How to eat to manage diabetes - top 10 tips

    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.

    For more information, take a look at our Spotlight on... low-GI foods.


    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 (30g) dried fruit, 1 small glass (150ml) 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 alcohol limit for men and women is no more than 14 units per week. 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

    This article was last reviewed on 21st April 2016 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

    A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

    All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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


    Comments, questions and tips

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    Comments (16)

    Starchavore's picture

    I personally follow Dr. John McDougall's starch-based diet...focus on starch as the main part of the meal...potatoes, corn, rice, grains, beans and legumes....then add some green or yellow vegetables, a couple of fruit a day...keep the fat low...NO I am never hungry and can eat till I'm satified...3 months in and down 28 lb..."no dieting"...check out Starch Solution...

    suercc's picture

    This is the very advice I followed for 15 years. I got sicker and sicker. By accident found and low carb high fat.
    Now two and a half stone lighter without effort of hunger. Cholesterol is fab, off most meds. My Dr is delighted.
    Conventional advice benefits no one but drugs companies.

    imp66's picture

    Diabetes UK need to go back to school! Why encourage diabetics to eat carbs (low G.I. or not) and fruit, which clearly lead to a sugar spike and a resulting surge in insulin production? And what's the problem with fat? Does it affect blood sugar levels? No!
    Anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes must know this. The NHS, Diabetes UK and countless others stick to the tired (!) and tested mantra of 'everything in moderation'. If I had a peanut allergy would I be encouraged to eat 'moderate' amounts of peanut butter?
    Educate yourself and your family and friends. Look at Diet Doctor, Real Meal Revolution, Zoe Harcombe, Tim Noakes, Caryn Zinn, etc. online. This stuff may seem to be counter intuitive at first, but that's because of the heap of (mis)information we've been fed for decades.

    suercc's picture

    Owned by Tesco now

    pilgrimm's picture

    I am new to this site and I will never understand why the Chef's have to spoil good recipts by Adding so much crème,, yuk its really only sour milk

    ajack's picture

    I found I needed to increase the natural fats and cut the carbs. The other option of cutting carbs and increasing protein wasn't a good idea. I'd be chasing my tail, as about 50% of protein converts to glucose. I also lost 10kg in 6 months doing this.

    Sannus's picture

    I was diagnosed a few weeks ago with type 2 and my first measurements indicate that I really need to limit my carbs, and when I eat beans I need to be very aware of the fact that they also include carbs. I am not drinking any fruit juice and hardly eat any fruit at all. Lastly, what is the point about skimmed milk? I could drink water instead - and full fat, unprocessed milk when I want milk. Fat helps me avoiding high sugar spikes.

    16asteen's picture

    Mike 313 is right.
    You should treat with caution advice from Diabetes UK if you want to keep your blood sugar levels under control (speaking here for type 2 diabetics only)
    It is madness to drink fruit juice or eat sweet fruit like bananas. Likewise even wholegrain carbs will cause dangerous elevation of glucose levels in your blood. Try measuring it for yourself. Concentrate on increasing veg (not root veg) in your diet, and don't be afraid of including a bit more fat e.g. creme fraiche, cream, cheese, as these will not raise your blood glucose levels.

    pilgrimm's picture

    well I have my own opinion of diabetes uk ,, from sheer good manners I will not comment
    Even after seeing the head of diabetes UK on the "morning program" describe the patients as "these People" I think that says it all ,about such Managamant But that's just my personal opinion

    cdarville's picture

    I know, right?! This whole list had me shaking my head.

    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.

    ajack's picture

    I agree that T2 should eat a lot more non-starch veggies. It makes up the bulk of my diet, yet contain low carbs.

    As to, "not everyone has to cut back on carbohydrates."
    As a T2, if I didn't need to cut back on carbs, I wouldn't have been diagnosed as a diabetic. As my blood glucose levels would have been normal.

    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.

    Questions (8)

    Takaya's picture

    Can Anyone tell me how can i buy a cookbook or make carb free meals...and what is a carb anyway?...Thanks..need some help peeps...pleaseeee

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi there, thank you for your question.

    Carbohydrates are macronutrients found in many foods and make up a large part of many peoples diets. Most carbohydrates become sugar when digested by the body, but differen't types of carbohydrates are broken down at varying rates. Read more in our guide to low carbohydrate diets and try our low-carb recipes.

    Many thanks,

    The Good Food team

    ajack's picture

    just google, low carb diets or atkins or low carb high fat or ketogenic. There is a wealth of recipes out there, you won't need to restrict yourself to one book.

    You really need to get a blood glucose meter and check your bloods 2 hours after eating, if it's too high, cut more carbs next time.

    kitchenwytch's picture

    I love fruit yoghurt and would like a small each day for breakfast, however the majority of them seem to come in the region of medium with sugar content. Is there a brand that is lower that could be consumed on a daily basis safely.I do mean fruit yoghurt and not the revolting natural stuff.

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi, thanks for your question. Using natural yogurt and flavouring it yourself will give you greater control over the amount of sugar you use. Try lower-sugar fruits like blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, and crush gently to spread the flavour throughout the yogurt.


    The Good Food team


    ajack's picture

    Your taste will change and love natural yogurts after a month. I add some berries.

    Kerry Torrens's picture

    Hi there, thanks for your question.

    Sorry but the very best option is the plain, natural variety with no added flavours – try a pot of whole natural yogurt and sweeten it yourself with a spoonful of fruit compote or some ground almonds and a drizzle of honey, or why not try a spoonful of low sugar granola and a sprinkle of cinnamon – the options are endless.

    imp66's picture

    Fruit compote? HONEY?? Why advise anyone to add ANY form of sugar to yoghurt, especially in an article which many diabetics will read?

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