Healthy eating

No food is out of bounds but food choices are an important part of your diabetes management. Eating a balanced diet – that is fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, non-dairy sources of protein and dairy – is something we should all try to do. It’s fine to have a treat every now and again but the foods you choose are an important part of your diabetes treatment, along with medication, testing and being active.

This information 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. For inspiration on fresh culinary ideas, we have over 250 online recipes to choose from. All our calorie-counted dishes have been adapted, tasted and nutritionally analysed for Diabetes UK.

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You can also eat more healthily by swapping certain food and drink choices with lower-calorie options. Find out more about how to swap and save.

Food groups

Food can be divided in five groups:

  • starchy foods
  • fruit and vegetables
  • dairy products
  • meat, fish, eggs and pulses
  • foods high in fat or sugar.

The number of portions you will need 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.

 

Starchy foods

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 and 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.

 

Dairy products

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 and 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).
 

Salt, herbs and spices

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.