How to eat to manage diabetes – top 10 tips

    Douglas Twenefour, specialist dietitian and deputy head of care at Diabetes UK, explains what to eat when you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and shares his top 10 tips for managing diabetes.

    A woman checking blood sugar levels

    There are different types of diabetes, and no two people with diabetes are the same. This is why eating to manage diabetes has so many important nuances. There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ eating pattern for everyone with diabetes, but below I have suggested tips that can be incorporated into individual healthy eating goals for people who have the condition. However, as everyone is different, it is important to ask for a referral to see a dietitian to discuss your individual needs and preferences.

    For people with Type 1 diabetes, the main priority is to estimate how much carbs to eat per meal, and match these with insulin dose (this is known as carb counting). For people with Type 2 diabetes who may be overweight, finding a way to lose weight (including healthy eating, low carb diets, Mediterranean diet or very low calorie diets when supervised by a medical professional) is the priority, as losing excess weight significantly improves diabetes management. However, not everyone with Type 2 diabetes is overweight so maintaining your current weight, or in some instances gaining a little more weight, may be the goal.

    These healthy eating tips are general and can help you manage blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol levels. They can also help you manage your weight and reduce risk of diabetes complications such as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Eating healthily and maintaining an active lifestyle can also help reduce your risk of other health conditions.

    1. Choose healthier carbohydrates

    All carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels, so it is important to know which foods contain carbohydrates, choose the heathier sources and be aware of the portions you eat. Healthier sources of carbs include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, pulses and dairy, so limit your intake of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and highly processed cereals.

    If you have Type 1 diabetes, carb counting can help manage your blood glucose levels. You can ask for advice from a dietitian for help with this, or you may also be referred to a diabetes education programme which will be able to provide information and guidance.

    2. Use less 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. Aim for a maximum of 6g (1tsp) of salt per day. As many pre-packaged foods already contain salt, try to rely less on processed foods – check food labels if you are not sure how much salt they contain. A good way to cut down on processed foods is to cook from scratch at home. You can also adapt recipes by cooking with herbs, spices and peppers to replace salt.

    3. Eat more pulses and fish

    Eating too much red and processed meat such as bacon, ham and sausages is associated with various health conditions such as CVD and certain types of cancers. Replace these with pulses, eggs, fish, poultry, and nuts. Beans, peas, lentils and dhal are high in fibre, have little effect on blood glucose levels and can be good alternatives to meat.

    Aim for two portions of oily fish a week. They are rich in omega-3 oil (polyunsaturated fat) which helps protect against heart disease, which people with diabetes are at higher risk of. Examples include salmon, mackerel, sardines and pilchards.

    4. Include fruit and vegetables

    A selection of vegetables

    Try to eat more fruit and veg at mealtimes and have them as snacks. This can help you get the range of vitamins, minerals and fibre your body needs. Fruits contain natural sugar, so choose whole fruit instead of fruit juices, and spread your intake through the day rather than eating huge portions at a go. Choose from fresh, frozen, tinned or dried.

    5. Choose healthier fats

    Foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and oily fish have good mixtures of healthy fats. Swap saturated fats such as palm oil, coconut oil, ghee, butter and lard for vegetable oils such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, groundnut oil, corn oil and sunflower oil. Grill, steam or bake foods rather than frying.

    6. Reduce your intake of sugar

    Swap sugary drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices for water, unsweetened milk, unsweetened tea and coffee. Try to reduce sugary foods such as cakes, pastries and biscuits, and foods with added fructose and polyols. Artificial sweeteners may be an option to help you reduce your intake of sugars and calories.

    7. Be smart with snacks

    If you want a snack, choose yogurts, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables instead of crisps, chips, biscuits and chocolates – and watch your portions.

    8. Drink sensibly

    If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to a maximum of 14 units a week, avoid binge drinking and go several days a week without alcohol. Remember: 1 unit is a single measure (25ml) of spirits, or half a pint (284ml) of normal strength lager, beer or cider, but a small (125ml) glass of wine is actually 1.5 units. 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 other diabetes medications that put you at risk of hypos, as alcohol can make hypos more likely to happen.

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

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

    10. Get your minerals and vitamins from foods, not supplements

    There is no evidence that mineral and vitamin supplements can help manage diabetes. Unless you’re at risk of deficiency of specific minerals or vitamins, or you require a particular supplement for a medical condition or other reason (e.g. folic acid for pregnancy), supplements are unnecessary. It is better to get your essential nutrients from eating a mixture of different foods. If you think you may have a nutrient deficiency, speak to your healthcare team before you take supplements. This is because some supplements could affect the way your medications work or make some diabetes complications (e.g. kidney disease) worse.

    It is also important to keep physically active, if you can. Being more active can help with diabetes management and also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week spread over at least three or more days. This can be broken down into bite-size chunks of at least 10 minutes. Try to spend less time sitting down and have regular, active breaks – just getting up and going for a walk can be beneficial for both body and mind!

    This article was last reviewed on 6 June 2018 by Diabetes UK.

    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 healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare 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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    21st Aug, 2015
    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...
    20th Aug, 2015
    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.
    19th Aug, 2015
    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.
    20th Aug, 2015
    Agreed!!!!!! Owned by Tesco now Relevant?
    18th Aug, 2015
    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
    18th Aug, 2015
    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.
    20th Aug, 2015
    Me too!
    17th Aug, 2015
    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.
    3rd Feb, 2015
    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.
    18th Aug, 2015
    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


    Takaya's picture
    9th Feb, 2015
    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
    25th Aug, 2015
    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
    18th Aug, 2015
    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.
    20th Jan, 2014
    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
    25th Aug, 2015
    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.Thanks,The Good Food team 
    18th Aug, 2015
    Your taste will change and love natural yogurts after a month. I add some berries.
    Kerry Torrens's picture
    Kerry Torrens
    4th Jun, 2014
    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.
    19th Aug, 2015
    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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