Great news! The experts say a healthy diet for someone with diabetes is the same as a healthy diet for anyone else. It’s normal, healthy food with plenty of fruit and vegetables, keeping your intake of fats, sugar and salt well in check.
When you were first diagnosed, you probably had the chance to talk to a dietitian. They will have given you personal advice, tailored to you, so be guided by that. In general terms, you should eat a balanced diet based on a wide range of foods from the five main food groups:
It’s important to base meals on carbohydrates to balance the insulin your body produces naturally, the tablets you take, or the insulin you inject. Carbohydrates that are found in starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, are broken down into blood glucose and used for energy. Some are absorbed more quickly than others and the ‘slow carbs’ really help with blood glucose control.
Fruit and vegetables
The government recommends eating five different portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Some fruits are pretty sweet, so try to spread your intake of fruit out over the day. This will help to avoid any sudden rises in your blood glucose levels.
Meat, fish and alternative protein (e.g. quorn and tofu)
Eat a variety of proteins and choose low fat options where you can, for instance:
- Lean ham in preference to pork pies.
- Chicken without the skin.
- Pulses (lentils and beans).
Milk and dairy foods
Dairy products such as yoghurt and milk contain calcium, needed for healthy bones and teeth. Adults should look for the low fat versions.
Fats, sugars and salt
Don’t cut out fats completely, but try to cut down on saturated fats like full fat dairy foods. Use herbs for extra flavour rather than salt. Cut down on sugar where you can. Try some of the artificial sweeteners instead. Oily fish are good for you like sardines, mackerel, pilchards and trout. Watch out. Artificial sweeteners have no impact on blood glucose levels at all; so don’t use them if you feel hypo. Go for something with real sugar in.
What is a healthy weight for me?
Ask your GP. The tables showing a healthy weight range for your height don’t take your medical history into account. As well as your weight, many healthcare professionals now check:
Your Body Mass Index (BMI)This is calculated using the following formula:
Your weight in kilograms
(Your height in meters)2
Anyone with an Abbot meter who has registered on the meter owner’s section of this website, can click here to work out their BMI with our quick and easy calculator.
Your body shape
A larger waist measurement may indicate increased health risks:
Waist measurement larger than:
- Caucasian men 40 inches 101.6 centimeters
- Asian men 36 inches 91.4 centimeters
- Caucasian women 35 inches 88.9 centimeters
- Asian women 32 inches 81.3 centimeters
Bringing your weight into a healthy range may:
- lower your blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- reduce your cholesterol levels. Click here to read more.
- help you to be more active, (by making it easier to move around and putting your joints under less stress).
- increase your energy levels.
- improve your self-esteem.
If you are overweight, losing some will help you to control your diabetes better, but it should be done under medical supervision. Before you make any changes to your diet or exercise programme, always check your plans with your diabetes team.
As you lose weight and become more physically active:
You may need less insulin or may need to reduce your dose of tablets. Muscles are less resistant to insulin than fat.
Test your blood glucose frequently and keep a note of your levels as you track your weight loss. Then your healthcare professionals can see what is happening and help you adjust your medication if need be.
Watch out for hypos. Check your blood glucose levels and if you are low, or feel a hypo coming on, eat a snack.
- Aim to lose no more than one or two pounds a week. The more slowly it comes off, the longer it stays off.
- Drink more water – about 2 litres each day.
- Keep an eye on portion sizes. Do you know what an average portion looks like? It can be quite surprising. One 60g portion of uncooked pasta is roughly the size of a tennis ball. A medium portion (60g) of uncooked rice will fit in a small yoghurt pot.
- Many foods have low-fat alternatives which are much healthier than their full-fat counterparts .
- In restaurants, meals with the words ‘au gratin’, ‘carbonara’, ‘creamy’, ‘parmigiana’ and ‘tempura’ are often high in fats. Pick something else instead.
- Watch out for drinks. A typical coffee shop large creamy mocha or cappuccino can be hiding as much as 25g (one ounce) of fat. Ask for a ‘skinny’ made with skimmed milk.
Let’s get going!
Weight loss is usually achieved by a combination of lots of little changes to your diet and more physical activity. If your heart sinks at these words, don’t despair. You don’t have to take up jogging or join a gym if you don’t want to. Just take any opportunity to be more active.
- Go for a walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift.
- Shop till you drop (but not ‘till you are hypo!’).
- Go and talk to your colleague rather than picking up the phone.
Make time for food
Some European countries are starting health campaigns for ‘slow food’, asking us to take the time to prepare good meals. It’s not always practical to cook, but some takeaways are much more healthy than others; ready prepared stir-fry vegetables, a low fat supermarket sandwich or a salad-bowl, for instance.
We’ve all grabbed a rushed lunch at our desks and eaten dinner in front of the television. If you can, sit down for a meal and eat it slowly. It’s said that you not only enjoy it more, you will actually eat less.
Try to look at weight loss positively. Talk to your friends and family and get their support. You’re improving your health right now and in the long run, so you’re doing something really positive.