Beyond reducing sugar: Eating well to prevent type 2 diabetes

world diabetes day logo

Today is World Diabetes Day, so I want to take this opportunity to talk about some of the ways that you can change your eating habits to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, changing your eating habits is important, but you might be surprised to know that it isn’t all about cutting out sugary foods. Eating too much sugar is not directly related to developing diabetes, however eating too much of the sweet stuff can lead to weight gain (just as eating too much protein or fat can do the same) and this increased weight can increase your risk.


While reducing added sugar might be one strategy to help reduce weight and type 2 diabetes risk, this is not the only change that can be made.

To maximise your risk reduction, try these food tweaks:

  • Don’t ditch the grains and legumes – With all of the bad media surrounding grains and legumes at the moment you could be forgiven for thinking that these foods are best avoided. However, the research says otherwise. In fact, increasing wholegrain intake by 2 serves per day has been linked to a 21% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes. Wholegrains are higher in fibre than their processed counterparts and because the grain remains intact it takes the body longer to digest, which leads to a slower release of glucose into the system. This means they have a low glycaemic index (GI), placing less stress on the body’s insulin response, a likely mechanism behind regular consumption reducing diabetes risk. Similarly, most legumes are also high in fibre and have a low GI. Try to include lentils, legumes, chickpeas, starchy beans and pulses at least 2-3 times each week and wholegrain foods (such as grainy breads, oats and rice) every day.


  • Get a good start to the day – Although recent research has cast doubt over whether or not eating breakfast can help with weight loss, there is still evidence to show that regular breakfast eaters are less likely to develop chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes. And it makes sense as breakfast is a good opportunity to get in some extra fibre and wholegrains. Skipping breakfast as little as once a week increases your type 2 diabetes risk by 20%, so if you’re someone who rushes out the door on an empty stomach, making the effort to add breakfast to your morning routine is worthwhile long term – especially if you base it on wholegrains.


 Check out my list of 30 healthy breakfast ideas!


  • Focus on healthy fats – Swapping saturated ‘unhealthy’ fats for unsaturated ‘healthy’ fats  has been shown to reduce type 2 diabetes risk. The traditional Mediterranean pattern of eating has been linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes in part because the main source of fats in the diet are unsaturated sources such as nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products, but there is no need to cut out meat altogether; just avoid processed meats, go for leaner cuts, remove as much visible fat as possible before you start cooking, and include a couple of fish or vegetarian meals each week.


  • Switch energy-dense for nutrient-dense – Nutrient-dense foods such as fruit and vegetables provide the body with lots of nutrients and antioxidants and very little energy or kilojoules. In contrast, energy-dense foods (& drinks) such as chips, cakes, pastries, biscuits, soft drinks, cordial and alcohol provide the body with lots of energy and very little (if any) nutritional value. Eating energy-dense foods on a regular basis can lead to weight gain and also take the place of other foods that provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function well, which can both increase your risk of chronic health problems such as diabetes. Filling up half your plate with nutrient-dense vegetables helps weight management by reducing energy intake. It also helps to get in more nutrients that let your body function at its peak and more antioxidants which can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. Green leafy vegetables in particular have been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes – 120g per day may reduce risk by around 14%, however other colours contain different nutrients and antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, so aim for a rainbow to get the best overall health benefits!


A few small changes can go a long way to reducing your chronic disease risk.

See my World Diabetes Day post from last year to read about the other lifestyle factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes risk.

Oh, and one last thing – get tested!

Around half of the people who have type 2 diabetes in Australia don’t know that they have it. Diabetes may feel like a scary thing to be diagnosed with, but the real danger lies in it remaining undiagnosed and untreated, so it doesn’t pay to stick your head in the sand! If you are at a high risk, or have a family history of type 2 diabetes, ask your doctor to test your fasting glucose level to see if you have diabetes or prediabetes.

Don’t know your risk? Take this test:


To find more information about World Diabetes Day activities and initiatives worldwide visit the International Diabetes Federation website – http://www.idf.org/worlddiabetesday/.

What do you think?