The American Dietetic Association’s goals for a healthy diet in managing type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) are to control blood sugar, achieve normal lipid levels, promote a healthy weight, avoid complications and support general health. All foods can fit into a T2DM eating plan; however, the key is variety, moderation and balancing diet with physical activity.
Blood sugar is measured through a simple blood test and indicates how well T2DM is being managed. Irregular blood sugars–blood sugars that are too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia)–can lead to diabetic complications.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA), healthy eating, physical activity and not smoking help to keep blood sugar within a normal range and prevent T2DM complications like retinopathy (retina damage), neuropathy (nerve damage), kidney disease, skin disorders, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
Grains, Fruits & Vegetables
The ADA recommends eating whole grains like brown rice, whole grain bread and pasta and popcorn that are high in fiber. This regulates blood sugar and benefits the heart. Fruit and vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat free and should be enjoyed in a variety of colors. Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables should not contain added fat, sugar and salt. Be aware that fruits and starchy vegetables like peas, corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes need to be carefully portioned because their natural sugars raise blood sugar.
Meat & Dairy
Meat and dairy products are good sources of protein, calcium and other essential nutrients; however, they can also be high in fat and calories, which, when consumed in excess, can lead to obesity and other chronic diseases. Choose lean meats like skinless poultry, fish, pork loin and eggs, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products like milk and yogurt. Beans and legumes are also full of protein and fiber and should be eaten a few times a week.
Fat, Sugar & Alcohol
The ADA advocates limiting snacks and desserts with lots of fat and added sugar; they are high in calories but lack beneficial nutrients. Decreasing dietary fat, especially saturated and trans fats, is also important because too much can lead to obesity and heart disease. Alcohol is okay only if blood sugar is well controlled and should be limited to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Physical activity is part of a healthy diet whether you have T2DM or not. An active lifestyle improves blood sugar control, lowers blood pressure and blood lipids, promotes weight loss, lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, increases energy and builds strong bones and muscle, according to the ADA. Federal guidelines recommend being physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week; 60 minutes of activity supports weight maintenance and 60 to 90 minutes promotes weight loss.
Diet When Sick
Controlling blood sugar can be difficult with an illness because eating patterns and activity level change. The NIH recommends drinking eight ounces of fluid every hour while awake and eating bland foods when a regular diet is not tolerated. If a person cannot eat, drink a beverage with sugar in it to prevent blood sugar from falling too low.
About this Author
Bethany Fong is a registered dietitian and chef from Honolulu, Hawaii. She has produced a variety of health education materials on multiple topics relating to wellness, and worked in many industries, including clinical dietetics, food service management and public health.