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Type 2 & nutrition

The key to managing type 2 diabetes is achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, making healthier food choices and being as active as you can be, every day. 

Healthy eating for people with diabetes is no different to what is recommended for everyone – there is no such thing as a diabetes diet! To hear more about making healthy food choices, watch our healthy eating video clip.
 

What are the main nutrients found in food?

Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the main nutrients found in food, and they all provide us with energy (which is measured in kilojoules or calories). It is important to know what foods contain these nutrients and how they might affect both your blood glucose levels and your overall health. 

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate is the main source of energy for your body, especially the brain.  When your body digests carbohydrate, it breaks it down into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes your blood glucose levels to rise.

Carbohydrate is found in lots of different foods, and these foods also provide us with other important nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals.

The amount of carbohydrate that you eat at your meals and snacks has the biggest impact on your blood glucose level. Read more about carbohydrate foods and the glycemic index in the tabs above.

Protein

Protein is another source of energy in our diets and is the key nutrient that helps the body with growth and repair.  Protein is broken down into amino acids in the gut so that they can be absorbed. Protein does not break down into glucose, so it does not directly raise blood glucose levels.
The main protein foods are:

  • Meats, chicken, fish, & tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Cheese

There are a few foods that contain both protein and carbohydrate, and may also raise your blood glucose levels. These foods are:

  • Milk and yoghurt (contain the natural sugar, lactose)
  • Legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, bean mixes etc. Legumes are often a main source of protein for vegetarians. 

Try to eat some protein foods at each of your meals, as this will help to fill you up and provide the essential nutrients your body needs to support and maintain your muscle mass – which is especially important if you are trying to manage your weight.  

Fat

Fats break down into fatty acids and are also another source of energy in the diet. Fatty acids are an essential part of all cells in the body, they also help you to store energy, and provide insulation. Fats also allow the body to absorb certain vitamins that are found in foods. Like protein, fat does not breakdown into glucose, so does not directly raise blood glucose levels. 

Out of all the nutrients, fat contains the most kilojoules, so it is important not to eat more than what you need. Eating a lot of fat may lead to weight gain, which can make your diabetes more difficult to manage.
The main fats in the diet are:

  • Oils, margarine, butter*
  • Cream*
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fried foods* and pastry*

*Indicates sources of saturated fat. Saturated fats can raise your blood cholesterol levels, so limit your intake of this type of fat.

The type of fat that you use is really important when it comes to heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease. It is important to choose mainly the monounsaturated and the polyunsaturated fats and oils. Some examples include olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish, such as salmon and sardines.

The importance of a dietitian

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is a key part of your diabetes team. Seeing an APD on a regular basis can help you to check that what you are eating is meeting all of your individual nutrition needs, and help you to monitor the impact of your meals on your blood glucose levels. Contact our Helpline on 1800 637 700 to speak with a Diabetes Victoria dietitian, or visit the Dietitians Australia website to find a dietitian near you.

Read more information about nutrition and diabetes:

Supermarket tours

We organise supermarket tours in metropolitan and regional Victoria to help make shopping for food easier. As part of the two hour tour, local dietitians show you how..

read more

Carb counting resources

Developed by our own dietitians, these resources are designed to use with your diabetes dietitian to help you learn carbohydrate counting

Order today!

​The Glycemic Index (GI)


Not all carbohydrate foods will have the same impact on blood glucose levels (BGLs). Some carbohydrate foods are broken down and released into the blood stream very quickly and others are broken down much more slowly. The rate at which carbohydrate foods are released into the bloodstream is called the Glycemic Index (GI). Carbohydrate foods can be classified as having either a low, medium or high GI. 

Low GI foods

Low GI carbohydrate foods are digested slowly, releasing glucose into the bloodstream more gradually compared to higher GI foods. They are also a lot more filling because they sit in your stomach for a longer amount of time, before they are digested. This can help with weight management, as you will be less likely to overeat. 

Examples of low GI foods include traditional rolled oats, dense wholegrain breads, lentils and legumes, sweet potato, milk, yoghurt, pasta and most types of fresh fruit.

Try to include at least 1 lower GI food at each of your meals. Remember that the portion size of carbohydrate is going to have the biggest impact on your BGLs. Just because a food has a lower GI doesn’t mean it can be eaten in large amounts.  
 

High GI foods

High GI foods are broken down and released into the blood stream quicker than other carbohydrate foods. They tend to cause a quick rise in blood glucose levels and often don’t fill you up as much as lower GI foods, so you may feel hungry a short time after eating them. 

Examples of high GI foods include white bread, highly processed/low fibre breakfast cereals, shorter-grain rice (e.g. Jasmine rice), soft drinks and confectionary, as well as many processed and packaged snack foods.

Some high GI carbohydrates are still nutritious foods, such as potatoes and tropical fruits. Just because they are high GI doesn’t mean you need to cut them out – eat them in smaller portions. 
 
Lower GI foods   Higher GI foods
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Wholegrain cereals           
  • Rolled oats, muesli
  • Basmati rice
  • Quinoa, barley
  • Milk & yoghurt
  • Legumes
  • Sweet potato
  • White & wholemeal bread
  • Cornflakes, rice bubbles
  • Quick oats
  • Jasmine, medium grain rice
  • Couscous 
  • Rice & oat milk
  • Potato


The University of Sydney Glycemic Index website has more information about the glycemic index and the values of specific foods. You can also look for the Low GI symbol on packaging when shopping, however not all low GI foods will carry this symbol. To find out which products carry the low GI symbol, check out the website.



For more information about the GI, read the Glycemic Index fact sheet

Supermarket tours

We organise supermarket tours in metropolitan and regional Victoria to help make shopping for food easier. As part of the two hour tour, local dietitians show you how..

read more

Carb counting resources

Developed by our own dietitians, these resources are designed to use with your diabetes dietitian to help you learn carbohydrate counting

Order today!

Reading food labels


By law, all packaged food products must display an ingredient list. Small packages and foods like herbs and spices, tea, coffee and foods sold unpackaged or foods made and packaged at the point of sale are exceptions. Food labels can help you become more informed about your food choices and help you to make healthier food choices.

The nutrition information panel (NIP) tells you the amount of energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat and saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium, and any other nutrient about which a claim is made on the label.

Nutrition information panel - example
 
Servings per package: 1   
Serving size: 50g
 Per 50g servePer 100g     
   Energy   501kJ   1002kJ
   Protein   3.5g   7.0g
   Total Fat   0.4g   0.8g
   Saturated fat   0.3g   0.7g
   Carbohydrates total   25.3g   50.6g
   Carbohydrates sugars   7.5g   15.0g
   Dietary Fibre   3.4g   6.8g
   Cholesterol   nil   nil
   Sodium   195mg   390mg


Serving size

This is the average serving size of the product as decided by the manufacturer. However, this may not be the same as the serving you will eat.

Per 100g

The 100g column tells you the amount of nutrients in 100g of the food. This can be useful for comparing food products and determining the percentage of that nutrient in the food. For example, this food has 7g Protein per 100g = 7 per cent.

Energy

This is measured in kilojoules (kJ) or calories (cal). The amount of energy each of us needs depends on many factors such as age, weight and activity levels, and will vary from person to person. Foods that are high in fat and sugar tend to be high in kilojoules. Eating more kilojoules than what your body needs will lead to weight gain. 

Fat and saturated fat

Use the figure per 100g to compare similar products and pick the one with less total fat and less saturated fat.  The example food above is very low in fat with only 0.8g of fat per 100g.

Carbohydrates - Total

This includes the combined total of starch and sugar in the food. Look at this value if you are considering the impact of the food on your blood glucose levels. If you are counting carbohydrates you can use this value to calculate the amount of carbohydrate in your serving of the food.

Carbohydrates - Sugars

This tells you how much of the total carbohydrate is sugar. This includes added sugar as well as naturally occurring sugars like lactose (milk sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). Just looking at the amount of sugar will not predict the effect of the food on your blood glucose level, you need to look at the total amount of carbohydrate.

Look at the ingredient list to determine if the sugar is an added sugar or if it is coming from fruit, milk or yoghurt.  

Dietary Fibre

Fibre content will only be listed on packaged foods that are plant based, like breads, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, crackers etc. Use the figure per 100g and pick the product that is highest in fibre. Aim to eat about 30g of fibre every day. 

Sodium (salt)

Look for products that have the lowest amount of sodium per 100g. When it comes to many sauces, or canned products, look for those that are labelled reduced or no added salt.

The ingredient list

All packaged foods must have an ingredient list on the label. All ingredients (except water) are listed in descending order by weight, so you can work out roughly how much of the ingredient the food contains. You can use this information to help make the healthiest food choice.

Supermarket tours

Diabetes Victoria coordinates supermarket tours in various locations, run by local dietitians. The tours will teach you more about reading food labels and choosing healthy food products, using practical hands on activities in the supermarket with real foods. You will receive lots of information, including a free copy of the Diabetes Australia Healthy Shopping Guide (RRP $7.50).

Find your nearest location here: Supermarket tours
 

More information
Find out more: Understanding Food Labels.
 

Supermarket tours

We organise supermarket tours in metropolitan and regional Victoria to help make shopping for food easier. As part of the two hour tour, local dietitians show you how..

read more

Carb counting resources

Developed by our own dietitians, these resources are designed to use with your diabetes dietitian to help you learn carbohydrate counting

Order today!

 

 
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