How to eat for diabetes - top 10 tips

  • By
    Douglas Twenefour - Clinical advisor at Diabetes UK

Moderation is key when it comes to managing diabetes. Douglas Twenefour, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, explains what to eat when and shares his top 10 tips for managing your diabetes...

There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ eating pattern for people with diabetes, but Douglas Twenefour suggests tips that can be incorporated into individual healthy eating goals for people who have the condition...

1. Eat regular meals Plate

Spacing meals evenly throughout the day will help control your appetite and blood glucose levels – especially if you are on twice-daily insulin.


Pasta2. Opt for slowly absorbed carbohydrates

All carbohydrates (carbs) affect blood glucose levels, so be conscious of how much you eat and opt for carbs that are more gradually absorbed. Try pasta, basmati or easy-cook rice; granary, pumpernickel or rye bread; new potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams; oat-based cereals, such as porridge or natural muesli.


3. Cut the fatcarbs

Eat less fat – particularly saturated fat. Try unsaturated fats and oils, especially monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and rapeseed oil, as these types of fat are better for your heart. Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and other low-fat dairy products, while grilling, steaming or baking foods is healthier than frying. Remember that all fats contribute similar amounts of calories, so limit your overall intake if you are aiming to lose weight. 


Apple4. Five a day

Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day to give your body the vitamins, minerals and fibre it needs. A portion is: 1 piece of fruit, like a banana or apple, 1 handful of grapes, 1 tablespoon dried fruit, 1 small glass of fruit juice or fruit smoothie, 3 heaped tablespoons vegetables.


5. Eat plenty of beansBeans

Beans, lentils and pulses are all low in fat, high in fibre and cheap to buy. They don’t have a big impact on blood glucose and may help to control blood fats such as cholesterol. Try kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, and even baked beans. Include in soups and casseroles, cold in salads, in falafel, bean burgers and low-fat houmous and dahls.


fish6. Eat more fish

All types of fish are healthy, provided they’re not coated in batter or fried, but oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout are particularly good for you. They are rich in omega-3 (polyunsaturated fat) which helps protect against heart disease, which people with diabetes are at higher risk of. Aim to eat two portions of oily fish a week.,


7. Cut back on sugarsugar

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you need to eat a sugar-free diet. You can include some sugar as part of a healthy, balanced diet, provided you don’t over do it. Just aim to have less of it. You can also use other sweeteners as an alternative to sugar. Some easy ways to cut back on your sugar intake include choosing sugar-free drinks, buying canned fruit in juice rather than syrup and reducing or cutting out sugar in tea and coffee. But remember, sugary drinks are an excellent treatment for hypos (hypoglycaemia – low blood glucose level).



8. Reduce your salt

Having too much salt increases risk of high blood pressure. This in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, which people with diabetes are already at higher risk of. Reduce salt in your diet to 6g or less a day. Try cutting back on processed foods which account for about 70 per cent of our salt intake. You can also try flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.


9. Drink sensiblyWine

The recommended daily alcohol limit for women is 2-3 units and 3-4 units for men. Remember: 1 unit is a single measure (25ml) of spirits, half a pint (284ml) of normal strength lager, beer or cider or 125ml glass of wine. Alcohol is high in calories. To lose weight, consider cutting back.  It is not a good idea to drink on an empty stomach, especially if you take insulin or medications that put you at risk of hypos, as alcohol can make hypos more likely to happen.


Diabetes10. Don’t bother with so- called diabetic foods 

These products offer no benefit to people with diabetes and may still affect your blood glucose levels. They can contain as much fat and calories as ordinary versions, are often expensive and can have a laxative effect.

For more information on diabetes visit Diabetes UK


Do you have diabetes or know someone who does? Let us know how you manage your diet below...



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yumminesss's picture

Thank you good food for trying to get some clarification, as vague as it may be. This helps to show what a mindfield it is for those people freshly diagnosed!!

goodfoodteam's picture

Hi thanks so much for your comments. We put your concerns to Diabetes UK who had the following to say:

Diabetes UK would like to make clear that our tips are not meant to replace specific advice given by your health practitioner, as people will have different goals depending on their individual circumstances.

In providing general information, we are careful not to be too prescriptive.  With the second tip, for example, not everyone has to cut back on carbohydrates. That is why we recommend that people be aware of how many they are consuming. For some people, reducing carbohydrate intake would be the right thing. For others, this may not be necessary and, for those on insulin and certain medications, reducing their carbohydrate intake without support to review their insulin and/or medications would put them at risk of hypoglycaemia. You can find more information about diabetes and carbohydrate intake on our website.

With regards to eating your five a day, a small glass of fruit juice counts as a portion and we recommend that people limit this to a maximum of one glass a day, whether they have diabetes or not. Also, a portion of dried fruit, which is a tablespoon, has a similar amount of carbohydrate as in a portion of fresh fruit, so there is no need to avoid these so long as people are aware of what a portion size is. Our emphasis is on promoting increased intake of fruit and vegetables as general consumption is low.

yumminesss's picture

I whole hartedly agree with Mike313. This is average sound advice for those with average health and diet issues, but not for diabetics. I think there are some serious issues here, that could be harmful for someone newly diagnosed, who is trying to get their levels under control.

Mike313's picture

I'm pleased that the Diet Plan includes recipes and advice for diabetics. At the same time, I am a bit concerned! I recently attended a talk given by an NHS nurse relating to diabetes and she gave advice on diet. With reference to Point 2 above, while she recommended basmati rice etc., she recommended cutting back on carbohydrates in general and avoiding potatoes - a different emphasis than is expressed here. With reference to Point 4 above, she advised us to AVOID fruit juice due to its high sugar content. Also, she told us that some fresh fruit, such as ripe grapes, are HIGH in sugar. She also warned us that dried fruit should be avoided as it is generally VERY HIGH in sugar since the drying process tend to concentrate the sugar so that, ounce for ounce, dried fruit has a lot more sugar than fresh fruit. In terms of getting 5-a-day, she recommended more vegetables than fruit and when choosing fruit she recommended fruit that had less sugar, such as apples and raspberries rather than say grapes or pineapple. There seems to be a lot of 'mixed messages' being given out with regards to diabetic diet, not least from Diabetes UK itself; this author seems to give different advice from the NHS specialist nurses. Confusing, and worrying.