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Nutrition and diabetes

12 July 2017 Blog
Nutrition and dietetics Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease, but lifestyle changes can greatly reduce our risk. Dietitians Kylie Shanahan and Ashlee Gervasoni explain how.



It is estimated that 58 per cent of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes.


This means you can more than halve your risk of developing diabetes just by improving your eating habits, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.


Even if you already have diabetes, making these changes will help you to manage your condition, possibly delay or reduce your need for medication and can help to reduce the long-term complications of the condition.


Managing diabetes

When you have diabetes, the aim is to manage your blood glucose levels, your blood fat and blood pressure as best as possible. Advice about food an eating is important as it influences your health and how you feel, both in the short and long term.


Should I cut out all carbohydrates from my diet?


The amount, type and frequency of carbohydrate foods eaten is an important consideration in the management of diabetes.


If you eat regular meals and spread your carbohydrate foods evenly throughout the day, this will help to maintain your energy levels without causing large rises in your blood glucose levels. A very low carbohydrate diet is not recommended for people with diabetes.


For people taking medication or using insulin injections, regular physical activity and a healthy diet that is well matched to your medication is the key to well-controlled blood glucose levels. Regular blood glucose testing will help you to monitor your efforts.


Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index


The amount of carbohydrate in a meal is the most important factor influencing blood glucose levels after a meal; however we also need to consider carbohydrate quality.


Foods containing carbohydrate include breads, cereals, rice, pasta, grains such as barley and couscous, fruit and fruit juices, legumes and some vegetables such as potato, sweet potato and corn. Milk and yoghurt are also a source of carbohydrate. There are also less healthy carbohydrates such as sweets that contain a greater amount of sugar.


The glycaemic index (GI) is a useful tool to assist in choosing the foods that will help to control blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates in food are digested and absorbed at different rates. The GI is a way of ranking carbohydrate-containing food (from 0-100), based on whether they raise blood glucose levels greatly, moderately or a little.


Foods with a GI of 70 and above are classified as high GI foods. These carbohydrates are digested quickly index and will result in high blood glucose levels.


Foods with a GI of 55 and below are low GI foods. These carbohydrates are digested more slowly and therefore raise blood glucose levels more slowly.


Eating a moderate amount of low GI carbohydrate foods regularly over the day will help you to maintain consistent blood glucose levels. Low GI foods also stop you from feeling as hungry, which may help you to manage or lose weight.

Healthy, low GI food choices

  • Dairy foods –including milk and yoghurt

  • Fresh fruit –such as apple, orange, pear, banana, kiwi fruit

  • Vegetables – most vegetables have low amounts of carbohydrate and therefore have little effect on your blood glucose levels. Vegetables with a significant amount of carbohydrate with a low GI value include: sweet potato, Carisma potato, Nicola potato, corn

  • Breakfast cereals – traditional porridge, natural muesli, bran

  • Pasta and noodles – all varieties

  • Bread – wholegrain and sourdough

  • Rice – such as Basmati and Doongara

  • Grains – barley, bulgur and semolina

  • Legumes – beans (e.g. baked beans, kidney beans, soy beans), peas and lentils.

Where can I get more information?

Advice should always be individualised for to each person to match health goals, personal and cultural preferences, access to healthy food and readiness and willingness to change. There is no single optimal diet for all people who have diabetes; there are many different ways of eating well.


If you would like to learn more contact the Nutrition Department at St John of God Bendigo Hospital.