Whether you are living with diabetes or not, a healthy well balanced approach to eating and drinking is important. The foods you choose to eat will make a difference not only in managing your diabetes, but also in helping with weight management and reducing the risk of long term conditions such as; heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
You can help to manage your diabetes through a balanced approach to eating, controlling your weight and being active. The information outlined, will assist you in making healthy food choices to help in the management of your diabetes.
Top Tips for Healthy Eating with Diabetes
1. Regular Meals
Key Message: Aim for three meals each day and avoid skipping meals.
A typical day’s intake should be based around breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Following this will help to keep blood glucose steady, energy levels topped up and help you avoid snacking.
2. Starchy carbohydrate.
Key Message: Include a starchy carbohydrate at each main meal, selecting options higher in fibre and wholegrains, which have a lower Glycaemic Index value.
Although starchy carbohydrates are healthy foods, they will impact on blood glucose levels. Example include pasta, rice, potato, bread, chapatti, plantain. The larger the portion of carbohydrate, the higher blood glucose levels will be. In reverse, if you eat smaller amounts, the effect on your blood glucose levels will be less. Choosing starchy carbohydrates which contain higher levels of fibre and wholegrains and a lower Glycaemic Index may have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels as they are digested more slowly. They can also help to keep you fuller for longer, so can help with weight loss too. Limit to one carbohydrate type per meal.
Key Message: Limit added (free) sugar to 30g (7tsp a day) per day.
Having diabetes does not mean than you have to completely cut sugar out. The trick is to enjoy a small amount as part of an overall balanced approach to eating, limiting sugary foods and drinks to the occasional treat. Switching to sweeteners and sugar free options can help to manage your blood glucose.
4. Fruit and Vegetables
Key Message: Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of fibre, are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a wide variety and aiming for a minimum of five portions each day (2-3 fruit, with at least 2-3 vegetables portions), can help to reduce your risk of developing many health conditions such as; high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and certain cancers. An added bonus being naturally low in energy (calories) and high in fibre, meaning they can help to maintain a healthy weight. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned fruit in juice and canned vegetables in water, with no added sugar and salt all count. Although fruit is high in vitamins and minerals large portions of fruit and especially juice can cause high glucose levels.
Key Message: Aim for no more than 6grams of salt each day.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, particularly if you are overweight or if high blood pressure runs in your family. This is concerning, as high blood pressure increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Key Message: Drink no more than 14 units per week, with several alcohol free days.
The risk of developing a range of illnesses, including increased blood pressure and certain cancers increase if you consistently drink more alcohol than the recommended amounts. Having diabetes does not mean that you need to avoid drinking alcohol. In fact, government guidelines for sensible drinking are the same if you have diabetes or not. Remember alcohol is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain.
7. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Key Message: Aim to include 2 portions of oily fish each week.
Omega 3 fats are essential fatty acids that cannot be made by the body in sufficient amounts. They can lower blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and help protect against heart disease.
Key Message: Aim to reduce total fat intake, whilst also replacing saturated fats with unsaturated equivalents.
To achieve or maintain a healthy weight, it is important to reduce total fat intake as all oil has the same calories. Replacing saturated fats with moderate amounts of monounsaturated (olive and rapeseed oils and spreads) and polyunsaturated fats (soya, sunflower and corn oils and spreads; nuts, seeds, oily fish) can have a beneficial impact the health of the heart. Remember to help with weight loss, it is important to reduce the total amount of fat eaten. Measure the oil in cooking with a tsp to prevent large amounts in cooking.
9. Healthy weight
Key message: Achieving a healthy body weight may is beneficial in managing your blood glucose, and cardiovascular health.
If you are overweight , you may need to reduce your portions, aiming for a better overall balance between the different food groups. Almost two in every three adults in the UK are overweight or obese. For those with diabetes, increased weight has been shown to increase insulin resistance (which means your body cannot use insulin as well as it should). This has been shown to worsen glycaemic (blood glucose) control and increase the risk of diabetes progression. For more information on weight loss, click here
10. Diabetic products
Key Message: Diabetic products are not recommended.
These foods have no benefit, can be just as high in calories and fat, are more expensive, have a laxative effect and can still impact on blood glucose levels.
The Eatwell Plate is a really useful guide to what proportion of food groups should be eaten every day.
Most specific information on individual food groups can be found in the following pages:
Diabetes UK Enjoy Food is an excellent resource to help guide you to improve your eating habits:
- For meal ideas click here
- For meal plans click here
Remember exercise is an important part of lifestyle change too
Key message: Aim to increase daily activity levels
To stay healthy adults should try to achieve at least 150 mins moderate aerobic exercise per week (such as cycling or brisk walking) AND strength exercise that work most of the major muscle groups at least twice a week.
For more information on exercise, click here.