Although there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, many people manage their condition effectively by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. Nutrition counseling can play a significant role in helping people make food choices that are right for them.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the body cannot produce or use insulin correctly, leading to a rise in blood sugar levels.

In this article, we look at what type 2 diabetes does to the body and how people can use nutritional knowledge to help them manage the condition. We also explain what a nutrition counselor is, what counseling involves, and how counselors tailor a diet to a person’s individual needs.

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Type 2 diabetes occurs when there is too much sugar in the blood.

The hormone insulin controls blood sugar levels. Insulin signals to the body to move the sugar into cells, which store it for future energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not use the insulin correctly. Medical professionals also call this insulin resistance.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes tend to come on gradually, and a person may have insulin resistance for 10–15 years before receiving a diagnosis.

Untreated, or uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes can lead to more serious health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, nerve damage, and eye diseases.

Learning how to manage the condition is vital to prevent or delay the onset of these possible complications.

Some people with type 2 diabetes may need prescription medication to lower their blood sugar, but the majority can achieve this through diet and exercise. Counseling by a trained expert gives a person the skills and knowledge they need to reach these goals.

Nutrition plays a key role in managing type 2 diabetes, but there is no single diet to suit everyone living with this condition.

Nutrition counseling usually involves a registered dietitian or diabetes educator tailoring a food and drink plan to an individual based on their cultural background and personal food preferences, as well as any financial restrictions.

Successful nutrition counseling depends on a good relationship between the counselor and the person with type 2 diabetes, as the process is team-based and interactive. The counselor will begin by carrying out a comprehensive nutritional assessment and identifying the person’s needs. They will then work with the person to determine their goals, the steps to take to meet them, and the timeline.

Both parties need to agree on why changes are necessary and how best to work toward achieving the desired outcomes. Setting a target for weight loss, for example, helps some people realize their goals.

One of nutrition counseling’s key goals is to equip a person with type 2 diabetes with the practical tools they need to make informed decisions about what they will eat every day, rather than focusing on single foods.

An important part of the service is improving a person’s health literacy. Health literacy is a person’s ability to find, understand, and use information to make well-informed decisions about their overall health.

Many factors influence a person’s food choices, including the types of food that are easily available, the level of support from friends and family, and any personal triggers for eating. A nutrition counselor will collaborate with the person with type 2 diabetes, discussing the possible options to meet the agreed goals and determining the best approach in each situation.

Many people with type 2 diabetes begin managing their condition by losing weight. Others can lower their blood pressure by cutting back on salt. A nutrition counselor will tailor a food plan to a specific person, but there are some general guidelines for making healthier choices.

A good eating plan will include plenty of nonstarchy vegetables and fruit, as well as lean meats, plant-based proteins, or a mix of both. It will also be low in sugar and prioritize whole foods over heavily processed ones.

For people with type 2 diabetes, the goal of an eating plan is to regulate blood sugar. Carbohydrates play a significant role in this.

There are three types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars, and fiber. Eating more nutrient-dense carbohydrates that are high in fiber but low in sugar is key. These include whole grains, nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, and beans.

As a general rule, people with type 2 diabetes should adopt the following measures:

  • limiting food and drinks that are high in added sugar
  • choosing whole grains, fruit, and vegetables as carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and potatoes
  • being aware of recommended portion sizes and sticking to them
  • enjoying a mix of lean protein, whole-grain foods, fruit, and vegetables every day
  • eating more heart-healthy fats, including avocados, nuts, and seeds
  • limiting alcohol consumption, if applicable

A well-balanced diet requires a person to eat a variety of foods from different food groups. Meal planning involves combining these foods in appealing ways.

Nutrition counselors are part of the healthcare team in the United States. People with a health insurance plan can check whether it includes coverage for this service.

Nutrition counseling is important in helping people manage their type 2 diabetes, as it takes into account dietary preferences, cultural influences, finances, and overall health.

A 2018 systematic review of nutrition therapy outcomes for people with type 2 diabetes highlights the elements necessary for successful outcomes when working with a dietitian-nutritionist. These are:

  • three to six meetings within the first 6 months, with the option to continue them
  • at least one follow-up meeting every year
  • an eating plan tailored to the individual
  • the acknowledgment and inclusion of personal preferences

Although there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, many people manage the condition by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. Nutrition counseling plays a vital role in helping people make food choices that are right for them.

A nutrition counselor will work with someone living with type 2 diabetes to help them understand the importance of making food and drink choices that will benefit their health.

Follow-up sessions are necessary to provide ongoing support and advice.