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Type 2 Diabetes Diet

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS
Last Updated: December 6, 2021

Diabetes is a serious issue in the United States. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed. Type 2 diabetes can be avoided in most cases if people are aware they are at the prediabetes stage.

The National Diabetes Statistics Report from 2020 shows that 34.2 million Americans have diabetes. That is 1 out of every 10 people in the United States. Around 88 million adults have prediabetes, which is 1 out of every 3 adults.

Newly diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 have risen among American children.

 

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, once diagnosed, is a lifelong disease. It centers around the levels of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Glucose is the main power source for the cells in the human body. It comes from the foods that we eat and from what is stored in the liver.

When glucose levels are higher than normal, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin to help the glucose move into the cells throughout the body to burn it as energy. When blood sugar levels are too high for too long, the result is diabetes.

 

Types of Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes. Type 1 is a different situation than type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that makes insulin. This leaves a person with the inability to make enough insulin. They will be dependent on insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.

In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells do not respond well to insulin, and the glucose can not enter into the cells. It is also possible that after a while, the pancreas is not producing enough insulin as well.

Symptoms of type 2 start slowly. Many people do not realize they have type 2 until the symptoms are significant or it shows up in routine blood work. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Frequent infections
  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the neck and armpits

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, but it does not have a cure. Once someone has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they must pay attention to their blood sugar levels every day to help prevent damage to other parts of their body.

 

Eating with Diabetes

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can seem scary. People may feel like controlling their blood sugar levels will be complicated. Armed with the right knowledge, blood sugar can be controlled with diet and exercise for some people.

Macronutrients are the parts of the diet that are needed in large quantities, including protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Those with type 2 diabetes need to pay attention to the amounts of macronutrients they are eating.

 

Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids, the building blocks of life. Protein helps transport molecules through the body and helps repair cells. Protein is also necessary to create new cells.

Protein provides steady energy and has smaller  effects on blood sugar. Foods that are high in protein include meats, seafood, some dairy, and plant-based meat substitutes.

The American Diabetes Association provides a list of protein choices. For those who eat animal products, they recommend fish and seafood twice a week. Other protein suggestions include:

  • Poultry like chicken, turkey, cornish hen
  • Reduced-fat or small amounts of regular cheese
  • Whole eggs
  • Limited amounts of lean red meat
  • Beans like kidney, black, pinto
  • Nuts and nut spread like almond butter, cashew butter, peanut butter
  • Edamame, tempeh, tofu

Fats

Essential fatty acids are important macronutrients that help the body function. They are needed for the body to store energy long-term.

The body can not make essential fatty acids like omega 3 fatty acid, people have to get them from the foods they eat.

There are several types of fats. Monounsaturated fats are considered a healthy part of a balanced diet and are excellent choices for everyone, including people with type 2 diabetes. Monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil and olives
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil

Polyunsaturated fats are also considered healthy. This includes:

  • Oily fish like salmon and tuna.
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seed
  • Sunflower seed

Saturated fats should be limited and include:

  • Lard
  • Poultry skins
  • Cream sauces

Carbohydrates

This is the macronutrient that diabetics need to pay the most attention to. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body, and they affect blood sugar levels the most.

The best choices for carbohydrates are those that have high levels of nutrients. They have large amounts of fiber, minerals, and vitamins. The top choices are whole non-starchy vegetables like:

  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli

Diabetics can include some starchy whole foods like:

  • Whole grain brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Green peas
  • Sweet potatoes

There is a wide variety of foods that are helpful for type 2 diabetics listed above.

There are also a lot of foods that should be avoided by those with diabetes.

 

What Not to Eat

There are a significant amount of foods that can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. They should be avoided by those with diabetes. These foods include:

    • Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, sweetened iced tea, lemonade, flavored coffee drinks, and anything containing high fructose corn syrup.
    • Trans fats are linked to insulin resistance and increased inflammation.
    • Refined flour products like white bread, pasta, white rice, sweetened breakfast cereals, packaged snack foods.

 

Diabetes Medications

Sometimes blood sugar can be hard to control with diet alone. In these cases, doctors may prescribe medications to help. Common diabetes medications include:

 

Get Help Paying for Prescription Diabetes Medications

When diet and exercise are not enough, expensive diabetes medications may be necessary to avoid dangerous complications from diabetes. At The Rx Advocates, we want to make sure everyone can get the medications they need to stay healthy. We can help with many prescriptions at a low monthly rate. Contact us for more information.

 

Sources: 

CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-stat-report.html.

MedlinePlus. Diabetes. https://medlineplus.gov/diabetes.html.

Mayo Clinic. Type 1 Diabetes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011.

Mayo Clinic. Type 2 Diabetes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193.

Dictionary.com. Macronutrient. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/macronutrient.

Everyday Health. What is Protein? How Much You Need, Benefits, Sources, More. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/protein-how-much-you-need-benefits-sources-more/.

American Diabetes Association. Protein. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/protein.

National Library of Medicine. The Essentials of Essential Fatty Acids. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22435414/.

American Diabetes Association. Get Smart on Carbs. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs.

Healthline. 11 Foods and Drinks to Avoid With Diabetes. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-to-avoid-with-diabetes#1.-Sugar-sweetened-beverages.

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