Updated: Sep 17, 2020
What should I eat?
People with diabetes should follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Eating the recommended amount of food from the five food groups will provide you with the nutrients you need to be healthy and prevent chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. To help manage your diabetes:
Eat regular meals and spread them evenly throughout the day
Eat a diet lower in fat, particularly saturated fat
If you take insulin or diabetes tablets, you may need to have between meal snacks
It is important to recognise that everyone’s needs are different. All people with diabetes should see an Accredited Practising Dietitian in conjunction with their diabetes team for individualised advice.
Matching the amount of food you eat with the amount of energy you burn through activity and exercise is important. Putting too much fuel in your body can lead to weight gain. Being overweight or obese can make it difficult to manage your diabetes and can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Limit foods high in energy such as take away foods, sweet biscuits, cakes, sugar sweetened drinks and fruit juice, lollies, chocolate and savoury snacks. Some people have a healthy diet but eat too much. Reducing your portion size is one way to decrease the amount of energy you eat. Being active has many benefits. Along with healthy eating, regular physical activity can help you to manage your blood glucose levels, reduce your blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) and maintain a healthy weight.
Fats have the highest energy (kilojoule or calorie) content of all foods. Eating too much fat can make you put on weight, which may make it more difficult to manage blood glucose levels. Our bodies need some fat for good health but the type of fat you choose is important.
It is important to limit saturated fat because it raises your LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is found in animal foods like fatty meat, milk, butter and cheese. Vegetable fats that are saturated include palm oil (found in solid cooking fats, snack foods or convenience foods) and coconut products such as copha, coconut milk or cream. To reduce saturated fat:
Choose reduced or low-fat milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice-cream and custard
Choose lean meat and trim any fat off before cooking
Remove the skin from chicken, duck and other poultry (where possible, before cooking)
Avoid using butter, lard, dripping, cream, sour cream, copha, coconut milk, coconut cream and hard cooking margarines
Limit pastries, cakes, puddings, chocolate and cream biscuits to special occasions
Limit pre-packaged biscuits, savoury packet snacks, cakes, frozen and convenience meals
Limit the use of processed deli meats (devon/polony/fritz/luncheon meat, chicken loaf, salami etc) and sausages
Avoid fried takeaway foods such as chips, fried chicken and battered fish and choose BBQ chicken (without the skin) and grilled fish instead
Avoid pies, sausage rolls and pastries
Rather than creamy sauces or dressings, choose those that are based on tomato, soy or other low fat ingredients
Limit creamy style soups.
Polyunsaturated & monounsaturated fats
Eating small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help ensure you get the essential fatty acids and vitamins your body needs. Polyunsaturated fats include:
Polyunsaturated margarines (check the label for the word ‘polyunsaturated’)
Sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed and sesame oils
The fat found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardine, salmon and tuna.
Monounsaturated fats include:
Canola and olive oils
Seeds, nuts, nut spreads and peanut oil contain a combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.
Ideas for enjoying healthy fats
Stir-fry meat and vegetables in a little canola oil (or oil spray) with garlic or chilli
Dress a salad or steamed vegetables with a little olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar
Sprinkle sesame seeds on steamed vegetables
Use linseed bread and spread a little canola margarine
Snack on a handful of unsalted nuts, or add some to a stir-fry or salad
Spread avocado on sandwiches and toast, or add to a salad
Eat more fish (at least three times a week) because it contains a special type of fat (omega-3) that is good for your heart.
Do more dry roasting, grilling, microwaving and stir-frying in a non-stick pan
Avoid deep fried, battered and crumbed foods
Carbohydrate foods play an important role in our diet. They are the best energy source for your body, especially your brain. When carbohydrates are digested they break down to form glucose in the bloodstream. Insulin takes the glucose out of the blood and puts it into the muscles, liver and other cells in the body where it is used to provide energy. Most carbohydrate containing foods are also very good sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals which keep our body and bowels healthy.
Of the three key nutrients in our food – fat, protein and carbohydrate, carbohydrate is the nutrient that will have the biggest impact on your blood glucose levels. The effect of carbohydrate will depend on i) the amount of carbohydrate you eat and ii) the type of carbohydrate you eat.
Everyone’s carbohydrate needs are different depending on your gender, how active you are, your age and your body weight. Anyone with diabetes should see an Accredited Practising Dietitian to work out the amount of carbohydrate to eat at each meal and snack. For some people, a lower carbohydrate diet may help with diabetes management. If you are considering reducing the carbohydrate content of your diet, consult your healthcare team for individualised advice.
If you eat regular meals and spread your carbohydrate foods evenly throughout the day, you will help maintain your energy levels without causing large rises in your blood glucose levels. If you take insulin or diabetes tablets, you may need to have between meal snacks. Discuss this with your doctor, dietitian or Credentialled Diabetes Educator.
All carbohydrate foods are digested to produce glucose but they do so at different rates – some slow, some fast. The glycemic index or GI is a way of describing how quickly a carbohydrate food is digested and enters the blood stream.
Low GI carbohydrate foods enter the blood stream slowly and have less of an impact on blood glucose levels. Examples of low GI foods include traditional rolled oats, dense wholegrain breads, lentils and legumes, sweet potato, milk, yoghurt, pasta and most types of fresh fruit. The type of carbohydrate you eat is very important as some can cause higher blood glucose after eating. The best combination is to eat moderate amounts of high fibre low GI carbohydrates.
A healthy eating plan for diabetes can include some sugar. It is ok to have a sprinkle of sugar on porridge or a scrape of jam on some low GI high fibre bread. However, foods that are high in added sugars and poor sources of other nutrients should be consumed sparingly. In particular, limit high energy foods such as sweets, lollies and standard soft drinks. Some sugar may also be used in cooking and many recipes can be modified to use less than the amount stated or substituted with an alternative sweetener. Select recipes that are low in fat (particularly saturated fat) and contain some fibre.
As mentioned above small amounts of sugar as part of a balanced meal plan shouldn’t have a large effect on blood glucose levels. However sweeteners such as Equal, Stevia, Sugarine and Splenda can be used in place of sugar especially if they are replacing large amounts of sugar. Foods and drinks that have been sweetened with an alternative sweetener, such as diet soft drinks and cordials, sugar-free lollies etc, are also best enjoyed occasionally, as they do not have any nutritional benefit and may often take the place of more nutritious foods and drinks, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts and water.
Protein foods are needed by the body for growth and repair. Protein does not break down into glucose, so it does not directly raise blood glucose levels. The main protein foods are:
Meats, chicken, fish, & tofu
Nuts & seeds
There are some protein foods which also contain carbohydrate such as milk, yoghurt, lentils and legumes which will have an effect on blood glucose levels but these should still be included as part of a healthy diet.
Water is needed for most of the body’s functions and the body needs to be kept hydrated every day. Water is the best drink to have because it contains no extra kilojoules and won’t have an effect on your blood glucose levels. Other good choices are:
Tea, coffee, herbal tea, water, soda water, plain mineral water
If you want a sweet drink occasionally products labelled 'diet' or ‘low joule’
If you choose to drink alcohol limit your intake to no more than 2 standard drinks per day with some alcohol free days each week.
For more information please visit the Diabetes Australia website by clicking here.