

If you want a snack, choose yoghurts, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables instead of crisps, chips, biscuits, and chocolates, but watch your portions still – it’ll help you keep an eye on your weight.

8. Drink alcohol sensibly 

Alcohol is high in calories, so if you do drink and you’re trying to lose weight, think about cutting back. Try to keep to a maximum of 14 units a week, but spread it out to avoid binge drinking and go several days a week without alcohol.
If you take insulin or other diabetes medications, it is also not a good idea to drink on an empty stomach because alcohol can make hypoglycemia more likely to happen.

9. Don’t bother with so-called diabetic food

To say food is a diabetic food is now against the law because there is no evidence that these foods offer you a special benefit over eating healthy. They can also often contain just as much fat and calories as similar products and can still affect your blood glucose level. These foods can also sometimes have a laxative effect.  

10. Get your minerals and vitamins from foods

There’s no evidence that mineral and vitamin supplements help you manage your diabetes. So, unless you’ve been told to take something by your health care team, like folic acid for pregnancy, you don’t need to take supplements.

1
NHS website – Type 2 diabetes : food and keeping active. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/food-and-keeping-active/
2
Diabetes UK website – 10 tips for healthy eating with diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/eating-with-diabetes/10-ways-to-eat-well-with-diabetes
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