10 tips for diabetes-friendly food

Top ten food tips to manage or prevent diabetes and enjoy a healthy life.

Written by Anna Debenham
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There is a lot of misinformation around diabetes, which often leaves people feeling confused and frustrated about what they should be doing.

Lifestyle changes to prevent and manage diabetes really come down to some simple healthy principles. And like most things when it comes to wellbeing, it’s all about balance, moderation and variety.

Anna Debenham, co-founder and Accredited Practising Dietitian at The Biting Truth, shares some guidelines to help you develop your healthy eating plan.

Forget dieting – eat for life

Adopt a way of eating that allows you to enjoy food, while still adequately nourishing your body with real, whole foods. Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term fixes that set many of us up for failure and disappointment. The key is to develop lifelong healthy eating habits that bring joy and happiness to your life.

Enjoy a variety of foods

Each food group contains its own unique array of vitamins and minerals that contribute to your overall health and wellbeing. In order for your body to receive all the nutrients it needs to live a long and healthy life, it’s important to eat a variety of different foods from all five-food groups (grains and cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean meats and alternatives) each day.

Eat regular meals and snacks

Eating regularly throughout the day helps ensure your body has a sustained supply of energy and assists in keeping your blood sugar levels within an optimal range. Eating smaller, more regular meals also helps to control your appetite, meaning you are less likely to feel ravenous and overeat at other meal times.

"Foods with a low GI are broken down and absorbed more slowly, leaving us feeling fuller for longer."

Choose low GI foods

The glycaemic index (GI) looks at how foods containing carbohydrates affect our blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI (e.g. white bread, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits) are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body, causing a rapid spike in our blood sugar levels, leaving us feeling hungry and unsatisfied.

Foods with a low GI (e.g. fruit, milk, grainy bread, porridge and lentils) are broken down and absorbed more slowly, causing a steady rise in blood sugar and insulin levels over time, and leaving us feeling fuller for longer.

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Choose heart healthy foods

Diabetes can increase our risk of developing heart complications later in life, which is why it’s important to maintain optimal cholesterol levels and blood pressure to avoid these.

Remember to include a small amount of healthy unsaturated fats (like nuts, avocado, oily fish and olive oil) and limit foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and salt (such as processed foods, deep-fried foods, bakery goods and fatty cuts of meat).

Watch the sugar

While sugar can form part of a healthy, balanced diet – the key is to focus on where your sugar is coming from and how much you consume. 'Natural' sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products. These sugars come with a range of beneficial nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals, which are good for our health.

'Added' sugars are those added to foods and beverages by food companies (such as soft drinks, lollies and chocolates) or by us (honey and table sugar). High intakes of added sugars may lead to weight gain, tooth decay and increased blood sugar levels, which is why it’s best to limit intake of these sugars.

"The key is to focus on where your sugar is coming from and how much you consume."

Stay hydrated

Adequate hydration is crucial to allow our bodies to function at their best. On average, we require approximately 2 litres (8 glasses) of water each day (depending on age, gender and activity level). Choose plain water most of the time, and add fruit pieces for flavour if desired.

Reduce alcohol

If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake. Current guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks a day, with at least two alcohol free days per week.

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is a proven way to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and also to reduce the risk of developing complications associated with diabetes.

Losing just 10% of body weight if you are overweight is enough to make significant improvements to your blood sugar control and overall health.

Stay active

Enjoying regular physical activity should be part of your diabetes management or prevention plan, as exercise helps to keep your body fit and healthy. Try going for walk with a friend, walking your dog, or swimming.

Written by Anna Debenham

Anna is a leading Australian Dietitian and keynote speaker who co-founded nutrition consulting company, The Biting Truth. Anna works with businesses, schools and childcares to create and implement fully tailored nutrition programs.

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