Type 2 diabetes is a growing health concern, affecting millions of people worldwide. In the UK alone, 4.3 million people are living with the condition, and an additional 2.4 million are at risk of developing it. The good news is that making better dietary choices and implementing lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing this disease.
Understanding type 2 diabetes and its causes
Before discussing dietary modifications, it’s essential to understand what type 2 diabetes is and what causes it. This form of diabetes occurs when the body is unable to regulate glucose levels in the bloodstream. There are two primary reasons for this:
- The pancreas is no longer able to produce sufficient insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling glucose movement into cells for energy production.
- The body’s cells become resistant to insulin and cannot absorb glucose from the bloodstream, resulting in dangerously high blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is often considered a lifestyle disease, as factors such as dietary choices and exercise levels can influence the risk of developing the condition.
Top 10 dietary modifications for type 2 diabetes prevention
In light of Diabetes Awareness Week (June 12-18), we have compiled a list of ten dietary modifications that can help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The primary focus should be on reducing sugary and starchy foods, as they can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.
1. Decrease consumption of starchy grains
Grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley, are rich in starch and provide a significant source of simple sugars (glucose). White refined grains, including bread, pasta, and white rice, have lost their fibre content and are digested rapidly, causing blood sugar spikes. Opt for whole grains like oats, brown rice, and wholegrain bread in small portions, preferably once a day. It’s best to avoid pasta altogether.
2. Limit wheat-based products
Many everyday food items contain wheat, such as pizza, pies, pastries, crackers, cakes, and biscuits. These foods often lack sufficient protein and fats and are typically served with other starchy foods like potatoes, causing a starch/sugar overload. Choose either the wheat-based product or the starchy accompaniment, but not both.
3. Monitor intake of starchy vegetables
Starchy vegetables, also known as root vegetables, include potatoes (both white and sweet varieties), parsnips, swede, beetroot, and turnips. Sweetcorn and butternut squash are also starchy vegetables. While beetroot, sweet potatoes, and squashes are nutritious, they should be consumed in moderation. Carrots, although part of the root vegetable family, are non-starchy. When eating starchy vegetables, limit portion sizes and avoid combining them with other starchy foods.
4. Be cautious with cereals
Most breakfast cereals are based on refined grains and deliver excessive sugar into the body. Although they may claim to contain added nutrients and fibre, the carbohydrate and sugar levels are often too high for a healthy breakfast choice. Be wary of “healthy-looking” muesli or granola, as the combination of grains and dried fruit increases the sugar content. It’s best to avoid cereals altogether.
5. Control fruit consumption
While fruit is generally considered healthy, some fruits have high sugar or starch levels. Tropical fruits (such as pineapple and mango), grapes, and bananas quickly deliver sugar into the bloodstream and should be eaten in moderation. Limit fruit intake to no more than two portions a day. Dried fruit and fruit juices are worse options, as they have even higher sugar levels.
6. Choose low-glycemic index (GI) foods
Low-glycemic index foods release sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate, helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Incorporate low-GI foods like legumes, whole grains, and non-starchy vegetables into your diet for better blood sugar control.
7. Increase fibre intake
Fibre plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels. Consuming high-fibre foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can help prevent blood sugar spikes and improve overall digestive health.
8. Include healthy fats and proteins
Incorporating healthy fats and proteins into your diet can help maintain stable blood sugar levels. Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins can provide essential nutrients and help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
9. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, energy drinks, and fruit juices, significantly contribute to high blood sugar levels. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, or coffee instead.
10. Practice portion control
Overeating can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Practice portion control by using smaller plates, eating slowly, and listening to your body’s hunger cues.
The importance of lifestyle changes
In addition to dietary modifications, implementing lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and maintaining a healthy body weight can all contribute to better blood sugar management and overall health.
By making these dietary and lifestyle adjustments, you can take proactive steps to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Remember, prevention is the best cure, and it’s never too late to start making healthier choices.