Food can be divided into five groups:
Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta contain carbohydrate, which is broken down into glucose and used by your cells as fuel. Choose carbohydrates that are more slowly absorbed (that is, lower Gl) as these won’t affect your blood glucose levels as much and they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer. Starchy foods are naturally low in fat and high-fibre choices (wholemeal and wholegrain options) will also help keep your bowels regular, preventing digestive disorders.
How much per day? 5-14 portions. One-third of your diet should be made up of these foods, so try to include them in every meal.
What’s a portion? One portion is equal to: 2-4 tbsp cereal; 1 slice of bread; 2-3 tbsp rice, pasta, couscous, noodles or mashed potato; 2 new potatoes or half a baked potato; half a small chapatti; 2-3 crispbreads or crackers.
Fruit & vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, while being packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. They can help protect against stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers.
How much per day? Aim for at least five portions. Fresh, frozen, dried and tinned fruit and vegetables all count. Aim for a mix of colours to get as wide a range of vitamins and minerals as possible.
What’s a portion? Roughly what you can fit into the palm of your hand.
Milk, cheese and yoghurt contain calcium, which helps to keep your bones and teeth strong. They are also a good source of protein, but some can be high in fat, so choose lower-fat alternatives where you can (but look out for added sugar in its place).
How much per day? Aim for three portions.
What’s a portion? One portion is equal to: 190ml (⅓ pint) of milk; a small pot of yogurt; 2 tbsp cottage cheese; a matchbox-sized portion of cheese (45g/1oz)
Meat, fish, eggs & pulses
These foods are high in protein, which is needed for building and replacing muscle cells in the body. They also contain minerals, such as iron, which are needed for producing red blood cells. Omega-3 fish oils, found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, can help to protect the heart. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include beans, pulses, lentils, soya and tofu.
How much per day? Aim for 2-3 portions.
What’s a portion? One portion is equal to: 60-85g (2-3oz) meat, poultry or vegetarian alternative; 120-140g (4-5oz) fish; 2 eggs; 2 tbsp nuts; 3 tbsp beans, lentils or dahl.
Foods high in fat and sugar
Technically, your body doesn’t need any foods in this group, but eating them in moderation can be part a healthy, balanced diet. Sugary foods and drinks will raise your blood glucose so opt for diet/light or low-calorie alternatives. It’s also worth remembering that fat is high in calories, so try to reduce the amount of oil you use in your cooking and choose lower-fat alternatives wherever possible.
How much per day? 0-4 portions (the fewer the better).
What’s a portion? One portion is equal to: 2 tsp spread, butter, oil, salad dressing, sugar, jam or honey; 1 tbsp Bombay mix; rasher of bacon; ⅓ of a vegetable samosa; 1 mini chocolate bar; 1 scoop of ice cream or 1 tbsp cream.
Eating too much salt (6g/0.2oz or more per day) can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart disease, so limit the amount of processed foods you eat and try flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead.
The number of portions varies from person to person and these are given as a guide. Your dietitian will be able to tell you how much you should eat.
Herbal and food supplements
Herbal supplements and remedies are currently very popular for a whole range of conditions including diabetes. However, many have not been tested and they are not regulated in the same way that prescribed medications . There continues to be research into a range of micronutrients, supplements and functional foods and their effect on diabetes management and their link with causing diabetes. This includes for example Vitamin B3, chromium, magnesium, anti-oxidants, vitamin D, zinc, caffeine, cinnamon, chilli, karela and methi. There is no clear benefit of from a vitamin or mineral supplement in people with diabetes who don’t have a deficiency and most people should aim to obtain all their nutrients from a varied and balanced diet. But if you are concerned that you may be at risk of lacking a particular nutrient, you should discuss this with your doctor or healthcare team. Currently, there is no known cure for diabetes so no herbal remedy can claim to cure diabetes.If you want to, or already do, take supplements, whether it’s a vitamin, mineral or herbal remedy, it is important that you discuss the supplements with your GP or healthcare team. There may be risks associated with taking supplements because of their effect on diabetes complications (e.g. kidney disease) and/ or their interactions with diabetes medication.
At no time should you stop taking your insulin and/or tablets without first consulting your GP or diabetes care team.
Diabetes UK does not recommend the use of supplements and herbal remedies as there is still a lack of robust clinical evidence about their effectiveness and safety for people with diabetes. The exception is folic acid for women who are planning to have a baby or are pregnant and mega 3 supplements for people who have heart problems or if your doctor has identified a particular vitamin deficiency. .