Type 2 Diabetes: What You Need to Know for Your Diet

When it comes to managing type 2 diabetes, I believe that the quality of the food that you eat matters as much if not more than the quantity.

Although most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, many are not. That means simply reducing the number of calories will not be enough to manage your diabetes and also promote good health.

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There are only three categories of foods: carbohydrates ("carbs"), fats, and proteins. Every food is made up of some combination of just those three macronutrients. There are also vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are also important for vital functions, but they are not foods — they do not provide energy. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are all necessary for the body to function properly. Any diet that tells you to totally avoid one of these three macronutrients cannot be healthy.

Here is what you need to eat to manage your type 2 diabetes. You may notice that what I recommend is very similar to the popular Mediterranean style diet.

Elite Carbohydrates

Contrary what you may have read, carbohydrates are actually good for people with type 2 diabetes — healthy carbohydrates, that is. These healthy or elite carbs not only help promote weight loss, they can also help lower the risk of heart disease and help you manage your diabetes. High-quality carbohydrates — the elite Carbs — are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, all of which provide abundant amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, with little or no fat. What was called roughage in the past is known as fiber now, and it may be a patient with type 2 diabetes' best diet secret. Fiber , which occurs naturally only in plant-based foods, lowers your insulin response to food, helps lower your blood sugar, causes you to feel full sooner, and helps with your colon health as well.

Nuts are included, but only a handful a day. Nuts are chock full of fiber, healthy fat and protein and have been shown to improve insulin's function. Unfortunately they are full of calories so they need to be limited somewhat. Almonds and walnuts are especially good.

Elite Fats

Our bodies need certain high-quality fats to maintain the structure of cell membranes, regulate blood pressure, maintain the immune system, and other important functions.

Monounsaturated fats, found primarily in olive oil and canola oil, are among the healthiest fats. Monounsaturated fats seem to help reduce insulin resistance, making it especially valuable for managing type 2 diabetes. It also improves blood flow through the arteries, a sign that it may help fight atherosclerosis.

Polyunsaturated fats in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids are also important. Omega-3 fatty acids, the most beneficial of the fats, are found in many kinds of fish, shellfish, canola oil, soybeans, wheat germ, flaxseed, and walnuts. It is thought that they may help prevent heart attack, hypertension, and some forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Trans fatty acids commonly found in margarine, cookies, and pastries are a man-made invention and are just plain dangerous. Look for the tell-tale signs of trans fatty acids in the package ingredients such as "partially hydrogenated oils" which is the fancy word for fats that have been chemically altered. And even foods marked "0" trans fats may have some partially hydrogenated oils which could be harmful if you ate many serving sizes.

Elite Proteins

Proteins provide the building blocks that allow us to repair damage in our bodies, build a strong immune system, make hormones and blood cells, develop muscle, and generally stay healthy. Protein is found in a wide variety of foods, including eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, whole grains, beans, and nuts. The best proteins, I call "elite proteins" are those that provide little or no saturated fat. These include plant sources of protein such as soybean products, kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), pinto beans, rolled oats, lentils, nuts, egg whites, and whole wheat.

In addition to the quality of the food that you eat, if weight loss is also a goal, think quantity of food too. To lose inches around your waist and pounds on the scale faster, apply what I call the 25 percent solution. That means reduce your daily number of calories by no more than 25 percent. Research has shown that if you reduce calories much more, you will simply lower your metabolism and regain the weight faster when you suddenly stop restricting calories. Cutting back more will take weight off faster, but you'll just put it back on relatively quickly.

Here is a quick and easy summary of my diet and lifestyle tips to manage your diabetes. I call it "Dr. Marie's four F's" to managing type 2 Diabetes.

1. Food. High fiber, unprocessed, plant-based choices are chock full of antioxidants and phytochemicals and they slow down the dangerous glycemic or insulin response to sugar/sweets/white flour foods.

2. Fat. Healthy Omega 3's are plentiful in grass-fed animals, cold water fish, flax seed, and nuts. They boost your brain, heart health, reduce inflammation and help just about every cell in your body. Olive oil and canola oil are healthy too.

3. Fitness. Exercise and get at least seven hours of sleep for your body and spirit. You'll shrink your waist size, improve your blood sugar and banish stress all at the same time.

4. Fluids. Lots of water is great. Coffee in moderation is OK as well as one drink of alcohol a day. Freshly squeezed fruit juice is good, but be wary of sugar filled juice "drinks." Avoid sodas, preferably both those with sugar and those with artificial sweeteners. Both kinds promote weight and waist gain.

Additional Diet Tips

Think small. Sometimes even minor changes can have unexpectedly powerful results. Focus on the small changes that will make the biggest difference in your life. The people in a large diabetes prevention research study who cut their risk of diabetes in half by following diet and exercise recommendations lost an average of only two inches off their waists which translated to only about 5-7 percent of their body weight.

Eat breakfast every day. Many people who are trying to lose weight skip breakfast. They feel that it is easier just to run straight to work or get on with the tasks of the day than it is to think about a healthy breakfast. Plus, there's that myth that if you only eat two meals a day, you will eat one-third fewer calories, so you'll have to lose weight.

Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are about half as likely to be obese than people who don't eat breakfast. Additional bonus: eating breakfast seems to help reduce insulin resistance, which means better managing your type 2 diabetes.