Diabetes and Healthy Food Choices

People with diabetes do not need to buy special food or cook separate meals. The whole family can eat the same healthy food.

Healthy Eating Plan

Your blood glucose levels are affected by the amount and type of starchy and sweet food you eat or drink. Your risk of having a heart attack is affected by the amount and type of fat you eat. Eating more energy than your body needs leads to weight gain. Energy comes from carbohydrates, fats, protein and alcohol. Energy in food is called calories or kilojoules.

Simple changes to your diet will help. Make these changes part of your everyday life

Drink plenty of water. Avoid drinking fruit juice and other sweet drinks.

  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
  • Base your meals around the Diabetes
  • Eat some carbohydrate food at each meal, but not too much.
  • Choose food low in sugar, saturated fat and calories or kilojoules.

The main points regarding healthy eating are as follows:

  • Eat regular meals.
  • Include a starchy carbohydrate food such as bread, cereal, potato, rice or pasta (eat the appropriate portion) at each meal. Limit your intake of sweet and sugary foods.
  • Reduce your fat intake and change the type of fat you eat.
  • Eat fruit and vegetables regularly, a total of 5 portions of a mix of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Eat fish twice a week: white fish once a week and oily fish once a week.
  • Avoid adding salt to food and cut down on processed foods.
  • If you drink alcohol, the recommendations are the same as for the general public, no more than 5 standard drinks in one sitting. For women no more than 11 standard drinks weekly. For men no more than 17 standard drinks weekly.

Regular Meals

  • Have regular meals at regular times each day. Have a breakfast, a lunch or tea type meal and a dinner.
  • If you are hungry in between your meals you can have a low fat snack e.g. fruit or a diet yogurt.
  • Eating regularly means you have to plan ahead. If, for example, you have to make a long journey, prepare some food to take with you so you can have something to eat at the normal time.


This food group has the largest effect on blood glucose levels because when they are digested carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar).

Carbohydrates consist of sugars and starches and are an important energy source for the body and brain. However, with diabetes it is important to choose the right carbohydrates that help control blood glucose levels.

The following foods are sources of Carbohydrates

Starchy Carbohydrates

  • All types of bread and crackers Potatoes
  • Cereals
  • Pasta / Rice / Noodles
  • Yam/Plantain

Sugary Carbohydrates

All sweet foods (cakes, chocolate, biscuits, jams, marmalades, non-diet fizzy drinks etc.)

Naturally Occurring Sugars

  • Fruit and fruit juices
  • Pulse vegetables (peas, beans, lentils)
  • Dairy food (milk, yogurt)

Starchy foods should form part of each meal. Choose similar sized portions of carbohydrate at each main meal as this can help to control your blood glucose levels. C

Try to use wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of these foods to increase the fibre content of your diet e.g. wholemeal or wholegrain bread, wholegrain cereals, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. Adequate fibre in the diet ensures healthy bowel functioning.

1 portion of starchy foods is equal to

  • 1 medium potato or 2 small potatoes
  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ pitta bread or ½ roll or ½ bagel
  • 2 Ryvitas or 3 crackers
  • ½ cup of cooked rice/pasta/couscous
  • 1 serving of breakfast cereal (2 weetabix, or ⅓ cup of raw porridge oats or 4 dessert spoons of high fibre flakes)

If you are referred to a Dietitian you will be advised on how many portions you should eat. Choose carbohydrates with a low GI (Glycaemic Index). GI refers to the rate at which glucose is released from a food. Foods that have a low GI release glucose slowly and are the best types of carbohydrate to eat for diabetes. Starchy foods with a low GI include porridge, pasta, pulses, noodles, and wholegrain/multiseed/granary breads.

Sugar and sweet foods

Sugar and sweet foods can cause your blood glucose level to rise outside the normal range. Sugary foods can also be high in calories and cause weight gain so for these two reasons these foods should be limited. Sweet foods should be reserved as a treat and not something to be indulged in daily.

It is also important to choose foods that have a low sugar content. The table opposite shows suitable low sugar alternatives.

PLEASE NOTE: There is no need to buy special ‘diabetic’ foods. These foods are expensive, can be high in sugar and fat and if taken in large amounts can cause diarrhea.


Having Type 2 Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease but eating less fat in your diet can help reduce that risk. As well as eating less fat it is important to eat the right type of fat.

There are different types of fat in our diet:

Saturated fat is the fat in our diet that contributes to raised cholesterol.

Raised cholesterol increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Saturated fat is found in butter, lard, cream, fat on meat, meat products such as sausages and black and white pudding, cakes, tarts, take-away foods, crisps, chocolate, fudge and toffees.

Unsaturated fat in our diet helps to lower blood cholesterol. Unsaturated fat comes in two forms monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated fat is found in olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, nuts such as peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts and spreads labelled high in mono unsaturates. Try to include more monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fat is found in sunflower, corn and soya oils as well as in spreads high in polyunsaturated. Oily fish is rich in a specific polyunsaturated fat called omega 3 that is very heart protective. It reduces inflammation and helps lower cholesterol. It is recommended to eat oily fish twice weekly if you have Type 2 Diabetes. Oily fish includes salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout. Fresh, frozen, vacuum packed or tinned are all suitable, avoid fish coated in batter or breadcrumbs.

Also if you have to lose weight cutting down on fat will help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

How to reduce your fat intake?

  • Choose low fat dairy products e.g. low fat milk, low fat cheese and low fat yogurt.
  • Choose a low fat spread instead of butter
  • Choose low fat mayonnaise, low fat salad cream and fat free dressings
  • Cut all visible fat off meat, remove the skin from poultry
  • When cooking mince drain the fat off, and skim the fat off casseroles and stews
  • Avoid frying and use alternative cooking methods such as grilling, boiling, steaming, poaching, microwaving or baking.
  • Avoid rich sauces and fatty gravies: skim fat off the meat juices for homemade gravy, or use tomato based sauces and gravy granules instead.
  • Do not add extra fat to your food once it is cooked such as butter on potatoes or vegetables.
  • Eat fruit, low fat yogurts, plain popcorn, crispbreads, rice cakes and cereal with low fat milk instead of cakes, tarts, crisps and chocolate.

IMPORTANT: Be careful of cakes, biscuits and desserts that are labelled low fat as these can be high in sugar and are best avoided.

Fruit & Vegetables

Each day eat 5 portions from a variety of fruit, vegetables and salads. Fruit and vegetables are low in calories, low in fat and high in fibre and vitamins.

  • 1 portion is equal to:
  • 1 medium sized apple or pear
  • 1 small banana
  • 2 small fruits e.g. 2 kiwis, 2 mandarins or 2 plums
  • 10-12 grapes or strawberries
  • 1 small glass (100mls) unsweetened fruit juice
  • 4 stewed prunes or apricots
  • 4 dessert spoons cooked vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup mixed salad
  • 1 cup homemade vegetable soup

REMEMBER: Eat 3 portions of fruit every day. Avoid eating more than one portion at a time. If having fruit juice have at meal times.

Ways to ensure you eat enough fruit and vegetables

Add fresh fruit to breakfast cereals or have fruit juice at breakfast

  • Always add salad vegetables such as tomato, lettuce, cucumber and
  • onion to sandwiches or rolls
  • Always have fresh, frozen or tinned vegetables with your main meal,
  • try to have two portions
  • Have fresh, frozen or tinned fruit in natural juice for dessert
  • Have fresh fruit as a snack.


So now you have some idea what you should eat and drink, let’s put it all together and come up with some meal suggestions.

Breakfast Ideas

Branflakes, low fat milk and a small banana or glass of orange juice

  • Grapefruit segments, boiled egg and wholemeal toast with
  • low fat spread
  • Porridge with 1 dessertspoon of sultanas and a low fat
  • no added sugar yogurt
  • Shredded wheat and strawberries (if in season), low fat milk
  • and a natural yogurt
  • Weetabix and low fat milk, Ryvitas and reduced sugar marmalade
  • Poached egg and grilled tomato, wholegrain toast and a low fat spread
  • Oatibix, a kiwi and low fat milk, Crackerbread/Cracottes and
  • a low fat spread

Lunch Ideas

Homemade vegetable soup, wholegrain bread, low fat cheese and

  • an apple
  • Pitta bread sandwich made with tuna, sweet-corn and a teaspoon low
  • fat mayonnaise, and a slice melon to finish
  • Pasta with chicken and tomato sauce made with tinned chopped
  • tomatoes, salad* and a natural yoghurt dressing
  • Baked beans on granary bread toasted and a pear
  • Egg omelette, a small bagel and a salad
  • Sardines, tomatoes, wholemeal bread and an orange
  • Grilled rashers and mushrooms, potato waffle and peach/nectarine (if in season)

*Salad suggestion

 Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion and grated carrot

Dinner Ideas

Lean grilled pork chop and apple sauce, carrots and mashed potatoes.

  • Roast lamb, broccoli and cauliflower, a baked potato and low fat gravy.
  • Baked cod/haddock with lemon juice and black pepper, couscous
  • with frozen peas and chopped mixed peppers.
  • Stir-fried chicken with vegetables and wholegrain rice.
  • Salmon marinated for 1/2 hour in orange juice, garlic and reduced salt
  • soy sauce, then baked, noodles and frozen peas.
  • Chicken and vegetable casserole, steamed or boiled potatoes.
  • Chilli Con Carne with pasta and a side salad.

NOTE: Although these foods are healthy choices it is important to reduce portion size if you need to lose weight.

Snack ideas

  • Fresh fruit
  • Diet or 0% fat yogurt
  • Crispbread / rice cakes or oat crackers with tomato/cucumber/small serving low fat cheese spread
  • Small wholemeal scone with low fat spread
  • Small bowl cereal with low fat milk
  • Plain biscuits such as 1 Digestive/Fig Roll, 2 Rich Tea/Marietta/ Gingernut (do not have as a snack more than once daily and limit to occasionally if trying to lose weight)

As well as the above food ideas it is important to drink at least 8-10 glasses of fluid a day, this includes water, no added sugar squashes, diet drinks, tea, and coffee.