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Diabetes: Dietary advice

Dietary advice for people with diabetes

All people diagnosed with diabetes should see a dietician. Alongside healthy eating, an awareness of carbohydrate foods and food portion sizes is important for all people with diabetes, and the dietician will help people with Type 1 diabetes understand the balance between carbohydrates and their insulin doses.

Download our handy 'Dietary Advice for diabetes in adults leaflet' for more help and advice.

'Diabetic foods' - Foods labelled "suitable for diabetics"; are not recommended, because many are expensive, high in fat and calories, and may contain bulk sweeteners which may have a laxative effect.

General Guidelines

 The best advice for people who have been recently diagnosed with diabetes is to follow a healthy balanced diet which should be followed by the general population: i.e.

1. Eat regular meals

  • Aim to eat three meals a day, including breakfast. 
  • Include small portions of starchy carbohydrate foods at each meal:
    • try breakfast cereals (avoid sugar-coated cereals), bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, noodles, chapattis.
    • wherever possible choose low glycaemic index (GI) foods as these will help you feel fuller for longer and reduce the rapid rises and falls in blood glucose.
    • Watch your portion sizes - the larger the portion, the more effect this will have on raising your blood glucose levels

2. Eat five portions of fruit, vegetables or salad daily
Fruit contains natural sugar which will raise your blood glucose levels, so spread your intake of fruit throughout the day and eat only one portion of fruit at a time.

Fruit and vegetable portion sizes:

  • 2 - 3 tablespoons of any vegetables
  • 1 bowlful of salad
  • 1 apple or 1 orange or 1 banana
  • 2 small fruits, e.g. 2 plums or satsumas or kiwi fruits
  • 1 slice of melon or pineapple
  • 1 handful of berries or grapes
  • 1 tablespoon of dried fruit
  • 1 small glass (150ml) of fruit juice

3. Limit sugar and sugary foods / drinks
  • Sugar causes blood glucose levels to rise quickly.
  • Choose sugar-free, no added sugar, or drinks labelled ‘diet’ e.g. diet lemonade or cola, water, tea and coffee without sugar.
  • If you do have a sugary food eat it only occasionally and after a meal rather than as a snack.
  • Sugar can be replaced with sweeteners in drinks or in cooking. Any brand of artificial sweetener based on aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, cyclamate, sucralose or Stevia can be used as these do not affect blood glucose levels. Some debate about safety of sweeteners remains despite extensive testing. In general, artificial sweeteners sold in the UK will have been approved for everyone. People with phenylketonuria are advised to avoid aspartame.

4. Eat less fat

  • Aim to eat less fatty foods, particularly less saturated fat which is linked to heart disease.
  • Saturated fat is found in fatty meats, butter, lard, full fat milk, cream, cheese, coconut, cakes, biscuits and pastry products.
  • Grill, bake, poach, steam or roast rather than fry food. Eat lean meat and remove any fat or skin. If you need to use fats or oils, choose unsaturated fats such as olive or rapeseed oil.

5. Oily fish
Eat oily fish once or twice a week, e.g. mackerel, sardines, pilchard or salmon as these contain heart-protective omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

6. Cut down on salt
Salt can increase your blood pressure. Use less in cooking, at the table and eat less salty foods - processed foods are high in salt. Flavour foods with herbs and spices instead of adding salt. If you have kidney problems, salt substitutes such as Lo-salt are not advised.

7. Alcohol
  • Do not exceed the maximum recommendations:
    • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
    • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
  • Aim to have 1 or 2 alcohol free days each week.
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach.

What is a unit? - Half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager, cider - One small pub measure (25ml) of spirits - One standard pub measure (50ml) of fortified wine e.g. sherry. Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine

Diabetes - A Guide for the African & Caribbean Community

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