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Type 2 diabetes diagnosis: What can you eat?

This article is part of the Diabetes toolkit: Your complete guide to type 2 diabetes.

One of the first questions that comes with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is: “What can I (or my family member) eat now?”

The answer doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips to get you started.

Think ahead. Plan what you and your family are going to eat for the week so it includes healthy meals the whole family will enjoy.

Use the ‘ideal plate’. Make sure a quarter of your dinner plate is protein, a quarter is carbohydrate and half your plate is non-starchy vegetables.

Eat the same food. People with type 2 diabetes don’t need to buy special foods or eat separate meals from the rest of the family. There are lots of healthy, easy-to-make recipes the whole family will enjoy. (see below)

Make healthy choices the easy choices. Decide as a family not to have unhealthy foods in the house. This is hard at first, but will ultimately benefit everyone.

Step-by-step: Building a healthy diabetes-friendly meal

You can make almost any meal – including pizza, pasta and lasagne – diabetes-friendly. Just portion your ingredients following the lists below and away you go!

1. Give vegetables a leading role
There needs to be at least two serves of vegetables in your meal. One serve of vegetables is equivalent to half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad (not including starchy vegetables such as potato or kumara).

To reach your meal vegetable quota, add lots of grated vegetables to sauces, soups and baked dishes, dish up your meal with a generous serve of steamed green vegetables, or make veges the ‘star’ of dinner rather than a side dish.

Per person:
1 cup* cooked non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrot etc.
2 cups* salad such as lettuce, spinach, tomato, capsicum etc.
*These quantities are the minimum to aim for – feel free to load up your plate!

2. Add a portion of lean protein
Protein is an important part of a diabetes-friendly meal because it helps to lower the total GI of the overall meal (protein foods are generally low-GI because they contain minimal carbohydrates). Proteins also help you feel full for longer. Always choose reduced-fat dairy products and lean meat, and remove all visible fat prior to cooking.

Per person:
2 small (45g) eggs
120g tofu
100g cooked skinless chicken (125g raw)
100g cooked lean beef, lamb or pork (125g raw)
120g cooked fish (170g raw) including canned tuna, salmon and mackerel
40g (about 2 slices) reduced-fat cheese
1/2 cup cooked lentils, chickpeas or 3-bean mix

3. Choose moderate amounts of carbohydrates
Keep the glycaemic load of your meal down by choosing smaller portions of starchy vegetables. Using low to moderate-GI carbohydrate foods will help keep the overall GI of the meal low. Choose pasta, noodles, basmati rice, pearl barley, quinoa, grainy breads and legumes.

Don’t forget that legumes contain low-GI carbohydrates as well as protein (see protein above), so be mindful of that when you’re creating your meal.

Per person:
1 cup cooked pasta or noodles, preferably wholemeal
1 small whole grain bread roll
2 slices whole grain bread
1 cup cooked couscous
3/4 cup cooked brown rice or basmati rice
3/4 cup quinoa
1 cooked small potato
1 cooked medium kumara
1 medium corn cob

4. Add a little healthy fat
Like protein, healthy fats help lower the GI of the overall meal. Good fats are also important for keeping cholesterol levels in check. Aim for small quantities of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and nuts or seeds.

NOTE: Adding fat is not always necessary as many sources of protein – such as meat and tofu – can provide ample fat.

Per person:
2 teaspoons pesto
1 teaspoon plant-based oil (eg. olive oil)
2 teaspoons crushed or sliced nuts
10g avocado
1 tablespoon hummus
2 teaspoons salad dressing

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