Food and exercise help you manage type 2 diabetes

A healthy diet and keeping active will help you manage your blood glucose (sugar) level. They will also help you control your weight and generally feel better.

What foods can I eat if I have type 2 diabetes? 

There's nothing you can’t eat if you have type 2 diabetes, but you'll have to limit certain foods.

You should:

  • eat a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like bread, cereal, kumara, potato, pasta and rice in small amounts
  • keep all types of sugar (white, raw, brown), fat and salt to a minimum
  • eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – don’t skip meals. 

If you need to change your diet, it might be easier to make small changes every week.

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Need help with changing your diet? 

If you find it hard to change your diet, a dietitian might be able to help.

Talk to your GP or diabetes nurse to see if the cost could be covered through your DHB.

How does being active help with diabetes control? 

Physical exercise helps lower your blood glucose (sugar) level. You should aim for 2½ hours of activity a week.

  • You can start with 15 minutes of gentle activity a day (eg, walking, swimming, gardening).
  • Over time try to increase this so that you are doing at least 2½ hours of moderate activity.
  • Moderate activity means you should be breathing hard but be able to hold a conversation. 

The trick is to find an activity you enjoy doing and to put a little more physical effort into it each day. You can be active anywhere as long as what you're doing gets you out of breath.

This could be:

  • fast walking
  • climbing stairs
  • doing more strenuous housework or gardening.

If you have other health conditions as well as diabetes, check with your doctor or nurse what activity may be suitable for you.

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Why is healthy weight important? 

Losing weight (if you're overweight) will make it easier for your body to lower your blood glucose level and can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol.

To know whether you're overweight, work out your body mass index (BMI) using our BMI calculator.

If you need to lose weight, try to do it slowly over time. Aim for around 0.5 to 1 kg a week.

Learn more about healthy weight loss.

Why is heart health important? 

You are at greater risk of heart disease if you have diabetes. As well as helping control your blood glucose levels, having a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, can also help to control factors that increase your risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

  • Blood pressure – if your blood pressure is high, your heart works harder with every heartbeat. Constant high blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels.
  • Cholesterol – having high cholesterol (a type of fat) can clog your arteries, which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. 

It’s also important to be smoke-free, which includes avoiding second-hand smoke. For smokers, kicking the habit is number one thing you can do to improve your health. Learn more about how and why to quit smoking.

Learn more 

Type 2 diabetes management Diabetes New Zealand
Physical activities and type 2 diabetes Diabetes New Zealand
Food and nutrition for type 2 diabetes Diabetes New Zealand

Reviewed by

Terrie Spedding is a diabetes clinical nurse specialist working for Health Hawke’s Bay PHO. She has with 30+ years’ experience in all aspects of the care, management and support of people with diabetes, presently working in the primary care sector. She also has an interest in diabetes research. 
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Terrie Spedding, Diabetes Clinical Nurse Specialist, Health Hawke’s Bay PHO Last reviewed: 15 Jul 2020