The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ could not be more relevant to type 2 diabetes.


The disease is influenced by many lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, but up to 60 per cent of cases can be prevented.
If you believe you may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, there is no time like the present to make healthy changes to your diet. What’s more, they’re easier to implement than you might imagine.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, representing 85 to 90 per cent of all cases nationally. The 2007-8 National Health Survey estimated that about 3.5 per cent of Australians suffer from the disease.
“Diabetes occurs when there is excess glucose in the bloodstream,” says accredited practicing dietitian Melissa Hay from the Australian Diabetes Council. “The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas and helps to manage blood glucose levels, is not produced in sufficient amounts in type 2 diabetes sufferers.”
The disease is most common in people over 45 years of age. Contributing lifestyle factors that can lead to type 2 diabetes include an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and being overweight.
“Excess body weight, particularly around the waist, makes it increasingly difficult for insulin to move glucose out of the blood and into the muscles where it’s needed,” says accredited exercise physiologist Georgia Frydman from the Australian Diabetes Council. “Carrying excess body weight makes your body insulin resistant.”
Hereditary factors, such as a family history of diabetes or ethnic background, can also play a part in developing the disease.
What’s particularly worrying is sufferers may not be aware they have the disease, as the onset is often slow and can show little symptoms. The first sign that something may be wrong can be a complication such as a heart attack, vision problems or a stroke.
This is why early diagnosis is important, so if you have been identified as at high risk of developing the disease you should be tested yearly.
Preventative steps
It’s important to note that there are some risk factors that you can’t prevent, which include age, family history and ethnic background, but there are changes you can make in other aspects of your life to reduce your risk.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. A report by the American Diabetes Association found it’s important for people who are at high risk of developing diabetes to be aware of the benefits of moderate weight loss and participating in regular exercise sessions.
The report also found that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle intervention and recognising those at high risk of developing the disease.
All in moderation
“Following a healthy diet is very important to help prevent risk factors for diabetes, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight,” Hay says.
She recommends eating regular meals throughout the day (including snacks), limiting saturated (bad) fat intake and including small amounts of mono or polyunsaturated (good) fats, choosing high-fibre and low-GI carbohydrates and eating plenty of nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables.
Low-GI foods break down slowly, resulting in a steadier rise in blood glucose levels. They will also keep you feeling full for longer so less energy will be consumed throughout the day. Good examples of low-GI foods are wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds, and brown rice.
“We recommend at least one low-GI option at each meal or two low-GI meals over the day,” Hay says.
Moderation is the key, as it is with any healthy eating plan. You can still enjoy treats like cakes, chocolate, chips and lollies but keep them for special occasions. The same principle applies with alcohol – drink in moderation, have alcohol free days and stick to two standard drinks a day.
The basic principles of eating healthily to prevent diabetes are simple – fuel your body with the best possible sources and it will perform at its best.