Type 2 Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose (sugar) builds up in your blood. The exact mechanism for its development is not fully understood. The body becomes resistant to the action of a hormone called insulin. This is different to Type 1 diabetes where the pancreas stops producing insulin. Insulin has an important role is assisting the blood glucose move into your body’s cells where it is used as a source of energy. The precursor to Type 2 Diabetes is called insulin resistance. Living well with diabetes can be achieved by reassessing your health and lifestyle needs, and learning how your body responds to food, exercise, travel and illness.
Managing Type 2 Diabetes
#1 Link up with your diabetes care team
Diabetes is a condition that affects many parts of our body, so requires a team of health experts to help you choose the most appropriate lifestyle choices for you. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a number of other health conditions and problems, such as poor vision, nerve damage, kidney disease and foot and leg ulcers. Your diabetes team ideally includes your:
- General Practitioner
- Endocrinologist or Physician with training in diabetes
- Diabetes Educator: registered nurse or Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
- APD for nutrition and lifestyle
- Podiatrist for foot checks and care
- Ophthalmologist for your eyes
A regular follow up with your healthcare practitioners is recommended, as your diabetes will change over time. This way you will have the best opportunity to modify your choices to take care of your current needs and prevent further illness. Your General Practitioner and Endocrinologist will refer you to other healthcare practitioners as necessary.
#2 Monitor your blood glucose levels
I believe that the invention of the home blood glucose monitor has given people with diabetes so much more freedom. By regularly testing your blood glucose, you can assess how a meal, a walk or an illness, for example, has affected your levels. The current recommendations for testing blood glucose are:
- Before meals
- 2 hours after finishing your meal
- Before exercise
- When you are unwell
Diabetes Australia provides practical advice on testing your blood sugars. Also check with your healthcare practitioner.
#3 Choose mostly whole foods
The recommended eating pattern for people with diabetes are the similar to those for everyone else. Additional care is required to choose the best type and amount of carbohydrate foods e.g. fruit, bread and other grain based foods, but otherwise the same. This might come as a surprise. I refer to you to my earlier articles on balancing our foods choices:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Grains and cereals
- Dairy foods and alternatives
- Protein foods
- Nuts, seeds and oils
#4 Choose carbohydrate foods with care
Through working with people with diabetes and nutrition research, we have learnt that not all foods containing carbohydrate are digested and metabolised the same. For example, 15 grams of carbohydrate from an apple takes longer to raise our blood glucose levels than the same amount of carbohydrate from pineapple. The combination of foods also changes how carbohydrate is digested and metabolised. Fibre, protein and fat slow down the digestion of carbohydrate.
The glycemic index (GI) is measurement of how quickly carbohydrate is broken down in food. GI values compare portion sizes of foods that contain the same amount of carbohydrate. The glycemic load of a food takes into account the GI, plus the differing amounts of carbohydrate within foods. For example, watermelon has a high GI but low carbohydrate content.
The GI and GL can be used to assist you in choosing foods that have slower release sugars.
The University of Sydney has an extensive database of foods that you can search. I recommend working with an Accredited Practitising Dietitian when your first start using GI and GL.
#5 Cultivate mindful choices
Being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes comes as a shock to most people. Guilt about not taking better care of their health often follows. Negative and judgemental thoughts do not support good health. I encourage you to watch your thoughts and beliefs about having diabetes, as they will direct your eating and lifestyle choices.
Whenever you are about to make a food choice, prepare a meal or enjoy a snack at your favourite café, pause and ask yourself how your choice will improve your health and wellbeing. Take notice of how you feel after eating; are you full, satisfied or lethargic? You can also check how your food has affected your blood glucose level. Use this information to build your confidence in making choices that best suit you.
Mindful eating allows us to enjoy a variety of foods and support the health of our mind and body. Eating for You is a resource that assists you to identify your personal health needs and make mindful lifestyle choices for your health and wellbeing.