If you live with type 2 diabetes, eating a well-balanced diet can help you manage your blood sugar levels and weight. In turn, if your meal plan helps you to achieve a healthier weight and keep your blood sugar levels in a normal range, it may reduce your risk for complications. For example, eating healthfully could reduce your risk of nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke.
Read on to learn more about how different diets and eating patterns can affect your health and impact your management of type 2 diabetes.
There are many different eating patterns and diets that you can follow to meet your health needs. When you’re deciding which one is right for you, consider going through this checklist of questions:
Does this eating plan include a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods?
To meet your body’s needs, it’s important to eat a colorful array of nutrient-dense foods. For example, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fish are good sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.
Does it include heart-healthy fats?
Eating moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your body. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil.
Is it low in cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, and added sugars?
Limiting your consumption of saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol can also help reduce your cholesterol. Added sugars provide empty calories, with little nutritional value.
To limit your consumption of cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, and added sugar:
- Choose lean sources of protein, such as tofu, beans and other legumes, salmon and other fish, skinless chicken and turkey, and lean cuts of pork.
- Opt for low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese.
Will it help me practice portion control?
Overeating can make it difficult to manage your blood sugar levels. It also leads to weight gain. Eating high-fiber foods can help you feel full for longer, which may help you practice portion control. These include beans and legumes, most fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also recommends products made with whole grains rather than refined grains. For example, brown rice provides a more nutritious and filling option than white rice.
Can I stick with this eating plan for the long term?
Healthy eating plans only work if you follow them. If your plan is too restrictive or doesn’t fit your lifestyle, it can be hard to stick with. If you love a certain food and can’t imagine life without it, make sure you select a meal plan that allows you to have it at least occasionally.
There aren’t many foods that you need to avoid entirely when you have type 2 diabetes. However, some foods are healthier choices — meaning they’re richer sources of vitamins and minerals, and contain less fat, sugar, and cholesterol.
The ADA recommends practicing portion control and choosing more nutritious foods over less nutritious options. For example, the ADA encourages people to choose:
- Foods low in cholesterol. That means avoiding foods that’re high cholesterol, such as red meat, egg yolks, high-fat dairy products, and other animal products.
- Foods low in saturated fat. That means cutting back on foods high in saturated fat, such as palm oil, coconut oil, red meat, chicken skin, high-fat dairy products, and other animal products.
- Foods free from trans fats. Avoid trans fats whenever possible — they’re found in shortening, hydrogenated oil, and partially hydrogenated oil.
- Foods low in added sugars. That means limiting sweetened drinks, candy, desserts, and being cautious about processed foods.
Carbohydrate counting is one approach that you can take to managing your blood sugar levels. It’s also known as carb counting. It’s typically used by people who take insulin injections.
In carb counting, you add up the number of grams of carbohydrates that you eat during each meal. With careful tracking, you can learn how many grams of carbohydrates you need to eat to maintain a safe blood sugar level while taking insulin injections. Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian can help you get started.
Many foods contain carbohydrates, including:
- wheat, rice, and other grains and grain-based foods
- dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
- potatoes and other starchy vegetables
- fruit and fruit juice
- milk and yogurt
- processed snack foods, desserts, and sweetened beverages
There are many books and online resources that you can use to learn how many grams of carbohydrates are found in portions of common foods. You can also check the nutritional labels of packaged and processed foods.
The keto diet is a low-carb diet that emphasizes protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds. It also includes non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and other leafy greens. It limits foods high in carbohydrates, including grains, dried legumes, root vegetables, fruits, and sweets.
Depending on the protein-rich foods that you choose, the keto diet and many other low-carb diets can be high in saturated fat. You can lower your consumption of saturated fat by limiting the amount of red meat, fatty cuts of pork, and high-fat cheese that you eat.
It can also be challenging to get enough fiber while following the keto diet. However, some low-carb foods are rich in fiber. For example, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens are low in total carbs but high in fiber.
Some studies have found that low-carb diets can help improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes, report authors of a 2017 review. However, more research is needed to learn about the long-term benefits and risks of the keto diet and other low-carb approaches to eating.
The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that emphasizes plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, dried legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It also includes small portions of fish, poultry, egg, and dairy products. It includes very little red meat. The primary source of fat is olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. It’s low in cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, and added sugars.
A 2014 review of research found that people with type 2 diabetes who follow the Mediterranean diet tend to have lower blood sugar than those who follow a conventional American diet. The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to reduced weight, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure.
The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, was designed to lower blood pressure. Like the Mediterranean diet, it emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dried legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It also includes fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products. It limits red meat, sweets, and other foods high in saturated fat or added sugars. It also limits foods that are high in salt.
According to a review published in 2017, the DASH diet provides a nutrient-rich and sustainable eating plan for people with type 2 diabetes. It may help reduce your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, insulin resistance, and weight.
Vegetarian diets don’t contain any red meat or poultry, and they often don’t contain seafood. Vegan diets don’t contain any animal products at all, including red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or dairy foods.
Instead, these diets emphasize plant-based sources of protein, such as tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, split peas, nuts, seeds, and grains. They also include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians typically eat eggs and dairy, but vegans don’t.
It’s possible to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet while meeting your nutritional needs with type 2 diabetes. However, not all vegetarian and vegan diets are created equal. Just because a food is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
For optimum health, eat a wide variety of foods and ensure that you’re getting the key nutrients you need. Sometimes when people try to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, they aren’t careful to make sure they eat enough protein or sources of vitamins and minerals. If in doubt, a dietitian can advise you on what foods to include in your meal plan to meet your nutritional needs.
Whichever diet or eating pattern you choose to follow, it’s best to eat a full variety of nutrient-rich foods and practice portion control. Make an effort to limit your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, high cholesterol foods, and added sugars. Your doctor or dietitian can help you develop a meal planning approach that fits your health needs and lifestyle.