Nutrition and type 2 diabetes prevention

According to Diabetes Canada, in 2019 approximately 11 million Canadians were living with diabetes or prediabetes. This equates to approximately one in three Canadians. The Canadian Diabetes Cost Model predicts that by 2029 approximately 13 million Canadians will be living with diabetes or prediabetes. Expanding preventative approaches for diabetes is essential for maintaining and improving the quality and the sustainability of our health care system. An important component of diabetes prevention is nutrition.

Preventing type 2 diabetes through nutrition

Dietary change is an important part of preventing and managing diabetes, as even minor modifications can help reduce a person’s diabetes risk. One of the first steps in preventing the onset of this chronic disease is reflecting on how food choices may impact your diabetes risk. If you are a health care practitioner concerned that your patient may develop type 2 diabetes, have an open and non-judgemental discussion with your patient about their dietary intake.

It is important to avoid demonizing foods and refrain from classifying foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and instead look at the overall diet and the individual’s pattern of eating. A few different patterns of eating have been suggested for those looking to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Health Canada recommends Canadians follow the Canadian Food Guide, which emphasizes the consumption of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources. Two other patterns of eating highlighted by Diabetes Canada to help reduce risk is the DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diet.

Nutrition Connections recently hosted a free webinar on the Mediterranean diet, where Registered Dietitians discussed the key aspects of the diet and its benefits on prevention and management of chronic diseases. One of the learnings from the webinar is the identification of “sometimes” foods. After discussing and focusing on the pattern of eating, you may want to identify which foods are ‘sometimes’ foods. ‘Sometimes’ foods are highly processed foods, such as refined grains (i.e. white bread), sugary foods and sugary drinks. While these foods should be limited, if your patient wants to have a treat occasionally there is nothing wrong with that! Being mindful and purposeful about occasionally enjoying “sometimes” food will help patients regulate their intake. It can also help them understand how these foods affect their blood sugar levels.

As part of the conversation, ask your patient if there are one or two dietary modifications they would like to set as a goal. One way to help your patient achieve their goals is to use a meal planning process. Planning meals ahead of time will allow your patient to reflect on if they are eating in a way that will help them meet their goals and leave room to make changes as needed. As your patient experiments with making changes to their eating patterns, revisiting their goals will help you and your patient recognize achievements and identify challenges.

These recommendations and guidance are not exhaustive and are an introduction on how you can help your patient prevent type 2 diabetes through nutrition intervention. For more detailed guidance on diabetes prevention, treatment or maintenance refer your patient to a Registered Dietitian.

Resources to support healthcare workers

For 20 years, Nutrition Connections, key program of the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA), has been providing nutrition and healthy eating services, including resources and tools to support diabetes prevention. Healthcare workers are invited to access free diabetes resources and more by visiting

This article was submitted by Nutrition Connections.