The browser you are using is not supported by this website. All versions of Internet Explorer are no longer supported, either by us or Microsoft (read more here:

Please use a modern browser to fully experience our website, such as the newest versions of Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc.

Healthy eating to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

Photo of a researcher in a café.
The researcher Emily Sonestedt investigates how our food habits can prevent diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Photo: Petra Olsson

Emily Sonestedt investigates how food affects the health and the risk to develop type 2 diabetes. This knowledge is of importance to society when developing food-based dietary guidelines.

It can be hard to make healthy food choices. The bread rolls behind the counter in the café at Clinical Research Centre (CRC) in Malmö have a dark color, but it does not have to mean that they are a healthy choice.

“Dark bread is not necessarily the best choice, as it may be colored. Make sure that the bread contains whole grains and seeds, which is good. Previous research has shown that people who consume a lot of whole grain reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It will help you to maintain healthy blood sugar levels,” says Emily Sonestedt, a researcher in nutrition epidemiology at Lund University.

She leads a research group in nutrition epidemiology at Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC). The research group is based at CRC, where she has quite a few lunches.

“I often come here for the salmon salad, which is really good. Fish contains Omega-3, which is an important group of fatty acids. Many of us are eating too little fish, which is a problem. Fish is an important source of fatty acids.”

Dietary guidelines

Her research group studies how food affects the risk to develop type 2 diabetes, a knowledge that is important when developing food-based dietary guidelines. 

Emily Sonestedt is one of the experts who participate in the development of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for 2022, which form the basis of the national dietary recommendations in the Nordic countries. She is also part of a project group that evaluates how different foods affect the blood sugar of people with different types of diabetes. The project is led by the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU), on behalf of the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden. 

“We know that our eating habits can affect the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The knowledge we produce in different contexts is important to prevent the disease, says Emily Sonestedt,” who is this year’s recipient of the Medeon-grant.

The Medeon-grant of 50 000 SEK is awarded once a year to a promising researcher at Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC), by Medeon Science Park and Moll Wendén Advokatbyrå.

Observations of eating habits

Many of her studies are based on information about food habits from the so-called Malmö Diet and Cancer study (MDC), which started in the 1990s.

In a recent study, published in the scientific journal British Journal of Nutrition, she investigated how different types of carbohydrates affect the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

“We could see that people who ate a lot of fruit were protected against developing type 2 diabetes. Fruit contains a lot of sugar, but also a lot of fibers and vitamins. People who instead consumed a lot of sweets and chocolate had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” says Emily Sonestedt.

In a current research project, she is studying how dairy products affects the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Previous research within the Malmö Diet and Cancer study has shown that people who consumed a lot of full-fat dairy products were protected against developing the disease. Emily Sonestedt is now exploring how high dietary intake of full-fat dairy products affects the risk of getting the disease.

“A challenge for us is that we are using already collected data, which makes it hard to demonstrate a causal relationship. We find statistical correlations between food intake and diseases, which we can explore further in intervention studies. It would, for example, be interesting to see what would happen if we were to give one group of study participants a lot of dairy products, whereas another group would be given fewer such products,” says Emily Sonestedt.

Making the right choices

World Diabetes Day is held on 14 November every year. It is an official United Nations day that aims to raise awareness of all the people in the world who are either living with the diabetes or are at risk of developing the disease. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and is often caused by lifestyle habits.  

“We need to eat less and move more. It is of great importance that society makes it easy for people to make good choices. It can be about labeling good foods and create new cycling routes.”

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that often develops slowly, and it can be difficult to notice symptoms. One of the first signs of type 2 diabetes is impaired glucose tolerance, so called prediabetes, which may progress to a diagnosis. Emily Sonestedt would like to see more initiatives within the health care system to identify people at risk.

“Many people have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes without being aware of it. We need to find these groups as well as people at risk of developing the disease, to avoid serious consequences. Society should have a lot to gain by screening more for type 2 diabetes, and there are some good initiatives underway. Health centers in the south of Sweden are inviting 40-year-olds for health talks. We need to see broad initiatives such as this,” says Emily Sonestedt.

Diet that reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

A diet rich in whole grains, fibers, fruit and berries and coffee reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

A diet with a lot of red and processed meat and sugary drinks increases the risk of developing the disease.

Type 2 diabetes

It is estimated that around 537 million people in the world are living with diabetes (20-79 years, 2021). The number is expected to increase to 784 million in 2045. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for around 90 percent of all diabetes cases. 

The disease is generally characterized by insulin resistance, where the body does not fully respond to insulin. Because insulin cannot work properly, blood glucose levels keep rising, releasing more insulin. For some people with type 2 diabetes this can eventually exhaust the pancreas, resulting in the body producing less and less insulin, causing even higher blood sugar levels.

Source: Diabetesatlas

Photo of a researcher.

Emily Sonestedt
Associate professor and researcher in nutrition epidemiology at Lund University
+46 737 00 71 45 
+46 40 39 13 25
emily [dot] sonestedt [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Link to Emily Sonestedt’s profile in Lund University’s Research Portal