While there is no specific “diabetes diet”, nutrition does play an important role in managing the condition. We chat with Mary Du Heaume, HBF’s Member Health Coach and accredited practising dietitian to better understand diet’s role in diabetes management.
According to Diabetes Australia, more than 300 Australians develop diabetes every day.1 With diabetes the seventh most common cause of death by disease in Australia, knowing some factors for prevention is important but feeling in control of your diagnosis, even more so – which is where a dietitian can help.
In this article:
What is diabetes?
Diabetes happens when your pancreas can’t produce enough of the hormone insulin, or your body becomes resistant to it. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that acts as a ‘key’ in the ‘lock’ of our cell’s ‘doors’ to let the glucose in to be used to provide energy.
- almost 1.9 million people have diabetes
- almost 1.3 million people have type 2 diabetes - 85 to 90 percent of all cases of diabetes
- 400,000 Australians are at high risk of diabetes.
How can you better manage diabetes through diet?
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune condition and is not linked to modifiable risk factors. It requires insulin replacement to control the body’s blood glucose levels. Although developing type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with lifestyle, maintaining a healthy lifestyle plays an important role and requires individual advice and management.
Many factors can contribute to developing type 2 diabetes, and our genetic makeup can play a role, meaning some people have to work twice as hard to keep diabetes under control or prevent it in the first place. Some health parameters that you and your doctor would discuss, including family history and age, are factors that we cannot modify. Other factors such as our weight, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking status are within our control and may actively contribute to risk.
The good news: almost 60 percent of all cases of type 2 diabetes in Australia can be delayed or prevented with changes to diet and lifestyle.
People living with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to enjoy healthy foods like everyone else and as such there is no specific “diabetes diet”. No two people are the same so there is no one size fits all.
Understanding the principles of how food affects blood glucose levels, medications, and other health factors can help guide food choices to create the most appropriate pattern of eating for an individual. Diabetes Australia recommends that everyone with diabetes visit an accredited practising dietitian for individualised dietary advice.
Meanwhile, here are some general recommendations to remember
- Focus on good quality carbohydrates in the right amount for you and your energy levels. chose high-fibre carbohydrates like wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and pulses
- Consider portion size; too much of any carbohydrates can stress blood glucose levels and potentially increase weight.
- Prioritise proteins such as pulses, beans and lentils, eggs, fish, poultry, and unsalted nuts over red and processed meats. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting your intake of red meat to 455g of cooked lean red meat (600-700g raw) each week. This is because red and processed meats have a greater association with heart disease and cancers.
- Include healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, unsalted nuts, seeds, avocados, and oily fish. These types of fats can help lower insulin resistance and protect from heart disease. Saturated fats found in butter, red and processed meat, and ultra-processed foods like biscuits, cakes, pies, and pastries can increase LDL cholesterol and inflammation.
Healthy eating is an integral aspect of managing diabetes and impacts weight, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and can help to reduce the risk of diabetes complications such as heart disease and stroke.
What else can you do?
Attending a diabetes education session, visiting a diabetes educator, or for eligible HBF members* enrolling in the fully covered COACH program can give you valuable insights into how your body changes with diabetes and what are the most effective ways including diet to manage or even reverse these changes.
Resources and support
Did you know you can slow prediabetes and manage type 2 diabetes through diet? If weight loss is a priority for you, this is where the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet comes in – and you could claim 100% of the cost as an eligible HBF member*. Learn more here.
You can also attend a diabetes education session, visit a diabetes educator or eligible HBF members can enrol in the fully covered* COACH program. Check out some handy links below.
- Diabetes Australia
- Nutrition Australia
- National Diabetes Services Scheme
How can HBF can help with diabetes management
- Depending on your cover, HBF extras can pay benefits towards visits to the dentist, a dietitian, a podiatrist, an exercise physiologist, a physiotherapist, or a psychologist. Which can all play an important role in supporting your diabetes management plan.
- Under HBF’s Healthy Living Programs, you can also claim a benefit toward a membership with Diabetes Australia.
- HBF hospital cover may pay benefits for insulin pumps, as well as hospital treatments that may be required for diabetes (such as stabilisation of hypo- or hyperglycaemia).
- Eligible HBF hospital members may also have access to The COACH Program, an evidence-based telephone coaching service to help you manage type 2 diabetes.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.
*limits and waiting periods apply