Healthy eating for type 2 diabetes

Discover how you can help keep your blood sugars levels in check

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be a shock and taking in all the new information can be overwhelming at times. But knowing what’s best to eat to help manage your condition doesn’t need to be a worry. Let’s break it down.

I have type 2 diabetes – what can I eat?

Whether you have diabetes or not, a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone. Eat a wide range of foods including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like pasta. Keep sugar, fat and salt to a minimum and make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – don’t skip meals.

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to planning your meals and snacks throughout the day to help manage your diabetes.

Eat more high fibre, starchy carbohydrates

Where you can, choose wholegrain, unprocessed starchy carbohydrates over refined options and simple sugars. They usually contain more fibre which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable. Starchy foods which includes bread, rice, potatoes and pasta should make up around a third of the food you eat. Opt for wholegrain varieties of starchy foods such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and wholemeal bread.

Get your five-a-day

Eating plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables every day is super important to help you get the vitamins, minerals and fibre your body needs to help keep you healthy. Many people with diabetes question whether they should avoid eating fruit because of high sugar levels. The answer is no. Whole fruit is good for everyone and if you have diabetes, it’s no different. Although yes, many fruits do contain sugar, its natural sugar is different to the added sugar found in chocolate, biscuits and cakes. It’s best to choose fruit and vegetables to snack on throughout the day. It could be fresh or frozen but be careful with dried fruit, fruit juices and smoothies as they are higher in sugar. Limit juice and smoothies to a combined total of no more than 150 ml (a small glass) per day.

Don't forget about protein

Protein is an essential nutrient in the body, needed as part of a balanced diet. Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and also calcium, which keeps bones healthy. To keep things healthy, choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, lower fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese and lower fat, lower sugar yoghurt. Dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks, are a great source of plant proteins but make sure to choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions. Other foods high in protein include beans, peas, lentils, eggs, fish and lean meat.

Cut down on sugar

When people think about diabetes, the first thing that springs to mind is probably sugar. Carbohydrates are the body’s main form of energy and there are two different types: simple and complex or starchy carbohydrates. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate which raises blood sugar levels quickly. Complex carbohydrates work in a different way, providing a slower and steady release of energy throughout the day.

If you want to cut down on how much sugar you’re eating, get into the habit of reading food labels, comparing products and choosing lower sugar or sugar-free options. As an example, many breakfast cereals can be high in sugar. Try switching to lower-sugar cereals such as plain porridge or whole wheat cereal biscuits. Focus on finding healthier snacks without added sugar, such as fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, plain rice cakes, or homemade plain popcorn. Remember it’s all about balance. If you're not quite ready to give up your sweet treats altogether, focus on reducing your portion sizes. Read more about how sugar affects your lifestyle and the helpful sugar swaps you can make.

Eat less salt

Although salt doesn’t affect blood glucose levels, too much salt can raise your blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. This isn’t great for those with diabetes as they’re more likely to be affected by these conditions. It’s important to monitor how much salt you’re eating to properly manage your condition. It’s recommended that adults shouldn’t eat more than six grams of salt a day, which is around one teaspoon. Lots of pre-packaged foods contain high levels of salt so remember to check food labels and choose those with less salt. Cooking meals from scratch is also a great way to help you keep track of how much salt you’re eating. You could try swapping the salt for different herbs and spices. Switch things up and get creative with your food flavours.

Keep things balanced  

Try and make changes to your food choices that are realistic and achievable, so you’ll stick with them. Everything in moderation, finding a good balance will help keep your diabetes in control. These tips aren’t just for those with type 2 diabetes. Your whole family can enjoy the same meals and snacks, regardless of whether they have diabetes or not. There’s not a magic diabetes diet. It’s all about eating for a healthy weight and life.

As well as being focused on eating healthily, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your condition. Quitting smoking, cutting down on how much alcohol you’re drinking and exercising regularly are all great ways to keep yourself fit and healthy.

It’s important, whatever kind of diabetes you have, to see your pharmacist or GP for advice if you have any questions or concerns about your condition.