Nov 27, 2017

Diabetes and the Role of Nutrition

The 2018 theme for National Diabetes Week is “It’s About Time” – a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and early treatment for all types of diabetes.

Too many Australians are being diagnosed with diabetes too late. This is true for both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The delay in diagnosis is putting many people at risk of major life threatening health problems.

According to Diabetes Australia, in Australia alone, there are approximately 1.7 million people who have diabetes.

Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2.1 million deaths each year. Because of socioeconomic conditions, women with diabetes “experience barriers in accessing cost-effective diabetes prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care, particularly in developing countries”.

So what is diabetes?

Diabetes is a complex condition where the body has difficulty controlling the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

When we eat carbohydrates (found in foods such as breads, cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurt and sweets), it is broken down to sugar (glucose) and enters the blood stream.

Usually insulin is released and helps take the sugar out of the blood and into the body’s cells to be used as energy. However, in people with diabetes, their body does not make enough insulin or the insulin they have is not working properly and the sugar stays in the blood resulting in high blood glucose levels.

Diabetes Australia states that some common symptoms of diabetes includes:

  • Being more thirsty than usual
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Having cuts that heal slowly
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight loss (type 1)
  • Gradually putting on weight (type 2)
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Leg cramps

There are 3 main types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin because the cells that make the insulin have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system. People with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin every day.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common type of diabetes, affecting 85-90% of people with diabetes. The onset of type 2 diabetes can occur at any age.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but the insulin does not work as well as it should, so the pancreas makes more. Eventually it can’t make enough to keep the glucose balance in control.

Gestational Diabetes

Between 5-10% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes.

In pregnancy, the hormones produced by the body to help the baby grow, also block the action of the mother’s insulin.

Nutrition and Diabetes

Diabetes can have a significant impact on quality of life and can reduce life expectancy if left untreated. However, with proper management and daily self-care, a person with diabetes can still continue to live an enjoyable life with the condition.

One of the keys of diabetes management is choosing appropriate nutrition.

To help manage diabetes it is important to eat regular meals and spread them evenly throughout the day. It is also vital to take any prescribed diabetes medication – whether that be insulin or tablets.

Everyone’s dietary needs are different so you may want to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian in conjunction with their diabetes team for individualised advice.


Carbohydrates are the leading source of energy, making it essential in a person’s diet for daily living. However, this can be a challenge for a person diagnosed with diabetes.

For carbohydrates to become energy, it needs to be broken down into glucose molecules and enter the bloodstream.

What insulin normally does is put glucose into the muscles, liver and other parts, where it is used to provide energy to help with chemical processes and body functioning.

As carbohydrates contribute directly to blood sugar, the amount of energy a person will have depend on how much and what type of carbohydrate they eat.

The carbohydrate needs of each person will differ depending on your age, gender, weight and lifestyle. So what may be suitable for one person, may not work for another.

Types of Carbohydrates

All carbohydrate foods are digested to produce glucose but they do so at different rates – some slow, some fast.

The Glycaemic Index describes this – so when you see that foods are “low GI” it means that the food is broken down into glucose slower and has less of an impact on a person’s blood sugar levels.

Some common low GI foods include oats, yoghurt, many fruits, whole grains, and sweet potato.

A healthy eating plan for diabetes can include some sugar. However, foods that are high in added sugars and poor sources of other nutrients should be consumed sparingly.

It’s important to limit the foods that will cause a spike in blood sugar levels.


Protein is an essential part of our diet. The human body uses it to build and repair tissue – with muscle, hair and nails being mostly made of protein.

Unlike carbohydrates, protein does not break down into glucose, which means it does not directly raise blood glucose levels.

However, it should be noted that some foods rich in protein can also contain carbohydrate – some examples such as yoghurt, lentils and legumes will have an effect on blood glucose levels.

These nutritious foods should still be included as part of a healthy diet, but always considered as part of your carbohydrate intake.

Dietary Fats

It is important to include sufficient fat in your diet, and consuming polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help ensure you get the essential fatty acids and vitamins your body needs.

These fats can be found in foods such as fish, nuts, olive oil, some margarines and avocado.

Consuming large amounts of fat may affect your blood glucose control, so depending on your nutritional requirements, it may be recommended to modify your intake.


Water is needed for most of the body’s functions, and makes up the majority of the human body – the average person is made up of 60% water, and this can decrease with age. Therefore it is important to drink sufficient amounts every day to keep well hydrated.

Water does not contain any carbohydrates, and won’t have an effect on your blood glucose levels.

If a person does not like drinking water, they can drink hydrating alternatives such as tea, coffee, juice – however, they should be wary of any sugar in such beverages.

Nutritional Supplements

If a person has pre-diabetes or diabetes and haven’t been eating well, have a poor appetite, unintentional weight loss or are recovering from illness, then they may benefit from SUSTAGEN® Diabetic.

SUSTAGEN® Diabetic is specifically formulated to provide additional nutrition for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes who can’t meet their nutrition requirements through food alone, without negatively impacting on blood glucose levels. Speak with your healthcare professional today about whether SUSTAGEN® Diabetic is right for you or visit for more information.

Nutritional supplements can only be of assistance when dietary intake is inadequate. Please seek advice on your individual dietary needs from an Accredited Practising Dietitian or your healthcare professional. SUSTAGEN® Diabetic is a food for special medical purposes specifically formulated for people with diabetes who cannot meet their nutritional needs through diet modification alone. Must be used under medical supervision.

This post is sponsored by Nestlé Health Science.

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