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Managing Type 2 diabetes: it’s time to take control of your blood sugar! Here’s how.

We understand that managing Type 2 diabetes is a challenge. For pretty much every Type 2 diabetic (just as managing Type 1 diabetes is a challenge for every Type 1 diabetic!) That’s why we’ve rounded up some excellent tips on how to manage it with ease.

managing type 2 diabetes

Managing Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is too high because your body can’t use it properly. In Type 2 diabetes this happens because your pancreas doesn’t produce enough nsulin, and/or the insulin that is produced does not work correctly (called insulin resistance). Insulin is produced by the pancreas to help the glucose enter the body or muscle cells. Here’s what you need to know about insulin resistance.

People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar controlled. If it is frequently too high or too low it can lead to the development of serious long- term health problems. Diabetes complications include kidney damage, poor eyesight and an increased risk for heart disease.  Losing weight, following a healthy eating plan and being more physically active are key to the optimal management of diabetes.

weight loss for diabetics

Weight loss for diabetics

If you are overweight, weight loss is the most important thing you can do to help control your blood glucose levels. Weight loss allows the insulin released by your body to work far more effectively, thereby helping to reduce insulin resistance. In addition, weight loss helps to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. It can be difficult to lose weight, but if you can lose just 5 to 10% of your current body weight, that can make a big difference.

Ideal BMI for diabetics

Do you know what your BMI is? Find out all you need to know about BMI, with an easy calculator here.

  • A healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9kg/m2.
  • Measure your waist circumference: it should be no more than 88 cm for women and 102 cm for men.
  • Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio: this should be no more than 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men.
managing type 2 diabetes

Managing Type 2 diabetes

  • Reduce your serving sizes to help you reduce and maintain a healthy weight.  Recommended servings at your meals if you are not following a low carb diet:
    • A slice of seed loaf, low GI bread or rye bread, or a small fist size serving of potato, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates
    • A palm size serving of meat, fish or poultry
    • Two handfuls of vegetables or salad, and
    • A piece of fruit or a tub of low fat, plain yoghurt
    • Here’s a Diabetes Food Guide that shows you which foods to choose, and how much of each to eat.
  • Eat regularly and try not to skip meals– eating breakfast may help you to manage your hunger and avoid overeating.
  • Choose more unprocessed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, beans and pulses and wholegrains, and avoid more refined foods such as sweetened cereals, fruit juices, pastries, cakes, muffins, rusks and white bread.
  • Cut back on your intake of animal fats (saturated fat). These are unhealthy fats known to increase your blood cholesterol, a fat which can contribute to the development of heart disease. As a person with diabetes, you have double the risk of developing heart disease than someone without diabetes.

Saturated fat intake for diabetics

Foods high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, any fat on meat, chicken skin, sausage, salami, cream, butter, lard, ghee and cheese.  In addition, some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain saturated fats and also need to be restricted.

  • Eat less red meat, especially fatty or marbled meat such as streaky bacon, pork belly, sausage, boerewors and processed meat such as polony and salami.  
  • Replace foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier fats to help lower your risk of heart disease.  The healthier unsaturated fats are found in foods such as vegetable oils (olive, canola, avocado, peanut and sesame oil), soft margarines made from these oils, olives, avocados, nuts, nut butters and seeds.  
  • Avoid foods that are made with trans fats, as they are a known risk factor for developing heart disease.  Trans fats can be found in many foods – including fried foods like doughnuts, French Fries and deep-fried chicken as well as baked goods including cakes, croissants, pastry, biscuits, frozen pizza, crackers, block margarines and other spreads.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week. This includes all fish, but particularly fatty fish, such as pilchards, sardines, herring, salmon and mackerel which are high in the heart protecting omega 3 fatty acids.  Each serving should be around 100g, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish.
drinks for diabetics

Which drinks to choose if you have diabetes

  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and higher blood pressure, so make sure there are 2-3 days in your week which are alcohol free.
  • Drink 8–10 glasses of fluid per day. Water is best, but tea and coffee, herbal teas, no added sugar squash and diet fizzy drinks can all contribute.
  • Take care with your salt intake.  Recent guidelines recommend that daily sodium intakes for people with diabetes should be limited to 1500 to 2000mg. For most individuals this requires a substantial reduction in sodium intake.

Understanding which foods affect your blood sugar level

All carbohydrates are broken down to provide sugar (glucose). This sugar is what our bodies use to provide us with energy. The following foods contain carbohydrates:

  • Vegetables: starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, mealies, sweetcorn and peas have higher amounts of carbohydrates, compared to vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, peppers and onions, which have a negligible carbohydrate content.
  • Fruit: all fruit, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and fruit juice.
  • Grains: such as rice, pasta, breads, crackers, porridge and cereals.
  • Milk, yoghurt and soy beverages.
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils and dried peas.
  • Sweets, chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, rusks, cakes and other more refined, high sugar foods are carbohydrate-rich foods, which should be limited or avoided in a healthy meal plan. 
how to choose carbohydrates for diabetic diet

How to choose carbohydrates

Here’s what carbohydrate counting is, if you’re not sure. All kinds of carbohydrate can increase your blood glucose level, but how much your blood sugar goes up will depend on:

  • the amount of carbohydrate and fibre in your food and drink
  • how active you are
  • how much insulin your body still produces and how your body uses it
  • your medication

Individuals with diabetes should choose most of their carbohydrates from the nutrient-rich whole foods such as vegetables and fruit, beans, whole grains and dairy products.  Many people find it useful to spread their carbohydrate intake throughout the day to keep their blood glucose levels stable.

Low carb diets

Some people find it helpful to eat less carbs to help control their weight and their blood sugar levels. Low carb diets can be safe and effective over the short term to help with weight loss, but the long-term side effects of these diets is still unsure. That said, here are a few low carb meal plans. And an easy way to eat low carb.

If you are considering following a low carb diet, it is strongly recommended that you talk to a healthcare professional first, preferably a dietitian, to assist you with developing a healthy meal plan. Remember your medication may also need to be adjusted when restricting your carb intake.

low carb diet for diabetics

Restricting sugar intake

Your body uses natural and added sugars in the same way. But natural sugars (such as fruit and milk) have more healthy nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals. Foods with added sugars are often low in nutrient content, but high in energy.  To lower your intake of added sugar, consider the following:

  • Choose minimally processed foods, as these foods will contain less added sugar.
  • Read food labels to help you choose foods with less added sugars. Look under “Carbohydrates” and find the amount of sugar (in grams) in one serving of the food. This value includes both natural and added sugars. Compare products and choose the one with less sugar. Make sure the serving sizes of the foods you’re comparing are the same. Here’s how to read food labels easily.
  • Be careful of ‘natural’ sweeteners such as honey, agave and maple syrup. They are not healthier than other types of added sugar and have a similar energy content.

Sugar substitutes

You may consider sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose, or stevia as a way of eating less added sugars. Sugar substitutes are one way to decrease added sugars, but not all foods sweetened with sugar substitutes are healthy. We outlined every kind of sugar substitute, take a look here: A Diabetic’s Guide to Sweeteners.

sugar substitutes for diabetics

The importance of fibre

Fibre is the roughage found in plant foods such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Fibre can delay digestion, improve blood glucose control, and help with weight loss because it makes you feel full.  

To increase your fibre intake, follow these guidelines:

  • Include more whole fruits and vegetables, including dried fruit and frozen vegetables into your meal plan.
  • Add baked beans, chickpeas, lentils and split peas to your meals.
  • Choose ‘heavy’ breads, such as seed loaf, dark rye bread and health bread. They have up to 4 times the amount of fibre than white and brown bread.
  • Use wholegrains wherever possible, such as barley, brown or wild rice, crushed wheat, bulgur wheat and corn kernels.
  • For breakfast, choose oats or whole-grain cereals such as bran or untoasted muesli.
  • For a low-fat snack, try some home-made plain popcorn or a few high fibre crackers with peanut butter.
  • Get creative with your recipes and substitute up to ¼ of the white flour with whole-wheat flour and oat bran.

Diabetic foods

Foods labelled ‘suitable for diabetics’ usually have no special benefit. They are often high in energy, may still increase your blood sugar and some may have a laxative effect.

exercise for diabetics

Top tip: get active

Being active is an extremely important factor in managing your diabetes effectively. The goal is a little bit of exercise every day. 30 minutes of walking a day is all you need! Being more active has so many benefits, including:

  • Improved blood sugar control by ensuring your insulin works more effectively.
  • A marked reduction in heart and circulation related risks of diabetes, such as heart attacks and strokes.
  • A significant improvement in weight loss.

Last thoughts on managing Type 2 diabetes

If you have diabetes, pay special attention to the type and amount of carbohydrate you eat. The right amount and type of carbohydrate for you depends on your size, medications and physical activity levels. A registered dietitian can review your individual needs and help you create a meal plan that works for you. Find out what a dietician does here.

In the end, the best diet is the healthy one you’re able to follow.

Remember TEEL as the simplest way to control your blood sugar:

What to read next?

What are the different food groups? A simple explanation: When you’re building a healthy plate of food, it helps to know about the food groups.

Free Healthy Food Guide: This Healthy Food Guide shows you exactly which foods to choose (and which to avoid), as well as sharing which portions to eat.

Exercise, a little every day- your guide to exactly how to exercise with diabetes: Exercise is one of the 4 things you need to understand about diabetes management: remember TEEL.

What to read next
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  1. I am so encourage by the information herein. I was confused before and focused on numbers feeling uncertain as ti whether I am eating the right foods, how much exercise I need. Your information really helped me especial learning about TEEL as my guide.
    Thank you for our guide and the helpful information you’ve provided. I will look forward to receiving further news on diabetes from you in the future.

    Ann H – Toronto ON Canada

    • Thank you so much for this lovely message, Ann! We’re so pleased TEEL makes sense to you and can help in your diabetes journey. So happy to have you with us!

  2. Bernadine Bernadine

    Why am I always hungry

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.