Dr Duane Mellor RD
British Dietetic Association Diabetes Specialist Group Committee Member
Knowing what’s best to eat can be confusing and stressful for people with diabetes. Balancing what you like with what is healthy is not always easy. So, if you are looking for ideas, ask to see a dietitian.
It seems everyone has a view on what diet is best, and for people with diabetes, it seems there are even more opinions.
How can we tell which information is right, and perhaps more importantly, whether you’ll enjoy eating it?
Are dietitians the food police?
Possibly one of the biggest myths is that dietitians tell people what they should and should not eat.
Dietitians are experts in the science of nutrition and how to apply that to inform the food choices of people with health conditions, such as diabetes. This is combined with an understanding of human behaviour.
A dietitian will support you in finding the best way of eating specific for your health needs, which takes account of what foods you, and those you eat with, will enjoy.
Dietitians will typically help you to include fewer processed foods in your diet and may encourage you to eat more fish, nuts, beans, pulses and to switch to healthier fats.
How effective are dietitians in helping people with diabetes?
Research has shown that people who received advice from a dietitian saw their HbA1c (a measure of their diabetes) improve and had better weight management than those who just received diet information.
A dietitian will support you in finding the best way of eating specific for your health needs, which takes account of what foods you and those you eat with enjoy.
The improvement in diabetes control was similar to that seen when someone with type 2 diabetes is started on a new medication.1
These benefits have been demonstrated to be cost effective, making net savings for health systems.2
So, what will a dietitian do for me and what might they recommend?
To get the best out of your meeting with a dietitian, think about the types of food you eat, maybe different dietary approaches that you have heard about and what you really want to achieve with respect to your diabetes.
So, if you want to lose weight, if you’re considering a reduced or low carbohydrate diet or want to look at the possibility of bringing your diabetes into remission, it is best to go prepared.
However, a simple change most people with type 2 diabetes would benefit from is to include more vegetables, salad and fruit in their diet.
It is also useful to increase your awareness of portion sizes, and foods that are high in fats and refined carbohydrate and reducing these especially if you are trying to lose weight.
So, a dietitian is not just uniquely able to support you to improve your health and diabetes, but can do so based on your cultural and food preferences to help you find a way of eating that you can sustain and enjoy, while achieving your goals.