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 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 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
- Nuts & seeds
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.
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*
- 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:
- Read our nutrition factsheets, including food choices for people with diabetes
- Diabetes prevention