Best foods for Type 2 diabetes
With 5 million people estimated to be living with diabetes in the UK (source: Diabetes UK), and the number of people being diagnosed and those at risk growing due to poor diet, obesity and lifestyle factors, it's more important than ever to be aware of the how your diet can help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and managing it.
Our nutritionists explain the best foods to reach for and what to avoid.
What is Type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is often called 'Adult-onset diabetes' or 'Non-insulin dependent diabetes'. Type 2 diabetes is where the body's blood sugar levels have been high for a long period of time, and either the 'beta islet cells' in the pancreas become tired and less efficient at producing insulin, or the insulin they produce becomes less effective and doesn’t take the blood sugar into the cells effectively. Blood sugar is converted into blood glucose and essential for your energy, daily wellbeing and many essential physiological functions.
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Type 2 diabetes typically occurs in adults, but unfortunately it is now being seen in some children. While some people will need the additional support of medication once diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it can often be controlled by a carefully managed diet and exercise.
Learn more in '10 symptoms of diabetes to look out for'.
What causes Type 2 diabetes?
The most common cause of Type 2 diabetes is a poor diet of excessive levels of refined sugars and refined foods that cause spikes in blood sugar levels over a sustained period of time.
However there are other factors that can contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Obesity is a major causative factor in Type 2 diabetes. The higher your BMI (body mass index), the higher your risk of developing diabetes. Studies show those with obesity are seven times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes compared to those who are a healthy weight. Those who are overweight are three times more likely to develop diabetes.
You may enjoy our 'Nutritionists advice for healthy weight loss'.
Some genetic factors may impair the body’s ability to deal with blood sugar effectively, contributing to the development of Type 2 diabetes. If members of your family have had diabetes, you're at a higher risk of getting diabetes.
Chronic stress plays havoc with blood sugar levels and long-term chronic stress can contribute to the development of diabetes Type 2. Your diet can play an important role in managing stress - learn more in 'Best foods to relieve anxiety'.
Best foods for pre-diabetes and diabetes
Pre-diabetes is the stage before full blown diabetes, and is also known as 'insulin resistance'. The best way to improve insulin resistance is through diet and lifestyle.
Consume protein with complex carbohydrates
When eating protein with the complex carbohydrates, the protein slows down the release of the sugars from the carbohydrates even further. This combination limits the spike of blood sugar and is easier for the body to handle.
Best foods for complex carbohydrates: whole grains, quinoa, barley, brown rice, oats, and vegetables including lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and green peas. Learn more in 'The 5 best carbs for plant-based meals'.
Proteins are made up of long-chain amino acids and there approximately 20 difference amino acids found in animal and plant proteins, of which eight are essential which our bodies can't produce so we need them from our diet.
Best foods for protein: Plant foods including soya products, quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds and hemp seeds all contain all the essential amino acids. Other useful sources of plant protein include nuts, seeds, pulses and seitan (wheat protein). Animal sources of protein including the essential amino-acids include meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.
Learn more in 'Best protein sources on a plant-based diet'.
Avoid refined sugars
Refined sugars, such as any sugar added to foods and drinks, cause a spike in blood sugar which results in the pancreas having to to release insulin. When this occurs frequently over the long term, it can cause the pancreas to become less efficient, or the insulin produced by the pancreas to become ineffective, and this can contribute towards the development of Type 2 diabetes. Refined sugars are also a contributing factor to obesity which itself is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. You may be interested in reading 'Is oat milk good for diabetes?'.
Avoid 'white' and 'refined' foods
White and refined foods such as white bread, white rice and some pastas cause a spike in blood sugar levels which in the long term can contribute towards insulin resistance and diabetes.
Cinnamon is a versatile spice which can be used in both sweet and savoury cooking, and promotes healthy blood sugar control. Cinnamon also tastes sweet and can helpfully trick you body into thinking you have had something sweet, thereby reducing cravings for sweet sugary foods and drink.
Chromium is a trace mineral that is used by the body for the metabolism of carbohydrates. You need a balance of chromium in the body to keep blood sugar levels stable. Learn more in 'Symptoms of high and low blood sugar'.
Good food sources of chromium: whole grains, wholemeal and rye bread, oats, black pepper, fruit and vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, romain lettuce, tomatoes, peaches, celery, bananas, apples, and nuts and seeds.
Magnesium is another mineral needed for blood sugar balance. Many people do not get enough in their diet - learn more in 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Magnesium?'. Magnesium works alongside insulin and helps to regulate insulin sensitivity, and there are many studies showing an association between higher magnesium intakes and a lower risk of diabetes.
Best food sources of Magnesium: avocados, kale, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains, as well as dairy foods, meat and fish.
Learn more about why 'Magnesium is the 'Mineral Superhero''.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Studies show Alpha Lipoic Acid may help to lower blood sugar levels. It may also help to protect the body from free-radical damage in people with diabetes and neuropathy.
Best foods for Alpha Lipoic Acid: broccoli, tomatoes, spinach and Brussels sprouts.
Exercise and diabetes
Although exercise is separate to diet and foods, the importance of it cannot be stressed enough! Exercise alone can improve your response to blood sugar and can increase insulin sensitivity. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day, and more if you are obese.
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