The goal of a healthy diet for type 2 diabetes is to focus on foods that will support normal blood sugars, a healthy weight, overall health and avoidance of diabetic complications. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) can enjoy a variety of foods. Although diabetics can eat any type of food, general guidelines encourage eating more of certain foods while limiting others as part of a healthy eating plan focusing on moderation and portion control.
Added sugars in food causes blood sugar to rise. A type 2 diabetic with consistently high blood sugar levels is at risk for complications like retinopathy (retina damage), neuropathy (nerve damage), foot ulcers, skin disorders and kidney disease. While sugar is OK in small amounts, it should be limited to maintain a normal blood sugar. Sugary foods also tend to be high in calories while lacking essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Filling up on nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is a better way to use calories.
Foods such as fruits that contain natural sugars typically have a lower glycemic index than foods with added sugars. When diabetics consume foods with lower glycemic levels, these foods could help keep blood sugar levels balanced. However, foods with added sugars such as cookies tend to have a high glycemic index, and these foods can result in a spike in blood sugar level. Choosing to eat strawberries over a piece of candy would offer a better option.
Limit dietary fat, because it is high in calories and consuming too many calories can lead to obesity. Obesity not only complicates diabetes but is also one of the greatest risk factors for developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and arthritis. Decrease dietary fat by choosing low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can also cut fat and calories by cooking with little or no oil or butter; making smart choices when eating out; monitoring portion size; and limiting high-calorie snacks and desserts. The ADA especially emphasizes the need to avoid saturated and trans fats which increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke and raise cholesterol. A 2010 article from "Diabetes Educator," a publication of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, reported that a plant-based, low-fat diet helped control blood sugars in type 2 diabetes.
Everyone needs carbohydrates as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but diabetics need to choose carbohydrates wisely. In considering the glycemic index, whole grains have a lower glycemic index than processed or refined products. For example, choosing whole wheat pasta over enriched, white flour pasta should have a lower impact on blood sugar levels.
Some vegetables contain starches, and diabetics should limit starchy vegetables in a type 2 diabetes diet because they can raise blood sugars. Starchy vegetables include peas, corn, potato, winter squash, pumpkin and potatoes.
The ADA recommends drinking alcohol only if blood sugar is well controlled and advises women to limit their intake to one drink per day and men to two drinks per day. A July, 2004 article from "Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews" found that moderate alcohol intake benefited people with T2DM by reducing the risk of heart disease, however too much alcohol negatively affected blood sugar and nullified any benefits to the heart.
- American Diabetes Association: Food & Fitness
- American Diabetes Association: What Can I Eat
- “Diabetes Education”; A Plant-Based Diet for Type 2 Diabetes: Scientific Support and Practical Strategies; C. Trapp, N. Barnard, H. Katcher; Jan./Feb. 2010
- “Diabetes/Metabolism Research & Reviews”; Diabetes Mellitus and Alcohol; A. van de Weil; Jul. 2004
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: What I Need to Know About Eating and Diabetes