How to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes

Stir frying chilies, garlic, ginger, green onions and sichuan pepper

Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century and presents a huge challenge to Australia's health system. 280 Australian's develop diabetes every day. That's one person every five minutes.

No special diets are required for type 2 diabetes. Healthy eating, regular physical activity and weight management are the three tools you need. Should you avoid potatoes? No. Should you avoid rice? No. Should you avoid all sugar? No. Food serves two purposes: fuel and enjoyment. It is important to remember that eating right with diabetes revolves around meal timing, portion sizes, and meal composition.

A healthy diet

Diabetes is not just about sugar. It is about eating plenty of vegetables (yes, this includes potato and sweet potato) and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, high fibre carbohydrate foods such as brown rice, wholegrain breads and cereals, two fruits daily, reduced-fat dairy, lean protein sources and oily fish, and adding healthy fats to meals (unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil) and limiting saturated (unhealthy) fats found in butters, creams, desserts and takeaway. A low GI pattern of eating is recommended. This means eating carbohydrates with slow releasing energy at every meal, alongside a source of protein, good fats, and vegetables and/or fruit. Did you know that you can safely enjoy up to six eggs per week as part of a high-protein diet to improve blood sugar, fat levels and blood pressure?

Water

Hydration is essential. Drinking enough water during the day ensures optimal functioning of all your vital organs. Aim for 1.8L as a minimum, which should be increased according to the weather and level of physical activity. Find water too boring? Add a squeeze of lemon, ginger, sugar-free cordial, or a fruit-based teabag to a large bottle and sip throughout the day. As for soft drinks (diet or regular), these are a non-core food, which means that there is no space for them in the diet. Limit consumption only to special occasions. When drinking alcohol, it is important to limit yourself to two standard drinks per day as a maximum, and include 1-2 alcohol-free days per week.

Exercise

For optimal diabetes management, it is best to be involved in moderate to high intensity physical activity on most days of the week for 45-60 minutes. Start slowly and gradually increase. Even incidental activities such as taking the stairs or parking further away from the bus stop serve as a great start to a fitter and more energetic lifestyle. If you are new to exercise, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

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