Being diagnosed with diabetes means that you should be able to continue enjoying a wide variety of foods as part of a healthy diet. At first it can appear a challenge but the food choices you make and your eating habits are important in helping you to manage your diabetes and long-term health.
The information in this section is a starting point to help you eat well when you have diabetes. You should also be referred to a registered dietitian for specific information tailored to your needs.
Ten Steps to eating well
Eat three meals a day
Avoid skipping meals and space your breakfast, lunch and evening meal out over the day.
This will not only help control your appetite but will also help control your blood glucose levels.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim for at least five portions a day to provide you with vitamins, minerals and fibre to help you to balance your overall diet. One portion is, for example, a banana or apple, a handful of grapes, a tablespoon of dried fruit, a small glass of fruit juice or fruit smoothie, three heaped tablespoons of vegetables or a cereal bowl of salad.
Include starchy carbohydrate foods as part of your diet
Examples of these include bread, pasta, chapatis, potatoes, yam, noodles, rice and cereals. The amount of carbohydrate you eat is important to control your blood glucose levels. Especially try to include those that are more slowly absorbed (have a lower glycaemic index) as these won’t affect your blood glucose levels as much.
Better choices include: pasta, basmati or easy cook rice, grainy breads such as granary, pumpernickel and rye, new potatoes, sweet potato and yam, porridge oats, All-Bran and natural muesli. The high fibre varieties of starchy foods will also help to maintain the health of your digestive system and prevent problems such as constipation.
Cut down on the fat you eat, particularly saturated fats
A low fat diet benefits health. Choose unsaturated fats or oils, especially monounsaturated fat (eg olive oil and rapeseed oil) as these types of fats are better for your heart. As fat is the greatest source of calories, eating less will help you to lose weight if you need to. To cut down on the fat you eat here are some tips:
- Use less saturated fat by having less butter, margarine and cheese.
- Choose lean meat and fish as low fat alternatives to fatty meats.
- Choose lower fat dairy foods such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat or diet yogurts, reduced fat cheese and lower fat spreads.
- Grill, steam or oven bake instead of frying or cooking with oil or other fats.
- Watch out for creamy sauces and dressings and swap for tomato-based sauces instead.
Include more beans and lentils
Examples include kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas or red and green lentils. They have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels and may help to control your blood fats. Try adding them to stews, casseroles and soups, or to a salad.
Aim for at least two portions of oily fish a week
Examples include mackerel, sardines, salmon and pilchards. Oily fish contains a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega 3, which helps protect against heart disease.
Limit sugar and sugary foods
This does not mean you need to eat a sugar-free diet. Sugar can be used in foods and in baking as part of a healthy diet. Using sugar-free, no added sugar or diet fizzy drinks/squashes, instead of sugary versions can be an easy way to reduce the sugar in your diet.
Reduce salt in your diet
Keep salt intake to 6g or less a day More than this can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart disease. Limit the amount of processed foods you eat (as these are usually high in salt) and try flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Drink alcohol in moderation only
That’s a maximum of two units of alcohol per day for a woman and three units per day for a man. For example, a single pub measure (25ml) of spirit is about 1 unit or half pint of lager, ale, bitter or cider has 1–1½ units.
Over the years the alcohol content of most drinks has gone up. A drink can now contain more units than you think – a small glass of wine (175ml) could contain as much as 2 units. Remember alcohol contains empty calories so think about cutting back further if you are trying to lose weight.
Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely to occur when taking certain diabetes medication.
Don’t use diabetic foods or drinks
They offer no benefit to people with diabetes. They will still affect your blood glucose levels, contain just as much fat and calories as the ordinary versions, can have a laxative effect and are expensive.