Better Nutrition for Those with Type 2 Diabetes
By: Jamie Bussin and Shannon Crocker, MSC RD
Shannon Crocker is a food-loving registered dietitian and professional home economist with over 20 years of experience in nutrition communications. I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon on Episode #265 of The Tonic Talk Show/Podcast. This is a digest of that discussion.
Nutrition is important for everyone. But it’s especially important for those living with type 2 diabetes, because with proper nutrition and appropriate portion size they can regulate their blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, keep cholesterol in check and manage health related risks – in particular heart disease. That said, if you have type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease, controlling your blood sugar alone may not be enough. There are medications that – along with diet and exercise – have been proven to lower the risk of dying from problems related to your heart and blood vessels.
Heart-healthy foods are whole nutrient rich foods that are minimally processed. These foods are going to give you vitamins and minerals, healthy fibre and proteins. In practice, Shannon says, that means eating vegetables (like dark leafy greens), fruits (especially berries), whole grains and legumes (ie. dried beans and lentils) as well as protein-rich foods (nuts, seeds and lower fat dairy, eggs, lean meat or poultry). The overriding principle is that you’re trying to eat more nutritionally-dense foods- to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. You want to avoid ultra-processed foods like chips, candy, pop and nutrient-poor pre-made meals.
You might assume that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes would require a complete diet overhaul. “Many people feel overwhelmed when they receive that diagnosis.” says Shannon. “They think that they’ll have to make big changes. But, I think it’s important to know that a complete overhaul isn’t necessary. Truly small shifts can go a long way to improve one’s health.” Shannon suggests that people start with small, simple swaps like whole grain instead of white bread or unsweetened muesli or oatmeal instead of sugary cereals. Drink sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon instead of pop.
There are no absolute good or bad foods. For Shannon it’s a more subtle approach. No foods are off limits (barring allergies or food that has gone bad). But there are foods you should enjoy more often and those you might consider enjoying less often and in smaller portion sizes. You might also need to consider when and how you eat certain foods.
The more positive approach, according to Shannon, is to focus on the foods that you want to include in your diet. Think of it as an addition rather than a subtraction. Eat more whole nutrition dense foods – vegetables, legumes and whole grains. You want to be eating more at home and making a plan for three regular meals a day. Nutrition and an eating pattern have to be personalized.
There are fruits and vegetables that are important to a type 2 diabetes healthy diet. All fruits and vegetables are nutritious. But there are some that are going to be better choices. The focus might be on lower carb produce as opposed to the more carb heavy potatoes, corn and peas. Blueberries and raspberries are packed with vitamins and fibre and are lower in carbs. Shannon recommends a serving of dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, arugula or cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage every day. They’re low in calories and carbohydrates, but they’re really packed with vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes, fresh or low-sodium canned, also contain heart healthy nutrients.
Whole grains are also nutritionally important. They provide B vitamins and more fibre than refined grains. That can help lower blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease. The fibre also helps with digestion, so that your blood sugar level won’t rise as quickly as it would with refined grains. Whole grains also make you feel fuller and more satisfied longer. Shannon’s favourite is barley – a Canadian grain with a great nutty flavour. She likes to cook it until it is chewy and add it to salads or as a side dish. We both like oatmeal, which is a breakfast staple. Shannon adds oatmeal to fruit or vegetable-based smoothies to boost satisfaction and creaminess. Whereas a handful of oatmeal is my secret ingredient to help thicken a white chili.
Consuming protein daily is important for someone with type 2 diabetes because it helps maintain a diet that will improve your heart health. Shannon prefers high quality proteins from sources like legumes, nuts and seeds, fish (especially fish such as salmon or trout that are high in omega-3 fatty acids), lower fat dairy such as milk or cottage cheese, tofu and edamame, lean fresh meat such as turkey, eggs. Ultra-processed meats such as deli meat, salami, and hot dogs are high in fat and sodium, have been linked to poor health and should be avoided.
Shannon doesn’t really believe in the notion of “superfoods” which she thinks is a marketing term. But there are some foods that are super. I invited her to rank the three best. Top of her list is dried beans, peas and lentils. These are a great source of fibre that will help slow down digestion, and help reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. She enjoys chickpeas, lentils and black beans on a regular basis. Second on her list are dark leafy greens. And third would be lean animal proteins such as fatty fish.
SHANNON AND JAMIE’S TOP SHOPPING TIPS
- HAVE A PLAN – PREP AHEAD TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE MEAL PLANNING YOUR WEEK AND THAT YOU CAN COOK ONCE AND EAT TWICE. SAVE TIME AND ENERGY IN THE KITCHEN, MAKE EXTRA WITH PURPOSE. HAVE A PLAN TO REPURPOSE YOUR LEFTOVERS IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
- PRIORITIZE THE OUTER AISLES, BUT SHOP THE INNER AISLES FIRST SO THAT THE BAGS AND CANS OF WHOLE GRAINS AND BEANS DON’T CRUSH YOUR PRODUCE.
- USE HEALTHY KITCHEN SHORTCUTS. MAKE HEALTHY EATING EASY AND STOCK UP ON HEALTHY MEAL STARTERS. CRUCIFEROUS SLAW MIXES (THINK SHREDDED BROCCOLI, CABBAGE, BRUSSEL SPROUTS, KALE ETC.) MAKE FOR A FANTASTIC STIR FRY. CANNED BEANS AND CANNED FISH ARE FILLING SALAD STARTERS. SIMPLY ADD PRE-CHOPPED VEGGIES AND DRESSING AND SERVE!
For nutrition information Shannon recommends consulting with a dietitian. But she also suggests visiting Cart2Table for great information. In addition to the nutrition advice provided on Cart2Table, those living with type 2 diabetes or their loved ones can visit MyHeartMatters to learn about the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and to download a physician discussion guide.