Dietary support and guidance for diabetes management

Indigenous Australians experience greater rates of diabetes as well as hospitalisation and death from diabetes than non-Indigenous Australians, and those living in remote or socioeconomically disadvantaged areas are most affected (AIHW).

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report that the higher rates of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes experienced by Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians is directly related to a lack of access to affordable healthy food, a significant social and environmental determinant of health. And that excess intakes of energy dense food (take-away food) and drink (sugar-sweetened drinks eg soft drinks) due to easier access compared to nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains is believed to be responsible.

The stigma of lifestyle diseases

However type 2 diabetes is a complex health condition despite it often being referred to as a “lifestyle” or “diet-related” disease. “Lifestyle diseases” often come with much stigma – that people have some control over their risk and that their behaviours have contributed to their “disease”. However underpinning many health conditions particularly chronic diseases such as diabetes, is age and genetics and social, environmental and cultural determinants of health, trauma, inadequate policy, racism and discrimination, and weight and diabetes stigma. Chronic disease risk factors which are largely outside of people’s and or their community’s control.

Three suggestions on ways to give practical guidance

There is much complexity with chronic health conditions and it can feel overwhelming when trying to start helping a person living with or at risk of diabetes. Following are three ideas with suggestions, on how you might like to go about helping your client and or community with practical food and nutrition support and guidance.

In an ideal world easy access to affordable nutrient-dense food (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fresh meats, fish and chicken etc) would be possible for all Australians to maintain strong bodies, immune systems and guts, and minds which helps with preventing and or managing chronic illnesses. However it isn’t an ideal world and sometimes simply helping someone, or families, to eat any type of meal on any given day is the best nutrition support you could offer. Other people living with diabetes may be at a place where they want to understand further what foods and drinks directly affect their blood sugar (glucose) levels, whilst others are keen and able to cook and or learn to prepare and cook healthier meals whether that be from brought or home-grown ingredients.

Below are three ways in which you can help support and guide your clients and or community towards nourishing well when living with or at risk of diabetes:

  1. Providing and or supporting access to nutrition education

    • Refer your client to a dietitian or help to drive this process
      • Connecting or reconnecting with traditional bushfoods, other healing therapies and understanding their role in nutritional and total health and wellbeing can be really valuable. Tracy Hardy, a Gamilaroi descendent and founder of Wattleseed Nutrition and dietitian, specialises in this, amongst other things. Tracy is speaking at the next NDSS online Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce forum, click here to register.
    • Watch and or talk through some of the basics when it comes to carbohydrates; how the type, amount and intake through the day of carbohydrates including sugar-sweetened drinks can impact blood sugar (glucose) levels and diabetes management, with the NDSS Carb counting online program here.
  1. Supporting access to affordable nutrient-dense foods

    • Encourage buying in season fresh food and or frozen foods vegetables, fruit and lean meats
    • Encourage buying non-branded packaged foods
      • The Good Tucker app is great at guiding toward more nutrient-dense foods
    • Reach out to organisations such as Ozharvest, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul or your similar local community groups who help to provide affordable groceries, emergency food hampers, prepared meals etc. and or receive supplies from organisations such as SecondBite, Foodbank and OzHarvest
    • Encourage starting or continuing to maintain a food garden (for the individual and or community)
  1. Support preparing, cooking and storing quick affordable wholesome meals and snacks at home or community spaces

For more information and support on supporting people living with or at risk of diabetes to nourish well please call the NDSS helpline 1800 637 700 to speak with a dietitian or visit our website here.

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