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A healthy type 2 diabetes diet


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Having a healthy, balanced diet is especially important for people with type 2 diabetes to help keep blood glucose levels well managed.

A consultation with a dietitian may be recommended by your diabetes care team.

Carbohydrates and fibre in a type 2 diabetes diet

Carbohydrates are one of the major food categories (the others include proteins and fats) in a type 2 diabetes diet. They provide fuel for the body in the form of glucose. Glucose is a sugar that is the primary means of energy for all of the body's cells.

There are two ways to classify carbohydrates -- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars -- like glucose, sucrose, lactose, and fructose. They are found in refined sugar and in fruits. Complex carbohydrates are the starches, which are the simple sugars bonded together chemically -- they are found in beans, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. Complex carbohydrates are considered healthier mostly because they are digested by the body slowly, providing a steady source of energy. They also contain valuable amounts of fibre.

Carbohydrates, rather than fats or proteins, have the most immediate effect on your blood sugar since carbohydrates are broken down directly into sugar early during digestion. It is important to eat the suggested amount of carbohydrate at each meal, along with some protein and fat.

The British Dietetic Association recommends eating more wholegrains and foods high in soluble fibre, such as pulses, oats, fruit and vegetables. The BDA says that evidence is mounting that eating wholegrains regularly as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle may help to reduce the risk of many common diseases.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in the following food groups:

  • Fruit
  • Milk and yoghurt
  • Bread, cereal, rice, pasta
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes

What is carbohydrate counting?

Carbohydrate counting is a method of meal planning that is a simple way to keep track of the amount of total carbohydrates you eat each day. It helps allow you to eat what you want. Counting grams of carbohydrate and evenly distributing them at meals will help you control your blood sugar.

Instead of following an exchange list, with carbohydrate counting, you monitor how much carbohydrate (sugar and starch) you eat daily. With carbohydrate counting, you plan your carbohydrate intake based on what your pre-meal sugar is and your intake or insulin dose can be adjusted. Carbohydrate counting can be used by anyone and not just by people with diabetes that are taking insulin. If you eat more carbohydrates than your insulin supply can handle, your blood sugar level goes up. If you eat too little, your blood sugar level may fall too low. These fluctuations can be managed by knowing how to count your carbohydrate intake.

A registered dietitian will help you design a carbohydrate counting plan that meets your specific needs. For adults, a typical plan generally includes three to four carbohydrates at each meal, and one to two carbohydrate servings as snacks.

With carbohydrate counting, you can pick almost any food product off the shelf, read the label, and use the information about grams of carbohydrates to fit the food into your type 2 diabetes meal plan.

Carbohydrate counting is most useful for people who have multiple daily injections of insulin, use the insulin pump, or who want more flexibility and variety in their food choices. However, it may not be for everyone, and the traditional method of following food exchange lists may be used instead.

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