Meal Ideas While Managing Type 2 Diabetes: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Almost 1 in 20 Aussies are living with Type 2 Diabetes. Find out more about managing a Type 2 diabetes diet with these meal ideas.

by Emma Lennon

Type 2 diabetes is a common chronic health condition that affects the quality of life and wellbeing of many Australians every day. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but with effective management, many people living with type 2 diabetes lead fulfilling, rich and enjoyable lives. Type 2 diabetes is often managed using prescribed medications, but dietary interventions can also make a huge difference. Making the right choices when it comes to what foods to eat and which ones to avoid can help you keep your blood sugars and insulin in a healthy balance, so you have more time to focus on doing the things you enjoy with loved ones. Read on to find out more about diabetes, and some tips for dietary changes that can help you manage your condition more effectively. 

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is one of the main types of diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is a collection of diseases that change the way your body maintains healthy levels of blood glucose (sugar). Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting around 85 to 90% of all people with diabetes diagnoses. Type 2 diabetes affects around 1 million Australians. This equates to around 5.3% of the Australian population aged 18 years and over having a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body does not respond to insulin normally. This is known as insulin resistance. People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin from the pancreas to manage blood glucose levels. A sustained poor supply of insulin causes glucose levels to build up to dangerous levels in the blood instead of being transported to the cells for energy. Having consistently high blood glucose levels over a significant period can damage other parts of your body. This damage is known as diabetes complications.

Type 2 diabetes is most common among adults aged over 40 years. However, diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in younger adults, children and adolescents is becoming more common. Some population groups, such as people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, are at an elevated risk of having type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.

There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. However, using medication effectively and leading a healthy lifestyle can vastly reduce symptoms. Some individuals can even achieve a ‘remission’ phase in which symptoms are very mild. One of the key aspects of managing type 2 diabetes is knowing which foods to eat and which to avoid to maintain a healthy blood glucose balance.

You can read more about symptoms, causes, stages & treatment of type 2 diabetes here.

Dietary Considerations for People With Type 2 Diabetes

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Eating a varied, healthy diet is important for everyone. It is especially important for those managing type 2 diabetes. There is no single way of eating that will work for all people with type 2 diabetes, as every case is unique. If in doubt, you should always check with a diabetes educator, dietician or your family doctor for personalised nutrition advice. 

General dietary advice for people with type 2 diabetes is similar to the advice for healthy eating for all Australians. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends drinking plenty of water and choosing a wide variety of foods from the five main food groups every day. The five main food groups are:

  • Grain (cereal) foods (Choose mostly wholegrain and high fibre options)
  • Vegetables and legumes, beans and pulses
  • Fruit
  • Dairy and calcium-fortified dairy alternatives (Choose mostly low-fat options with few added sugars)
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish and meat alternatives (tofu, tempeh, seitan), nuts, eggs, and seeds.

The guidelines suggest using cooking oils in small amounts and consuming only small amounts of discretionary foods like cakes, chocolate, pastries and fried food.

The general healthy eating guidelines are a good starting point. For people managing type 2 diabetes, there are additional factors to consider. To manage your blood glucose and insulin levels, you should:

  • Reduce your intake of fat, especially saturated fat 
  • Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day
  • Follow all individual advice from accredited practising dieticians
  • Be conscious of carbohydrate intake and choose high-fibre, low glycaemic index (GI) options
  • Remember that everyone is different. Just because a particular dietary approach works for someone else, it may not work for you. Diabetes has no one-size-fits-all diet.

Keeping the above in mind, there are some foods that people with type 2 diabetes should try to include in their diet. There are also some foods you may wish to avoid to maintain your health and keep your diabetes under control.

Foods to Eat While Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Vegetables

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Vegetables are a great way to add bulk and nutrition to your meal without excess calories, saturated fat or sugar. Adding lots of colourful vegetables to your plate at most meals is a great way to manage your health. Great vegetables to eat include:

  • Green peas
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Capsicum (peppers)
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Potatoes.

Beans and Legumes

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Legumes, beans and pulses are great plant-based sources of fibre and protein. High fibre carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly than low fibre foods. This makes them a great choice for people with type 2 diabetes. Consider including the following pulses, beans and legumes in your diet:

  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Lentils
  • White beans (cannellini beans, broad beans)
  • Pinto beans
  • Black beans
  • Fava beans.

Fruit

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Fruit is an amazing source of vitamins and minerals. It also provides a delicious and convenient sweet snack without the excess added sugars in other sweet foods. Great fruit options include:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Strawberries
  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Peachers.

Grain Foods

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Grains can be a great source of complex carbohydrates and energy. People with type 2 diabetes should choose wholegrain options where possible, as they have more fibre and often a lower GI. High-fibre and low GI grains are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream for a steady energy source, without creating a blood glucose spike. Suggested options include:

  • Wholegrain wheat spelt or legume pasta
  • Wholegrain bread (look for at least 3 grams of fibre per slice)
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Amaranth
  • Cornmeal
  • Wholewheat flour
  • Cereals made from whole grains such as bran, barley, natural muesli or buckwheat cereal.

Dairy and Alternatives

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Dairy and fortified alternatives provide calcium and protein. People with diabetes should choose lower-fat options such as low-fat Greek yoghurt, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, cottage cheese, and calcium-fortified low-fat soy milk.

Meat and Protein Sources


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Protein is important for people with type 2 diabetes. It helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates for a steadier supply of energy without spiking blood glucose. Good sources of protein should be lower in fat, especially saturated fat. Suggested options include:

  • Chicken breast or thigh without the skin and with the fat trimmed
  • Salmon, sardines, tuna and other fatty fish (canned or fresh)
  • Whitefish
  • Eggs
  • Skinless turkey
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan.

Drinks

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Water is always the best choice to rehydrate your body. People with type 2 diabetes need to be aware of the added or natural sugars in some sweet beverages and factor them into their diet as they would with food. Some low sugar beverage options can include:

  • Unsweetened tea (hot or iced)
  • Low fat or skim milk
  • Unsweetened plant-based milk
  • Unsweetened coffee
  • Kombucha
  • Coconut water
  • Sparkling water.

Foods To Avoid While Managing Type 2 Diabetes

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Some foods are more likely to increase your blood glucose levels. People managing type 2 diabetes should limit or avoid these foods to maintain healthy blood glucose and insulin levels:

  • Fast food
  • Packaged foods such as pastries, doughnuts, cakes, chips and lollies
  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • White rice
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Breakfast cereals with added sugars
  • Red meat
  • Chicken with skin
  • Fried foods
  • Highly processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, sausages
  • Butter, lard, sour cream and high-fat condiments
  • Pies, sausage rolls, savoury pastries.

7 Meal Ideas for People With Type 2 Diabetes

Knowing which foods support a healthy lifestyle is just one part of the equation. You also need to feel comfortable preparing meals that are healthy, taste good and are easy to prepare during your busy day. Here are some healthy meal ideas that you can make for yourself or a loved one simply and quickly.

1. Sushi Roll

Typical sushi rolls use white rice and can be high in sugar. Swap white rice for brown, include a lean protein of your choosing and fill the rest of your plate with vegetables. Use a low sodium soy sauce to maintain healthy blood pressure, and use low-fat alternatives to condiments like mayonnaise. If you aren’t a pro at rolling sushi, simply throw the ingredients into a bowl for a quick, deconstructed sushi bowl that is ready in minutes.

2. Wholegrain Pasta With Low-Sugar Sauce and Veggies

Pasta often gets a bad reputation for being high in carbohydrates. But choosing wholegrain options can be a great choice, as it contains fibre which slows the digestion of carbohydrates. Pair your wholegrain pasta with a low-sugar tomato-based sauce, add a protein source and some quick-cooking vegetables like spinach and shredded carrot. Avoid high-fat sauces like creamy alfredo.

3. Vibrant Green Salads

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Salads are always a great option when you want to eat healthier. Start with a base of green, leafy vegetables and load your plate with all your favourite crunchy veggies like carrot, capsicum, cucumber or cabbage. Add some quinoa for protein and fibre, and some protein such as beans, tofu, or skinless chicken. Be cautious when choosing a salad dressing as many are high in sugars and saturated fat. Choose low-fat, low-sugar and low-sodium salad dressings and avoid fried toppings such as white bread croutons.

4. Veggie-Loaded Flatbread Pizza

 

Takeaway pizza is usually best avoided for people with diabetes, due to its high fat, added sugars and low fibre content. Make your own, diabetic-friendly version at home by starting with a wholegrain flatbread or wrap as your base. Load it up with a low-sugar tomato sauce and then choose all your favourite toppings like mushrooms, grilled chicken, onion and greens. Choose a low-fat cheese to top it with and enjoy!

5. Protein and Vegetable Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Stir-fries are a fast and convenient way to consume lots of vegetables. Choose your lean protein sources such as skinless turkey, fish, or tofu and add a low-sugar sauce for added flavour. Pair your stir fry with low GI brown rice for a satisfying, easy and healthy weeknight meal.

6. Salmon and Avocado Wrap

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Wraps are a convenient way to fill up vegetables and lean proteins when on the go. Choose a wholegrain wrap, use some mashed avocado as your dressing and fill it with salmon for healthy fats. Add your favourite vegetables and wrap it all up for a portable, delicious lunch option.

7. Protein and Veggie-Packed Sandwich

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Sandwiches can be a great option for people with type 2 diabetes, as long as you make smart choices. Choose a flat, whole grain bread that has fibre and around 30 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Add a lean protein source like skinless chicken breast or tofu and include plenty of fresh vegetables like salad, tomato and cucumber. Be cautious of high-fat condiments like mayonnaise or butter. Instead choose mustard, avocado or low-sugar salsa.

Healthy Snacks for People With Type 2 Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes often need snacks between meals to maintain healthy, balanced blood glucose levels. Generally, snacks that are high in fibre, protein and/or healthy fats will provide the best source of long-lasting energy without spiking your blood sugar. Some great options include:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Small handful of almonds
  • Raw vegetables with hummus
  • Berries and low-fat greek yoghurt
  • Apple slices with natural peanut butter
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Low fat cottage cheese
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Edamame beans.

How Homage Can Help You Manage Type 2 Diabetes

Homage’s team of dedicated, highly trained Care Professionals are ready to help you or a loved one manage type 2 diabetes from the comfort of your own home. 

It is so important to detect diabetes early, as well as keep up to date with checkups to track how well you are managing your diabetes. If you have mobility or geographical barriers to attending medical appointments, our Patient Transport Service is a great option. 

Our incredible home nurses are trained in providing diabetes care and management and can support you in your home. Diabetes can often lead to symptoms such as fatigue, poor eyesight and the need to use the bathroom more frequently. Receiving high-quality nursing care from home can help improve your quality of life and avoid uncomfortable or embarrassing situations when out and about. 

Our Care Professionals can even help take some of the pressure off you and your family at home by assisting with personal care, light housekeeping, grocery shopping or preparing healthy meals. Contact our friendly Care Advisors today for an obligation-free discussion of how we can support you to effectively manage your diabetes and lead a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

Fill out the details below and our Care Advisors can get back to you with the care information you need.

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References
  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020, July 15). Diabetes, Type 2 diabetes. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/diabetes/diabetes/contents/how-many-australians-have-diabetes/type-2-diabetes
  2. Bedosky, L., & Grieger, L. R. (2020, December 17). 12 Easy Lunches for Type 2 Diabetes. EverydayHealth.Com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/diet/seven-lunch-ideas-for-diabetes/ 
  3. Diabetes Australia. (n.d.-a). What is diabetes. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/what-is-diabetes/
  4. Diabetes Australia. (n.d.-b). What should I eat. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/food-activity/eating-well/what-should-i-eat/
  5. Eat for Health. (2017). Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating
  6. Elliott, R. B. D. (2018, January 14). The 21 Best Snack Ideas If You Have Diabetes. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-snacks-for-diabetes
  7. Fletcher, J. (2021, December 17). A list of healthy foods for people with diabetes, and foods to limit or avoid. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317355#foods-to-limit-or-avoid
  8. healthdirect. (2021, November 4). Type 2 diabetes. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/type-2-diabetes#causes
  9. Homage Australia. (n.d.-b). Type 2 Diabetes 101: Symptoms, Causes, Stages & Treatment. https://www.homage.com.au/resources/type-2-diabetes/
  10. Lockett, M. E. S. (2021, August 11). What Are the Stages of Diabetes? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/stages-of-diabetes
  11. Osborn, C. O. (2020, October 28). Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: What’s the Difference? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/difference-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes
About the Writer
Emma Lennon
Emma is a public health professional who is passionate about creating health content that informs and empowers. When she is not writing, you can find her at the gym or curled up on the couch with her rescue greyhounds.
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