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Information for patients - diabetes healthy eating advice

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Information for Patients - Diabetes Healthy Eating Advice

  • What is diabetes?
    • Diabetes is a condition in which the glucose (sugar) in the blood is higher than normal. Insulin, a substance produced by the pancreas, helps to control the blood glucose level. In diabetes there is a problem with the production of insulin. There are two main types of diabetes:

      • 1). Type 1 diabetes which occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. This usually develops quickly and before the age of 40. It is always treated with diet and insulin.

      • 2). Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the insulin it does produce does not work properly. It usually develops gradually in middle and later life and is treated by diet alone, diet and tablets or diet and insulin. The majority of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight. Losing weight and maintaining the weight loss is a major part of treatment as it helps insulin work more effectively

Eating a healthy diet is an essential part of the treatment for diabetes and will help to control your blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol and blood pressure. The information in this guide is suitable for most family members. However some people need more fat in their diet such as infants and young children and older people if their appetites and food intake is poor.

  • Diabetes is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body is unable to use it properly

  • Glucose comes from the digestion of foods that contain carbohydrate such as
    • Starchy foods (bread, rice, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, yam, sweet potato, chapattis, and plantain)
    • Sugary foods such as sweets and chocolates
    • Natural sugars in fruit, fruit juice, milk and yoghurts

  • The aim of the diet is to help achieve blood sugars as near as possible to normal and to promote good health, particularly a healthy weight and healthy heart

  • If you are overweight you will benefit from losing weight (providing you keep this weight off). Try also to be more active as this will help to control your weight and your diabetes and improve your general health

  • Getting the right balance in your diet
    • To eat a healthy diet you need to eat foods from each of the 5 food groups in the right proportions

    • Fruit, salads and vegetables
      • Try to eat fruit and vegetables at every meal. Try to eat at least 5 portions a day, and have at least 2 of these as vegetables or salad

        • One portion is a piece of fruit (an apple, pear, banana) a slice of a large fruit (such as a melon, mango or pineapple) or 2 small fruit (such as 2 satsumas) or a handful of berries or grapes, or a small glass of fruit juice

        • Drinking fruit juice can cause a quick rise in blood sugar so don't drink it to quench your thirst, drink in small amounts only, preferably with a meal

        • A portion of vegetables is 3 heaped tablespoons or a bowl of salad

    • Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes, chapattis
      • Regular meals with regular amounts of starchy foods will help to fill you up. Having a starchy food at each meal helps to control your appetite and your weight

      • Wholemeal bread is good for your general health but it is not necessary to eat this instead of white bread if you do not like it. Bread containing whole grains is another good alternative

      • Try eating pasta more often as an alternative to potatoes and try oat based cereals for a change such as porridge and muesli

    • Meat, fish, and alternatives
      • Eat lean meat or chicken without skin to cut down on saturated fat
        • Aim for 80-110g (3-4oz) of meat or 110-140g (4-5oz) of fish as a portion

      • Aim to eat fish more often
        • Try to include oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel and pilchards) in your diet once a week

      • Eat pulses (peas, beans, lentils, baked beans) as part of a meal, in casseroles, salads or soups

      • Milk and dairy foods
        • Choose lower fat milk such as semi-skimmed milk
        • Limit the amount of high fat cheese and choose some low fat alternatives (low fat cheese spreads, and low fat soft cheese)
        • Limit cream and try using yoghurt instead

    • Fatty and Sugary Foods
      • Fatty foods
        • Use vegetable oil (rapeseed oil or olive oil are best) instead of animal fats

        • Replace butter with soft margarine
          • Try margarines labelled high in mono-unsaturated fat (such as olive oil based margarines)

        • Cut down on fatty snacks such as crisps, nuts, cakes and biscuits, instead try fruit, diet yoghurts or lower fat biscuits such as arrowroot, garibaldi or rich tea

      • Sugary Foods
        • You don't have to avoid sugary foods altogether but you can try cutting down on sugar or using low sugar alternatives. There is no need to buy 'special' diabetic foods
          • Try low sugar yoghurts, jellies, rice puddings, fruit in its own juice and low sugar jam
          • Use diet/ sugar free drinks
            • Try sweeteners instead of sugar in drinks and on cereals. Saccharine, Sucralose, Aspartame or Acesulfame are suitable

Table detailing Dietary Advice on Healthier Food Choices




Starchy Foods

Base your meals around these foods

Bread - all types including granary, rye, pumpernickel, wholemeal, high fibre white, white, pitta bread.

Chapatti, crispbreads

Porridge, breakfast cereal e.g. oat flakes, wheat biscuits, branflakes, muesli

Rice (especially basmati), pasta and noodles

Boiled, baked, steamed, dry roasted potatoes.

Yams and sweet potatoes

Sugar-coated breakfast cereals

Fried rice

Deep fried chips

Fruit and Vegetables

Aim for at least 5 portions /day

All vegetables and salad Fresh fruit - all kinds.

Tinned fruit in its own juice and stewed fruit using a sweetener

Dried fruit

Tinned fruit in syrup

Dairy Foods

2-3 servings /day

Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk

Diet or low fat yoghurt or fromage frais

Cottage cheese

Lower fat cheeses e.g. half-fat cheddar, Edam, Brie, Camembert

Full-fat milk


Cream cheese

Meat, Fish and alternatives

2 servings /day

Lean red meat, poultry (without skin)

Fish-fresh, frozen, tinned in water, brine or tomato sauce. Try to include at least 1 portion of oily fish each week


Pulses - bean, chickpeas, lentils.


Quorn Nuts - as a main meal to replace meat

Fatty meats, meat pies and pasties, sausage rolls, pork pies

Deep fried battered fish

Scotch eggs

Salted nuts

Foods Rich in Sugar

Keep to the minimum

Plain scones, fruit buns, muffins, teacakes, plain biscuits (e.g. cream crackers, rich tea, oatcakes, garibaldi and ginger nuts) and malt loaf

Fruit - fresh, tinned (in natural juice) or stewed

Diet or low fat yoghurt.

Sugar free instant desserts, custard and milk puddings - if homemade an artificial sweetener can be used

No added sugar or sugar free squash and diet/low calorie fizzy drinks

Small amounts of ordinary or reduced sugar jam and marmalade

Hermesetas, Candarel, Sweetex or similar supermarket brands of artificial sweetener

Sweet biscuits, cakes and pastries

Rich sugary puddings

Full fat yoghurt

Squash and fizzy drinks sweetened with sugar

Honey, treacle, syrup

Sugar, glucose, sorbitol, fructose

Foods Rich in Fat

Keep to the minimum

Grilled, baked, boiled, steamed, dry roasted or microwaved foods. If cooking oil required try olive or rapeseed oil.

For a spread on bread etc use a low-fat spread or margarine based on olive or rapeseed oil

Fried foods

Butter, ghee, lard suet or hard margarines

Looking at Food Labels:

The following guide will help you decide whether a food contains 'a lot' or 'a little' fat and/or sugar. For ready meals or foods eaten in large amounts use the 'per serving' figure on the label. For snacks or foods eaten in small amounts use the 'per 100g' figure on the label

Guide to Food Labeling

A lot is:

A little is:

20g of fat or more

3g of fat or less

10g sugar or more

2g of sugar or less


  • 1) Sheffield NHS Trust (2009). Dietary information for patients with diabetes.
  • 2) NHS Brighton and Hove Primary Care Trust - Diabetes Dietary Advice Sheet (Accessed June 13th 2013)

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The content herein is provided for informational purposes and does not replace the need to apply professional clinical judgement when diagnosing or treating any medical condition. A licensed medical practitioner should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.


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