Pillar 2: Nutrition

Healthy nutrition is an essential part of successfully managing and preventing diabetes. Eating healthily makes it easier for you to control your blood sugar levels, reduce insulin resistance, and manage your weight.

How nutrition and diabetes interact

Diets that lack essential nutrients, and contain lots of simple sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats increase your risk of developing diabetes and its complications, such as heart disease and stroke. Diets high in quickly absorbed sugars and carbohydrates can cause insulin resistance, the main cause of diabetes. When you make healthy diet changes that balance blood sugar levels, your body will start to respond more effectively to insulin, thereby allowing your cells to use glucose more efficiently. 

How else can nutrition help your diabetes?

Because nutrition therapy for diabetes focuses on improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, several of the down-stream effects of insulin resistance can be reduced, including:

  • Oxidative stress, which damages cells
  • Inflammation
  • Abdominal weight gain
  • Poor appetite control
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood thickness

Healthy nutrition also helps optimize metabolism, improve energy, support emotional well-being, and reduce stress.

Tip: Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C-glycated hemoglobin) is a measure of blood sugar levels over a three-month interval. High levels indicate poor blood sugar control and are associated with increased risk of diabetes complications. Nutrition therapy can lower HbA1C 1-2.

Nutrition and weight management

Good nutrition is critical for weight management in those with diabetes. Insulin resistance and persistently high blood sugar actually promote weight gain. Excess blood sugar is converted into fat, and excess body fat further impairs insulin sensitivity. The good news is that you can use nutrition therapy to break this vicious cycle.

Things you can do to improve your diet today!

While individualized nutrition therapy works best for diabetes management, there are some basic interventions that can help everyone:

  1. Eat whole foods: Choose foods in their natural state, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lean protein to increase vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient intake. Avoid packaged and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and additives.
  2. Follow a low-glycemic index/load diet: Low-glycemic index and load foods are those that turn to glucose slowly, preventing blood sugar and insulin spikes.
  3. Increase fibre intake: Helps you feel full for longer for appetite and weight control, and lowers glycemic index of meals.

Tip: Evidence suggests soluble fibre is best for slowing how quickly you absorb the sugars from your food. Try foods like oatmeal, chia seeds, flax seeds, apples, pears, lentils, and legumes.

  1. Consume healthy fats: Prioritize monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil, avocado) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g., fish oil, flax oil, walnuts) over saturated and trans fats.
  2. Reduce caffeine:  Caffeine has been shown to increase insulin in the blood stream and keep blood sugar elevated longer.

Nutrition therapy for diabetes is not simply about counting calories. Instead, the focus is on helping you enjoy satisfying, healthy and delicious foods that actively promote good blood sugar management.