Lots of factors can contribute to someone being at risk of or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There are some things that you can change and some you can’t. Our tips on healthy eating could help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Things like your age, ethnicity and family history can all contribute to your overall risk. We also know that having obesity is the most significant risk factor. If you know you have obesity, losing weight is one way you can prevent type 2 diabetes.
And eating a healthy, balanced diet is way great way to manage your weight. Any amount of weight loss can help, research shows losing even 1kg can help to reduce your risk. There are so many different ways to lose weight, so it’s important to find out what works best for you.
We know that not everyone who is at risk or living with diabetes type 2 diabetes is carrying extra weight. But whether you need to lose weight or not, it is still important to make healthier food choices. Research tells us that there are even certain foods that are linked to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Here are our top tips for healthier food choices you can make, to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
1. Choose drinks without added sugar
We know there is a link between having full sugar fizzy and energy drinks, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Cutting down on these can help to reduce your risk and support keeping your weight down. Evidence also shows that drinking unsweetened tea and coffee is associated with a reduced risk. If you are finding it hard to cut down, look out for diet or low calorie versions of soft drinks and check there’s no added sugar. Try not to replace sugary drinks with fruit juices or smoothies as these still contain a high amount of free sugar. Try plain water, plain milk, tea or coffee without added sugar, as replacements.
2. Choose higher fibre carbs
Eating white bread, white rice and sugary breakfast cereals known as refined carbs are linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. But wholegrains such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholemeal flour, wholegrain bread and oats and linked to a reduced risk so choose these instead. When you’re out shopping remember to check food labels to see if a food is high fibre. Compare different foods to find the ones with the most fibre in them.
Other healthy sources of carbs include:
- fruit and vegetables
- pulses such has chickpeas, beans and lentils
- dairy like unsweetened yoghurt and milk
Having more fibre is also associated with lower risk of other serious conditions such as obesity, heart diseases and certain types of cancers. It’s also important to think about your carbohydrate portion sizes.
3. Cut down on red and processed meat
Having more red and processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages, pork, beef and lamb are all associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. They also have links to heart problems and certain types of cancer.
Try to get your protein from healthier foods like:
- pulses such as beans and lentils
- chicken and turkey
- unsalted nuts
Fish is really good for us and oily fish like salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 oil which helps protect your heart. Try to have at least one portion of oily fish each week and one portion of white fish.
Becoming educated on food labelling, which appears on all food packets was massive benefit as we were able to identify highly processed foods and those with high levels of sugar, fat and salt which has helped us make much healthier food choices.
Pat, who reduced his risk of type 2 diabetes.
4. Eat plenty of fruit and veg
Including more fruit and vegetables in your diet is linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. But did you know there are also certain types of fruit and veg that have been specifically associated with a reduced risk?
- green leafy veg such as spinach, kale, watercress, rocket.
It doesn’t matter whether they are fresh or frozen, try to find ways to include these in your diet. Try having them as snacks or an extra portion of veg with your meals.
It can be confusing to know whether you should eat certain types of fruit, because they contain sugar. The good news is the natural sugar in whole fruit is not the type of added (or free) sugar we need to cut down on. But drinks like fruit juices and smoothies do contain free sugar, so eat the whole fruit and veg instead.
5. Choose unsweetened yogurt and cheese
Yogurt and cheese are fermented dairy products and they have been linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. You might be wondering whether to choose full fat or low fat? When it comes to dairy and risk of type 2 diabetes, the amount of fat from these dairy foods is not as important. What is more important is that you choose unsweetened options like plain natural or Greek yoghurt and plain milk.
Having three portions of dairy each day also helps you to get the calcium your body needs. A portion of dairy is:
- 200ml (1/3 pint) milk
- 30g cheese
- 125g yoghurt
6. Be sensible with alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol is linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. As it is also high in calories, drinking lots can make it difficult if you are trying to lose weight. Current guidelines recommend not regularly drinking more than 14 units per week and that these units should be spread evenly over 3-4 days. Try to have a few days per week without any alcohol at all).
Drinking heavily on one or two days per week, known as binge drinking, will also increase the risk of other health conditions such as certain types of cancer.
7. Choose healthier snacks
If you want a snack, go for things like:
- unsweetened yoghurts
- unsalted nuts
- fruits and vegetables
instead of crisps, chips, biscuits, sweets and chocolates. But watch your portions as it’ll help you keep an eye on your weight.
8. Include healthier fats in your diet
It’s important to have some healthy fat in our diets because it gives us energy. The type of fat we choose can affect our health. Some saturated fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, increasing your risk of heart problems. These are mainly found in animal products and prepared food like:
- red and processed meat
- biscuits, cakes, sweets, pies and pastries.
If you are at risk of type 2 diabetes, you are likely to be at an increased risk of heart problems so try to reduce these foods.
Healthier fats are found in foods like:
- unsalted nuts
- olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil.
We also know that the type of fat found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel is linked with a reduced risk, especially if you are from a South Asian background.
9. Cut down on salt
Eating lots of salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Having high blood pressure has also been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Try to limit yourself to a maximum of one teaspoonful (6g) of salt a day. Lots of pre-packaged foods like bacon, sausages, crisps, ready meals already contain salt. So remember to check food labels and choose those with less salt in them. Cooking from scratch will help you keep an eye on how much salt you’re eating. Instead of adding extra salt to your food try out different herbs and spices to add in extra flavour.
10. Getting vitamins and minerals from food instead of tablets
You might have heard that certain vitamins and supplements can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Currently we don’t have evidence to say this is true. So, unless you’ve been told to take something by your healthcare team, like folic acid for pregnancy, you don’t need to take supplements. It’s better to get all your vitamins and minerals by eating a mixture of different foods.
Recipe ideas to help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
You've read the tips, now time to start cooking. The recipes we have picked out below make the most of the healthy eating tips, to help you on the way to making healthier choices and reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
The Virgin Mojito is great alternative to alcohol, ideal for parties and celebrations.
If you have the urge for a takeaway, why not make this Chicken and lentil curry at home instead?
For light and protein-packed lunches or dinners, why not give some of these a try?