This section tells you all you need to know, from the basics, to food groups, and from snacks to eating out.
Food advice for people with diabetes is exactly the same as for people without – everyone is advised to eat a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in fat, sugar and salt, and includes plenty of fruit and vegetables. You can find a great tool for menu planning and checking how balanced your diet is on the Diabetes UK website.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to eat stuff advertised as ‘diabetic foods’. They offer no benefit to people with diabetes over ordinary foods. They still affect blood glucose levels, they’re often expensive and – worst of all – if you eat lots they can have a laxative effect. For more information on how to achieve a balanced diet check out the NHS website.
You need to make sure you have a proper breakfast, such as a bowl of cereal or toast in the morning. If you’re running late, grab a banana or cereal bar at the very least.
Fruit and Vegetables
Everyone should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. Knowing exactly how much is in a portion can be a bit of an art but you can get a rough idea on portion sizes for virtually every fruit and vegetable from the NHS website. Unfortunately, potatoes do not count as vegetables – so a plate of chips won’t make up one of your portions.
As a quick guide to portion sizes:
• Three table spoons of a small vegetable, such as peas
• A bowlful of salad
• One medium-sized banana or apple
• Two small fruits, eg satsumas or apricots
• A large slice of a big fruit, eg melon
• Three tablespoons of tinned / stewed fruit
• A small glass of unsweetened fruit juice
• Half a tablespoon of dried fruit (you could put some on your cereal)
At each meal try to include starchy carbohydrates e.g. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. All types are fine but try to include those that are more slowly absorbed (with a lower glycaemic index) as these won’t affect your blood glucose levels as much.
Good choices include:
• Basmati or easy-cook rice
• Grainy breads such as granary
• New potatoes, sweet potatos and yams
• Porridge oats.
Sugar, Sweets and Drinks
It’s important for you (and those around you) to realise you don’t have to miss out on foods like sweets, crisps, chocolate – it’s all about balancing your food, physical activity and insulin. Your healthy diet doesn’t have to be sugar-free – just low in sugar.
Also remember that sugary drinks cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly. It is better to drink sugar-free, no added sugar or diet fizzy drinks/squashes when you are thirsty.
You may need snacks between meals and at bedtime to top up your blood glucose levels. A high-carb snack (like a sandwich, fruit or cereal) will help to keep your blood glucose levels even enough to give you energy throughout the day.
The amount of snacks you need will depend on your usual eating habits, your insulin-taking programme and the amount of physical activity you do.
Some people like to eat little and often, others only need a snack at bedtime (which helps to prevent night-time hypos).
Because life is unpredictable and plans change, it is essential that you carry some snacks with you just in case. Fruit, biscuits, or cereal bars are good to have in your pocket or bag. Always carry some glucose tablets or Lucozade with you as well, in case of a hypo.
It's important for you to have snacks before and after physical activity.
Always take a blood glucose reading before getting active. If your blood glucose is lower than usual, have a snack before you start. If you are playing a sport for a long time, you may need to top up your blood glucose level part way through.
After you have finished being active, your muscles will carry on using extra glucose to replace their stores. It’s a good idea to have plenty of starchy carbohydrate at your next meal or snack, such as a sandwich or pasta. Having a snack after activity will ensure your blood glucose levels do not drop.
You may need a larger snack at bedtime if you have been very active. For more info, see our let's get physical page.
At college or university you may need to snack in class. At exam time, you will also need to take a sugary drink and some food (not noisy crisps unless you want everyone to scowl at you) into the exam with you, as well as your blood testing kit. Don’t forget to come ouT1 to your lecturers or the invigilator beforehand. See our studying section for more information on this.
Following a vegetarian diet does not automatically mean a healthier diet the key is to ensure you still need to have a good balance of different foods. To get advice on how to maintain a balanced vegetarian diet go to the Vegetarian Society's website.
If you have Type 1 diabetes then you are much more at risk of developing coeliac disease because it is thought that they are both caused by an autoimmune response (when the body destroys its own cells).
Diabetes UK recommends that everyone with diabetes sees a registered dietitian. This is particularly important if you have coeliac disease too.
The Coeliac UK website provides lots of useful information on a Coeliac disease as well as gluten free diets.
More and more of our meals are eaten out. It’s a quick and easy option – but not always as healthy as food you cook yourself. Fast food tends to be higher in fat and salt than if you rustle up a similar meal at home. But as long as you’re eating low fat meals and snacks for most of the week, eating out isn’t a problem.
Injecting While You’re Out
You’ll probably need to inject if you’re eating when you’re out and about. Do this wherever you feel comfortable. Your mates will soon get used to you injecting yourself when they’re around. However, try not to inject through your clothes too often as this blunts your needle and might cause an infection.
Log your Levels
Of course you can indulge in your favourite nosh, but it’s a good idea to make a note of what your glucose levels are after you’ve eaten your treats so that you can make the right adjustments to your insulin dose the next time you eat it. Your diary or log book is useful for this.
And Finally... Recipes
You will find over 250 healthy recipes on the Diabetes UK website