How Can I Improve My Diet if I Have Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes?
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the key to improved nutrition is simple: eat good quality food at regular intervals. For people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, or those trying to prevent its onset, this approach not only helps manage energy levels but also helps to stabilise blood glucose levels.
We asked leading dietitian Kate Save to explain what constitutes ‘good quality food’ as well as provide a few simple rules of thumb to help you make some quick and easy improvements to your diet.
What does a healthy diet look like?
Ms Save says one of the first steps to improving your diet is to simply make healthier choices and look to omit hidden calories by:
- Choosing low-fat or reduced diary and avoiding butter, cream, sour cream and coconut milk.
- Avoiding soft drinks, processed biscuits, cakes, chips and snack foods, as these are often full of MSG or flavour enhancers which makes them addictive and difficult to stop eating.
- Choosing a wide variety of different foods – these should include fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, nuts and legumes, lean proteins and good fats
- Exercising portion control at meal times
- Striking the right balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein and healthy fats) in an overall nutritious diet.
According to Ms Save, in approximately 60 per cent of cases Type 2 diabetes can be improved just by making basic lifestyle changes underpinned by improvements in diet and regular exercise: “In my experience, those who change their lifestyle, improve their diet and start to exercise regularly see timely results and get the positive reinforcement that is needed to help them stick with their new healthy approach to living.
“Mentally, they feel better about themselves and derive pleasure from looking good and feeling great,” she adds.
How can I improve my diet without feeling like I’m hungry?
Even though portion control is important for people with diabetes, improving your diet doesn’t have to mean starving yourself. It’s all about making smarter choices, as Ms Save explains: “For example, when selecting yoghurt it’s best to choose one that has similar amounts (grams) of protein and carbohydrates per serve. Chicken is also high in protein, so rather than forgoing it completely, simply remove the skin in order to enjoy the benefits without the unnecessary calories.”
She also notes that there’s no limit on how many fresh vegetables you can eat during the course of the day, so it’s important these are staples during meal times so that you consume ample nutrients and stay fuller for longer.
“It’s hardly a surprise that eating vegetables – especially the same varieties – night after night can seem boring,” she says.
“The key to making your veggie intake more palatable is to make them look interesting on the plate and to change things up so they don’t look the same every time you sit down to eat a meal.
“You can do this by using a wide variety of fresh herbs, spices, garlic, ginger or chili to naturally enhance flavour.”
Seven simple steps to improve your diet:
Don’t skip meals:
this is never a good idea as the body remembers and craves food later. Rather, eat regular meals at regular intervals and if you take insulin or diabetes tablets, enjoy smaller snacks in between.
Incorporate the staples:
whole grains, lean fish and meat, legumes, fruits and nuts are all great choices and should be your go-to staples for healthy meal planning and snacks.
Opt for high-fibre foods:
try to cut down on low fibre food such as white bread, cakes and biscuits as they won’t fill you up for long. Instead choose low GI, high fibre foods like wholegrain breads and pasta and brown rice.
Ditch the sweets:
Chocolate and confectionery may taste great, but they are not healthy options and offer empty calories and little to no nutrition.
try not to rely on pre-packaged sauces as they’re full of sugar, preservatives, chemicals and will only make you eat more.
Eat lots of vegetables:
but to avoid dietary boredom, make sure you mix them up and try different colours and flavours. Experimentation is key.
Know when you’re full:
Stop eating when you’re full rather than eating everything on your plate. Be consistent and stick to your healthy eating plan.
Kate Save is an accredited Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist. She has been engaged by Sanofi to provide regular expert commentary for Diabetes-Care. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi.