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Are you unsure about what to eat? If so, you are not alone. There’s plenty of confusing and conflicting information out there when it comes to good nutrition, particularly when you have diabetes. And while everyone’s nutrition needs are slightly different, there are some basics that almost everyone will benefit from.
Vegetables: Aim to fill half your plate at meals with a variety of different types and colours
Vegetables have a wide range of health benefits. Yet the latest Australian dietary survey found that only 8% of Australian adults were eating the recommended five serves per day. Studies have shown that eating more vegetables, particularly the green leafy variety, can lower the chances of developing diabetes and may reduce the risk of complications and mortality in those who have diabetes. Vegetables are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and the non-starchy variety are low in energy and carbohydrate so will have little impact on blood glucose levels or weight. Whether raw or cooked, fresh or frozen, incorporate a variety of different vegetables into your meals each day.
Fruit: aim for 2-3 serves per day
While fruit contains natural sugars, this doesn’t mean it’s off the menu when you have diabetes. In fact, eating more fruit has been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and in those with type 2 diabetes, restricting fruit has been found to have no impact on weight or HbA1c levels (a measure of average blood glucose levels over the past 2-3 months). The sugars in fruit come along with dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and most fruits have a low to moderate glycaemic index (GI), meaning they don’t raise blood glucose levels quickly. Fruit makes the perfect sweet snack or dessert. But stick to whole fruits rather than fruit juice, where the fibre is removed and it becomes easy to over-consume.
Minimally processed wholegrains: choose these over refined grains
Many studies have shown that eating high fibre wholegrains can help to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also have benefits for weight management. The key is choosing minimally processed wholegrains which provide dietary fibre, important nutrients and have a lower GI, so won’t spike blood glucose levels the way more refined grains will do. Good choices include traditional or steel cut rolled oats, pearl barley, quinoa, freekeh, cracked wheat (burghul), dense wholegrain breads and lower GI varieties of brown rice.
Nuts: include a handful each day
Nuts are a rich source of healthy fats, dietary fibre, plant sterols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and it’s the combination of these beneficial nutrients that’s likely to be responsible for their health benefits. Research has shown that regular nut consumption can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, improve blood glucose levels, improve blood fats, reduce heart disease risk and assist with weight management. Choose them as a healthy snack, sprinkle on your breakfast cereal or add to meals such as salads and stir-fries.
Legumes: include them in your meals regularly
Legumes (or pulses) include dried or canned beans, chickpeas and lentils. They are high in fibre and a great source of plant protein and low GI carbs. Studies have found that people with higher intakes of legumes are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Research has also found that eating legumes regularly can improve blood glucose levels and blood fats in people with diabetes and may assist with weight management. A versatile food, you can add them to salads, soups, stir-fries, curries and casseroles. They can also be made into dips or roasted as a healthy snack. Legumes can have a tendency to cause wind and bloating in some people, particularly if they are a new addition to your diet. You can reduce this by starting small and building up your intake gradually. Rinsing and draining the canned variety and soaking and rinsing dried legumes before cooking can also help.
Plant protein: try going meat-free a few times per week
Intakes of both total and animal protein are linked with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes while there is no association with plant protein. And replacing animal protein with plant protein (such as legumes and soy foods like tofu) has been shown to reduce HbA1c and fasting glucose and insulin levels. Studies have shown that higher intakes of red and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. This doesn’t mean you need to switch to a totally vegetarian diet, but try including a few meat-free meals per week or replacing half of the meat or chicken in your meals with plant protein, such as lentils in bolognese, chickpeas in a stir-fry or black beans in Mexican wraps and tacos.
The good news is that eating in this way will not only help with diabetes management, but will also provide other health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease and many types of cancer.
So, what does this look like in practice?
Breakfast: Porridge made with steel-cut oats, stewed apple and cinnamon OR wholegrain toast with a poached egg, tomato, spinach and mushrooms
Morning tea: A piece of fresh fruit
Lunch: Lentil and vegetable soup with a slice of wholegrain sourdough OR wholegrain wrap with falafel, hummus and salad
Afternoon tea: A handful of nuts OR hummus with carrot sticks
Dinner: Tofu, vegetable and cashew nut stir-fry with low GI brown rice OR grilled salmon with home-made sweet potato chips and salad
Dessert: Natural yoghurt with berries and sprinkle of chopped almonds