Healthy eating

No food is out of bounds but food choices are an important part of your diabetes management, whether you have Type 1, Type 2 or another type of diabetes.

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.

Swap and save videos

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:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy foods
  • dairy products
  • meat, fish, eggs and beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • foods high in fat and/or sugar.

The number of portions you need varies from person to person. Your dietitian will be able to guide you on how much of each food group you need depending on your requirements and nutritional goals - e.g. weight loss, blood glucose management or sports performance.


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. For example:

  • 1 piece of fruit, like an apple
  • 1 handful of grapes
  • 3 heaped tbsp vegetables

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. Better options include wholewheat pasta, basmati rice, brown or wild rice, granary bread, oat-based cereal such as porridge or natural muesli.

How much per day?

  • Try to have some starchy food, especially the wholegrain options, everyday.

Carbohydrates breakdown to glucose in the blood so keep an eye on how much you eat. Depending on your diabetes treatment, and nutritional goals, you may be advised to:

  • estimate the amounts of carbs you are eating
  • reduce the amount of carbs you eat
  • choose healthier sources
  • spread your intake through the day 

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?

Include some food from this group everyday and aim for two portions of oily fish a week.


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. Reduce your intake of saturated fats by replacing butter, lard, ghee etc with unsaturated fats such as olive, sunflower and rapeseed oils and spreads.

How much per day?

  • the fewer the better, especially if you are trying to lose weight

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.