Type 2 Diabetes: Healthy Diet & Care Guidelines

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Tamanna Sayed (B.Sc. Applied Nutrition)

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In recent years, many people have experienced a rapid nutritional transition resulting in overconsumption of calories, trans fats, salt, saturated fats, simple sugars, and poor intake of fiber. Owing to this, non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer have increased considerably.

Nonetheless, it is also one of the fastest-growing and most widespread maladies in the world today, so understanding the symptoms is essential, along with information on proper dietary choices and potential cures for this affliction.

Type 2 Diabetes Diet

The hand method can serve as a very helpful tool for patients who don’t require stringent carbohydrate counting. The patient’s own hand can serve as a serving size template. For a meal like dinner, the fist-size is the target portion size for the starch serving, the palm of the hand indicates a low-fat protein source such as poultry or fish, and the added fats are no bigger than the thumb. No limit is exercised on the intake of salad and non-starchy vegetables. This level of accuracy may suffice for some people suffering from type 2 diabetes mellitus but not for people with type 1 diabetes and requiring a rigid blood glucose control.

Understanding Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load of Foods

Glycemic index refers to the ranking of carbohydrate in foods depending upon the effect what a particular food produces on the blood glucose levels. Foods that are digested faster will yield a more rapid rise in glucose levels. Foods that take longer to digest will have a more blunt response on the blood glucose levels and will promote better satiety. Factors that have an effect on the blood glucose levels include:

  • Form: Any food in the liquid form will be digested faster than in the solid form.
  • Meal composition: Fat delays gastric emptying.
  • Size of the food: Finer particles digest faster.
  • Fiber content: It doesn’t digest thereby not contributing to glucose and increases a sense of fullness.

One key aspect of the concept of the glycemic index is that it does not test foods that are normally eaten in portions. For example, carrots are listed as having a high glycemic index. However, it is practically not possible that anybody would eat at a time about seven cups of carrot that is equivalent to 50 grams of carbohydrate. The concept of the glycemic load was taken into consideration to see what effect a particular food would produce if you ate it in a normal portion size. When only ½ cup of carrots was eaten, it was observed that carrots had a very low effect on the blood glucose levels. This means it has a low glycemic load.

Thus, it is important to consider the glycemic load tables of individual foods over the glycemic index of individual foods in menu planning for the management of diabetes along with carbohydrate counting. It is equally important to consult a certified diabetologist or a registered dietician for an individualized approach to menu planning to manage this condition in a better way.

Insight Into the Food Groups

Type 2 diabetes can be managed well by consuming a diet that includes low-fat dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fruits, grains, foods higher in resistant starch and glycemic load, good quality proteins, and healthy fats.

Dairy

It may be tempting to go for the full-fat milk options in your grocery aisle, or gorging on cheese to your heart’s content, but adding excess fat to your diet not only increases your chances of becoming obese but increases your sugar intake. If you want to improve your nutrient intake, feel full and handle the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, try Greek yogurt instead, as the probiotics can optimize your gut and help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Not only this, about 40 grams of this yummy yogurt can provide you with only 30 kcal. So pair this with some almonds for a great evening snack.

If you’re not a yogurt person, then simply opt for some grilled paneer cubes or buttermilk blended with cucumber to satiate your evening hunger pangs. This will also keep your sugar stable.

Vegetables

Potatoes are extremely popular vegetables, but they are also starchy, which means that they are composed of simple sugars and empty calories. Just like potatoes other root vegetables like yam, arvi and sweet potato should be avoided. Non-starchy vegetables like cucumber, drumstick, bitter gourd, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, and broccoli. should be consumed liberally.

Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, beets and many other vegetables have no starch content, which means that your blood sugar levels will remain level. This also means that you won’t experience the spike of blood sugar that can be dangerous (or even deadly) for those with diabetes. You will get a rich mixture of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins from these vegetables, important for proper metabolic function. Leafy green vegetables like fenugreek leaves, amaranth leaves, and spinach are also highly recommended for a diabetic diet, due to their high-fiber content.

Fruit

As a general rule, fruits are excellent for your body, but many people think that anything called “fruit” is healthy. That simply isn’t the case. Fruit juices and canned fruits are often packed with sugars and artificial flavoring, making them delicious, but also compromising their nutritional value. You should stick with fresh fruits, particularly citrus fruits and berries, as they are both rich in fiber and antioxidants. Fiber is known to help regulate blood sugar levels in the body, while antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress throughout the body.

Apple, Yelakki banana, papaya, pear, guava are the other varieties of fruits that can be enjoyed safely by a diabetic patient. Restrict the intake of fruits such as custard apple, sapodilla, grapes, and mangos in the diet as they can increase the blood sugar levels instantly.

Grains

There is a huge variety of grains in the world, some of which break down into simple sugars, and others that feature more complex carbohydrates. Refined flour i.e. Maida and derived products like white bread, toast, butter, buns, and other bakery and products are not a wise choice if you’re suffering from diabetes.

Rice simply lacks the healthy benefits of other whole grains. Turn your attention to brown rice, whole wheat flour and products like quinoa and millets such as barley, jowar, bajra, and ragi. Not only will these take longer for the body to process, but they also contain healthy levels of fiber. Fiber can help to regulate diabetic symptoms and improve your gastrointestinal health. However, if you simply can’t stay away from rice, choose a healthier way of incorporating it into your diet. Consume rice that has been cooked a day prior, preserved or cooled for 24 hrs at 4 degrees celsius and then reheated at the time of the meal. This is because cooling of cooked starch brings about starch retrogradation which increases the resistant starch content. This brings a lowered glycemic response in comparison to freshly cooked rice. Do check with your diabetologist or a registered dietician for the portion and frequency in the routine.

Starch and Sugar

Avoiding starches and sugars is your best bet if you’re trying to form a good type 2 diabetes diet. It is impossible to avoid all sugar and empty starch calories, but if you can eliminate most of them from your diet, you will be much better off. Stay away from the jam, flavored syrups, honey, and jaggery as well.

Proteins

Most people associate their protein intake with meat, and that is largely true, but processed meats are not the right avenue. Despite the fact that these are usually less expensive and more readily accessible, they are also packed with sodium. Sodium can easily lead to high blood pressure and an increased chance of heart attacks and strokes. Eggs and poultry are much better options for your protein intake as the proteins present in them is of a higher biological value. Also, most of the fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Good quality vegetable protein is also present in pulses and legumes (Bengal gram, green gram, and black gram), lentils, soybeans, nuts, and eggs.

Fats

Unlike what many people think, some fats are essential for human health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which help to protect the heart and blood vessels. Therefore, you need the “good” fats in your diet as a diabetic patient. Turn your taste buds to nuts (but in moderation), flaxseedsolive oil, avocados, and fish, rather than the fat found in fried foods, cheese, gravy, and other decadent treats. The right kind of fats can save your life, but the wrong kind can quickly push you to the brink of diabetes.

Is There A Cure for Type 2 Diabetes?

The dream for any disease, particularly one that affects 400 million people around the world, is to find a cure. However, there is no known cure for type 2 diabetes. What researchers have found is that diabetes can go into “remission”, much like cancer in recovering patients. If your diabetes is in remission, you won’t see the daily symptoms of the disorder, but you are at a much higher risk for relapse.

To reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes and send it into remission, proper lifestyle and dietary changes must be made. The dietary instructions above, although basic, are a great place to start in terms of what you’re putting into your body. Regular exercise to protect your heart health and the elimination of your sedentary lifestyle is the next two key steps to reversing the onset of diabetes. Losing weight is one of the best ways to send your type 2 diabetes into remission. If you are serious about getting your health back, you need to be serious about changing your behaviors!

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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