What’s a Good Type 2 Diabetes Diet?

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Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry
Chief Medical Officer
iconLast updated 18th October 2021
In 30 seconds

What’s the best type 2 diabetes diet? In truth, there isn’t just one. Instead, if you’re living with diabetes, your best option is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that is sustainable for you.

That might be a Mediterranean or low-carb diet. The Mediterranean diet involves lots of fruit and veg, natural fats, proteins and lean meats. On the other hand, the low-carb diet means keeping carbohydrates to less than 130g a day. Of course, neither is obligatory. The key is to find one that works for you.

Alongside healthy eating, physical activity and medical support will be crucial to managing type-2 diabetes.

Living with Diabetes

Many of us have a false impression of diabetes. It’s often thought to be a condition characterised by what you can and can’t eat. While this certainly plays a role, the truth is a little more complex.

In this guide, we’re sharing all you need to know about how to eat well when living with diabetes. The important thing to stress straight away is that a single “type 2 diabetes diet” doesn’t really exist. You can eat much more than you might expect. The difference is that you’ll just have to take a bit more care.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition affecting your body’s ability to regulate your blood glucose levels.

Whenever you eat or drink, your body converts the carbohydrates in your food into glucose, a type of sugar that’s transported around your body in your blood. Your body needs glucose to function. But as the amount of food you eat goes up and down throughout the day, your body needs to be able to keep those blood sugar levels balanced.

Insulin is the hormone responsible for keeping this balance. But in diabetic people, the production of insulin is impaired. In type 1 diabetes, this is usually due to an autoimmune condition affecting the pancreas. In type 2, it’s the result of insulin resistance. In other words, you can’t produce enough insulin, or you don’t respond to the insulin you do produce.

Find out more: What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

In both cases, the lower levels of insulin mean that the levels of sugar in your blood can fluctuate massively – sometimes being lower than normal and at other times being very high. In both cases, this can be quite dangerous. Complications of diabetes and associated conditions can include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Vision loss or impairment

If you have type 2 diabetes, you will usually be given medication to support your insulin levels. However, you will be encouraged to eat a healthy diet too. That’s where the type 2 diabetes diet comes in.

What to Know About Eating with Diabetes

As we mentioned above, there’s no such thing as a ‘type 2 diabetes diet’, strictly speaking. What we mean is there’s no single diet or meal plan that you should be following. However, you will need to watch what you eat – as well as when you eat and how much.

Why? Because what you eat affects your blood sugar levels – particularly foods that are high in added sugars. Similarly, large meals will have a greater effect on your glucose levels, just as skipping meals altogether will have an impact too.

As ever, the idea of a balanced diet is the best thing to keep in mind. That means ensuring you have the proper nutrients and limiting the number of treats, and meals are regular and portion sizes are not excessive.

Importantly, though, if you are obese or overweight, losing weight can help diabetes enter remission – meaning it will get better. This should be an essential consideration in any diabetes diet plan.

What Foods Should I Avoid with Type 2 Diabetes?

Once upon a time, a diabetes diagnosis would be followed with a list from your healthcare professional of food groups you were not allowed to eat. Diabetes care has moved on a bit from then – and today, there aren’t really any foods that you should outright avoid.

That said, you must think twice before eating the following:

  • Foods with added sugar. In moderation, these are okay, but ideally, you wouldn’t eat these often and in large quantities.
  • Salt and fats (including trans fats and saturated fats). These tend to increase the chances of obesity. So, in general, it’s best if you keep these to a minimum.

We’ll say it again: these foods don’t need to be cut out entirely. Instead, it’s far more important that you keep to the changes to your diet rather than aim for an unsustainable eating plan.

Some Type 2 Diabetes Diet Options

While we’ll not stipulate what you should be eating, diabetes management may involve changes to your diet. These can include some of the following:

  • Eating widely. This one is for everyone. Ensuring you eat all of the food groups is essential – from whole grains to proteins and fruit. While some dietitians suggest limiting the number of starchy vegetables like potatoes and lentils, they have their place in a balanced diet.
  • A Mediterranean diet. An option for inspiration for a diabetes diet is the so-called Mediterranean diet. Found to help weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol levels, it involves lots of plant-based foods, including fruit and veg, beans and legumes, olive oil, some cheeses and dairy products, and lean meats.
  • A low-carb diet. Not for everyone, but a low-carb diet has been found to lower body weight and help you manage your diabetes. It generally involves keeping carbohydrates to less than 130g a day. For a bit of perspective, a slice of bread might have 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate. By the way, low-carb does not mean no-carb. Carbohydrates are important for your health, and avoiding them altogether is not recommended.
  • Keto diet. The ketogenic diet focuses on protein- and fat-rich foods, such as meat, seafood, cheese, nuts and seeds. Usually, it puts a cap on starchy vegetables and carbohydrates, such as grains, pulses, root veg, and sweets. Again, not for everyone, but studies have shown that this sort of diet may help insulin control.

Remember, rather than form strict regimes, successful healthy eating comes from making food choices you can stick to. That can simply mean picking the more nutritious option more often.

What Else Can Help Diabetes?

Eating healthily is not the only way to help manage type-2 diabetes. You can also try some of the following:

  • Stay active. Maintaining a healthy weight can bring diabetes into remission. Physical activity for 2.5 hours a week is recommended to help make this happen.
  • Limit alcohol and cigarettes. Too much alcohol can inflame the pancreas, affecting its ability to make insulin. So keeping alcohol to a minimum is recommended, along with quitting cigarettes.
  • Get support. You are never alone in facing diabetes. Talk to us, or charities like Diabetes UK or the American Diabetes Association, for help.
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Key Takeaways

The key to a type-2 diabetes diet is healthy eating. But that doesn’t mean making sweeping changes to what you eat from one day to the next. Instead, it’s about making sustainable choices.

Following the Mediterranean or low-carb diet can help limit the amounts of sugary and high-fat foods that you eat. And remember, physical exercise is just as important.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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