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Smart shopping with type 2 diabetes

This article is part of the Diabetes toolkit: Your complete guide to type 2 diabetes.

Shopping for your new diabetes-friendly life means being thoughtful about how and what you choose. We take you on a healthy supermarket tour.

The fruit and veg aisle

What to choose

Here is a place to go wild in the aisles! Aim for three to four handfuls of these a day and a variety of colours. The vege section can be split into two parts:

1. The starchy vegetables including potato, kumara, yam, taro, green banana and corn. These are good alternatives to pasta, rice and bread. Keep skins on where possible to boost your fibre intake.

2. Non-starchy vegetables, from green leafy varieties, to mushrooms and eggplant.

Smart shopper tips

Try new things such as alfalfa sprouts, broccolini and purple cauliflower.

A coleslaw mix (without dressing) is a fabulous crunchy alternative to a lettuce-based salad.

With fruit, aim for variety. A serving of fresh fruit is equivalent to a medium- sized apple, two small apricots or a handful of grapes.

What to avoid

Don’t avoid anything here.! Eat lots of things from this section in a wide variety.

Traps to watch out for

Bananas will make other fruit ripen more quickly, so if you want your pears softer, put the bananas on top. If not, keep them separate.

The canned goods aisle

What to choose

Canned vegetables can be good when you want help to whip up a quick meal. Choose foods canned in water rather than brine (salted water). If there is no salt-free version, be sure to rinse vegetables before you use them.

Canned tomatoes are a fast way to make a sauce or add more veges to a dish. Add a can of tomatoes to a can of baked beans to up the vege content and dilute the salt. Cooked tomatoes are a great source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene.

Smart shopper tips

Canned pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and mixed beans, are useful to add to salads, sauces and soups. They can also be blended with herbs and spices to make fabulous dips.

Small cans of flavoured salmon and tuna (choose lower-sodium options) are good for keeping in your drawer at work for a quick and healthy lunch or snack, and can be a great way to get kids eating fish.

Ready-made sauces are useful for quick meals. Some are high in salt and fat so using them in small quantities is the way to go, or make your own sauces using the ingredients list of the back of a sauce jar for inspiration. You can’t go far wrong with fresh or jarred ginger, crushed garlic, coriander and a splash of soy and sweet chilli sauces.

Curry pastes are a great flavour base for a dish. Drain off any excess oil. The pastes allow you to add your own liquid to make up a sauce, rather than eating the oil, cream or sugar in some of the ready-made versions. Try using a can of light evaporated milk as an alternative to cream in recipes, or add tomatoes or flavoured baked beans to a homemade curry.

Peanut butter made with a high percentage of peanuts is a healthy way to have a small amount of good fat, but if you’re watching your weight, spread thinly.

What to avoid

Fish canned in oil
Canned fruits in syrup
Peanut butter with added salt and sugar

Traps to watch out for

High-salt items: Aim for a sodium intake of less than 2000mg/day. Look at the back of your jars. You might be surprised to see where salt is hiding.

Dressings can be a trap, especially if you load them on. Be wary and check the labels, they can be high in added sugar and salt.

The dried foods isle

What to choose

The fabulous thing about dried foods is that they have a long shelf life and are easy to store. Great dried foods include pasta, rice, couscous, lentils, beans, fruit and nuts. Pasta is low-GI and is an excellent carbohydrate base for lunch and dinner meals.

Smart shopper tips

Brown rice is higher in fibre and other nutrients than white rice as it is a whole grain. White basmati rice has the advantage of being slowly absorbed by the body, but is lower in fibre than brown rice. Long grain rice and jasmine rice are also good. Aim for variety.

Lentils, beans and chickpeas are the kings of dried food, being high in fibre and a good source of carbohydrate and protein. Canned versions can be more convenient, but for value, cook up a large batch of dried beans and freeze them.

Couscous can make the base of a quick and easy side dish or salad, and can be used as an alternative to pasta and rice. It can be fairly bland by itself so make it with stock (instead of water) or add lots of fresh herbs and spices.

Noodles can add interest to a stir-fry, soup or salad. Go for egg noodles without flavouring or rice noodles.

Cereal is a great start to the day. There are so many to choose from, there’s bound to be at least one healthier (whole grain or oat- based) cereal that suits your taste buds, budget and lifestyle.

What to avoid

Dried packet noodles and ready meals are often high in saturated fat and salt and not a healthy everyday choice.

Flavour sachets for chilli con carne, lasagne and so on are often very high in salt and pricey. Look at the back of the packet. Can you make your own?

Potato chips – many are a whopping 33 per cent fat, a third of the packet! While many are made with healthier types of fat these days, the high fat content means they pack a punch in energy-density: lots of kilojoules for little nutrition. Go for vegetable sticks or try toasted pita bread or wraps sliced into wedges instead.

Traps to watch out for

Many processed mixes in this section are high in salt.

Lollies – ‘99 per cent fat-free’. Since when did jelly sweets have fat in them? It’s the excess energy we don’t want – There are 3000 kilojoules in a 200g pack of lollies and seven tablespoons of sugar.

The meat, poultry, fish and eggs aisles

What to choose

Leaner meats tend to be more expensive, but there’s less waste. A piece of meat about the size of the palm of your hand is a good portion.

Smart shopper tips

Beef mince is graded into premium, prime and choice. The fat content is reflected in the price, premium being the leanest.

With chicken, try to go for skinless varieties, or remove the skin.

Chicken mince is a great alternative to beef, lamb and pork mince for homemade burgers, lasagne and bolognese.

Fish (especially oily fish) is a great source of omega-3.

The Heart Foundation recommends people with a higher risk of heart disease can eat up to six eggs per week, but for healthy people there is no recommended limit.

What to avoid

The white bits in meat and skin on chicken.

Heavily marinated meats – they can be high in salt.

Highly processed meats including pepperoni and salami. Using a very small amount of these to flavour a whole dish like a pasta sauce or risotto can be fine on occasion, but they’re not ideal for everyday eating.

Sausages can be like little saturated fat sponges. Look at the fat content of sausages and find ones with a high meat content and less filler.

The bread aisle

What to choose

Here is a really simple way to think about breads. There are three different types:

• The best nutritionally is mostly made from wholemeal flour with added grains. This includes most Vogel’s, Burgen and similar home brands.

• The high-fibre, grainy breads commonly have a white flour base with added grains, e.g. Molenberg, Goodness Grains and Mackenzie.

• Wheatmeal bread, white and white high-fibre. These do vary, but generally they don’t have the full nutritional advantage of the ones with ‘the grainy bits’ in them.

Smart shopper tips

Using a good whole grain as your main type of bread is best. This also means you can enjoy other lower-fibre items from time to time like wraps, English muffins and bagels.

Wheatmeal and grainy pita breads can be healthy alternatives to plain breads and fruit toast can make a quick breakfast or snack.

What to avoid

Processed white, fluffy breads

Garlic butter-filled breads on a regular basis

Traps to watch out for

Unsliced loaves – you may be tempted to cut yourself a bigger slice than you need.

Some bread is quite high in salt. Look for mg sodium per 100g on the nutrition information panel and compare breads.

The chilled food aisle

What to choose

In summer you could spend ages in this section; in winter, you just can’t wait to get out and get another jumper on!

Yoghurt is the nutritional wonder of the chilled section. Packed with protein and calcium, it can be a healthy dessert or an easy snack. Aim for yoghurts under 2g fat/100g. Flavouring natural, unsweetened yoghurt by adding fresh, canned or dried fruit is good because you avoid added sugar and flavourings. Lite versions tend to be lower in fat and sugar, but they vary so check the label for the grams of sugar per 100g and make comparisons.

Cheese: Consider the fat and salt content as well as how much you are going to have. For a standard cracker topping or sandwich filler, cottage cheese, or extra-light Philadelphia are great options.

A strongly flavoured vintage cheddar or parmesan can be a good way to make a little cheese to go a long way in a sauce, pasta or rice dish.

Edam is lower in fat and kJ than standard cheeses and for those who prefer tasty cheddar, Noble cheese has a similar fat and kJ profile. Keep to small amounts though.

Milk: For most of us a low-fat milk such as light blue, green or yellow top is ideal.

Soy and nut milks: Look at the sugar content; some have quite a lot of added sugar. Choose those with added calcium.

Dips: Aim for one with under 10g fat/100g and use sensibly. Dips like pesto are based on healthy fats but can be energy dense, so enjoy in small amounts.

Spreads: Look for something low in saturated and trans fats.

What to avoid

Cream, lard, large amounts of cheese, and high-saturated-fat dips.

Traps to watch out for

Look at the back of yoghurt pots and compare sugar and kJ per serving. If you are trying to lose weight, go for one very low in kJ and sugar.

Feta cheese is very tasty, but high in salt. Look for reduced salt varieties and use in small quantities.

The frozen aisle

What to choose

There are an increasing number of potato-based, fish and meat options cooked in healthy fat. Look for products with under 5g fat/100g and check on the ingredients list to ensure the product has been made with a healthy fat like canola or sunflower oil, rather than beef fat, vegetable oil or palm oil.

With meat and fish products, check the words meat and fish are very high up on the ingredients list.

Smart shopper tips

Frozen veges are a convenient cost-effective option, especially when the veges you like aren’t in season. As they are picked and snap frozen at their peak, they are full of nutrients and there is a fabulous range available.

The frozen section is a great place to find sweet goodies including frozen fruits that make fast smoothies, easy desserts and add a nutritional boost to breakfast.

Ice creams: Lite versions can be lower in kJ, but are still best kept for treats. They are good served with fruit. Ice cream is made predominately from milk, cream and sugar in various proportions. There are some frozen yoghurts on the market that are lower in fat, but still high in sugar. There are also sugar-free options, but they can be expensive and we still need to be mindful of portion size.

What to avoid

• High-fat potato products, such as hash browns cooked in beef fat or vegetable oil.

• Battered meat, chicken and fish that are high in saturated fat.

• Pies, pastry, sausage rolls etc – high in saturated fat and energy with little or no vegetables.

Traps to watch out for

Low-cholesterol claims: cholesterol in food makes no difference to blood cholesterol, unlike saturated fat. This claim can often give a false sense of security. Check the saturated fat on the label.

Reading labels

Remember that food has to be made of something! If a product is low in fat it is likely to be higher in carbohydrate (which may be sugar) or protein.

Ingredient lists are in weight order: the first ingredients on the list will be the main part of that food product.

Compare similar foods such as different cereals, yoghurts and so on to familiarise yourself with each brand and how they differ. With savoury items, look at the saturated fat, fibre and salt. For sweet items, the amount of sugar and kilojoules are the most important.

<<Back to Diabetes toolkit

First published: Sep 2018



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