If you've just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, one of the first things you might be worried about is food.
You’re likely to be faced with what seems like an endless list of new tasks. Medical appointments, taking medication, stopping smoking, being more active and eating a healthy, balanced diet – it can all seem so daunting and overwhelming. With so much to take in at once and all the myths about diabetes and food that you’ll probably hear, it can be hard to know what to do.
We can’t tell you exactly what to eat, but we can get you started with some options to try for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Planning ahead when it comes to food could help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control.
“When I decided to make changes to my lifestyle, diet came first. I looked on the Diabetes UK website and read all about the food I needed to eat. It all looked simple – but to act on it and manage this new way of eating was difficult. I knew I had to do it.”
Zahoor, living with type 2 diabetes
What’s the diabetes diet?
There is no such thing as a special diet exclusively for people with type 2 diabetes. No two people with diabetes are the same. So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of eating for everyone with diabetes.
In the past, people with type 2 diabetes were sent away after their diagnosis with a list of foods they weren't allowed to eat, or often told to cut out sugar. But our advice is to make healthier choices more often, and only have treats occasionally and in small portions.
Because we know that making healthier food choices is important to manage your diabetes and to reduce your risk of diabetes complications, like heart problems and strokes, and other health conditions including certain types of cancers.
It's best to avoid foods labelled ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’, and eating too much red and processed meat or highly processed carbs like white bread. Cutting down on these means you’re reducing your risk of certain cancers and heart diseases.
Try and make changes to your food choices that are realistic and achievable so you’ll stick with them. This will be different for everyone, depending on what you eat now and the goals you want to achieve. Here are some examples of goals – think about yours and write them down if that helps:
- ‘I want to reach my target blood sugar level’
- ‘I want to reduce my cholesterol levels (blood fats)’
- ‘I want good blood pressure’
- ‘I want to be a healthy weight’
- ‘I want to be in diabetes remission’.
You’re more likely to achieve your goals if you get some support – whether that’s from your healthcare team, your family and friends or other people with diabetes. There are millions of people with type 2 diabetes wondering what they can eat – you’re not alone in this.
Diabetes diet plans to lose weight
If you’re overweight, finding a way to lose weight has huge benefits. It can help you manage your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And there’s strong evidence to suggest that losing extra weight can put your type 2 diabetes into remission. We know this is more likely nearer to you being diagnosed, so find out everything you can about remission and speak to your healthcare team about it.
Get our guide to losing weight – we’ve put together some meal plans to help you. But speak to your healthcare team too, they can refer you to a dietitian for more specific advice and help you stick to your plan.
We haven't created low- or very low-calorie meal plans as these could be challenging using foods. Most people who follow these diets use special meal replacement products which are nutritionally complete. If you chose to try a low-calorie diet, speak to your GP or nurse first, especially if you use medication like insulin.
Download your weight-loss planner
"I keep a daily diary and log my weight and activity. It keeps me accountable and focused."
Edward Morrison, who lost over four stone – read his story.
You can download My weight-loss planner (PDF, 534KB) to set goals and track your progress. By putting a plan in place and noting down your progress, you'll be able to see the positive changes you're making.
Learn food hacks
Get practical tools and tailored advice on what to eat when you have type 2 diabetes – all in our Learning Zone.
Diabetes won’t stop you from enjoying your food, but knowing some simple hacks and swaps will help you choose healthier options and make planning your meals a little easier. These ideas may not look much different from what you eat already, and your favourite recipes and meals can usually be adapted to be healthier without you noticing too much difference.
Here are some healthy breakfast ideas to choose from:
- a bowl of wholegrain cereal with milk
- two slices of wholegrain toast with olive oil-based spread
- a pot of natural unsweetened yogurt and fruit
- two slices of avocado with a hardboiled egg.
Here are some healthy lunch ideas to choose from:
- a chicken or tuna salad sandwich
- a small pasta salad
- soup with or without a wholegrain roll
- a piece of salmon or tuna steak and salad.
Think about having a piece of fruit or a pot of natural unsweetened yogurt afterwards too.
Get more healthy lunchtime swaps.
Here are some healthy dinner ideas to choose from:
- lasagne and salad
- roast chicken and vegetables, with or without potatoes
- beef stir-fry and vegetables, with or without brown rice
- chicken tortillas and salad
- salmon and vegetables, with or without noodles
- curry with chickpeas and brown rice
Get more dinner recipes – you can search by type of meal and ingredient.
Can I eat fruit?
Yes, whole fruit is good for everyone and if you have diabetes, it’s no different. You shouldn’t avoid them because they’re sugary. Fruits do contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. The sugar in whole fruit is different to the added sugar in things like chocolate, biscuits and cakes or other free sugar found in fruit juices and smoothies.
Still not sure which foods mean you’re making healthy choices? Read our 10 top tips for healthy eating when you have diabetes – it takes you through the foods that are healthier than others, including which carbohydrates are the better choice and how to be smart with snacks.
Can I snack in between meals?
Some people with type 2 diabetes hear about hypos (when your blood sugar gets too low) and think they need to eat snacks to avoid them. But this isn’t the case for everyone.
You don’t need to eat snacks if you’re not taking any medication for your type 2 diabetes. If you treat your diabetes with medication that puts you at risk of hypos, like insulin, you may need a snack to prevent a hypo. But if you find you’re having to snack a lot to prevent hypos, talk to your healthcare team so they can give you more advice.
Snacking in general can make it harder to manage a healthy weight though, which is really important for managing your diabetes. So if you do feel like a snack, go for a healthier option like carrot sticks and hummus or some dark chocolate rice cakes.
We’ve got lots of simple snack swaps to try.
Get support to eat well
Get support from your healthcare team, and talk to family and friends about how you’re feeling and what they can do to help. If you usually do the cooking at home or someone cooks for you, it can help to read this information together and talk about small swaps and changes you can make in the kitchen.
Go on a structured education course
Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can often feel like there’s a lot to learn. But going on a course can help you understand what diabetes is and how food affects your body.
Ask your healthcare team about getting on a structured education course near you or find out more in our education information.
Join Learning Zone
Learning Zone is our online education service to help people with diabetes understand and manage their condition successfully. We’ve made a section all about food hacks to help you learn how to make those simple swaps – log into Learning Zone.
Chat about food in our online forum
Our support forum has over 18,000 members. It’s a place to have a chat with someone else who has type 2 diabetes, ask questions about food, or just read other people’s posts to see what diets are working for them. We’ve got dedicated boards for people talking about food, recipes and weight loss.
Call our helpline
Our helpline is free and our trained counsellors get hundreds of calls about food every week.