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Diet in diabetes

Publish date: 28/04/2014

Tags: diabetes , diet , nutrition

Diet in diabetes

If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to assess your diet and lifestyle.

Adopting a healthy approach to both will help gain better control of your condition and, in turn, help to reduce the risk of developing complications in the future.

A 'diabetic diet' is a very healthy diet that can be adopted by other members of your family and the general population.

Learn how the traffic light system works when buying food and how it can help you maintain a healthy balanced diet.

General diet advice includes:

  • Eat regular meals throughout the day to try and minimise large fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
  • Include starch-containing carbohydrates in meals such as bread (ideally wholemeal), potatoes, rice (ideally basmati), pasta (ideally wholewheat) and cereals. We digest these more slowly so our blood glucose levels rise more slowly.
  • Include high fibre foods in your diet, such as oats, beans, fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals.
  • Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, which is consistent with advice to the general population, eating a variety of foods to obtain a good mixture of vitamins and minerals.
  • Reduce the amount of fat in your diet. Fat is a high calorie source of energy. In someone who needs insulin, a fatty meal can delay the digestion of food to such an extent that the insulin they administer for their meal may have finished working by the time the glucose from the food actually enters the bloodstream.
  • Use less salt in cooking and eat less salty food. Salt can lead to high blood pressure. Using herbs and spices to enhance taste rather than salt is often a way to start reducing the amount of salt added to food during cooking. Cheese, processed meats, packet soups and salted snacks often contain significant amounts of salt.
  • Much take-away food contains large amounts of fat, salt and sugar and this may not always be apparent when merely looking at the food. Many of the large fast food companies are issuing information about the nutritional content of their food and this can be used to guide menu choices.

Examples of foods and drinks to avoid or limit to very special occasions:

  • Sugar, honey, treacle.
  • Full-sugar or added sugar drinks – including cordials, fizzy drinks and some flavoured waters.
  • Marmalade, jam, chocolate spread.
  • Tinned fruit in syrup.
  • Full-sugar jelly, ice-cream, yoghurts.
  • Cakes, chocolates, sweets, chocolate biscuits.
  • Pies, pasties, battered items, quiche.
  • Full fat milk, cream, butter, cheese.

Examples of alternative options or healthier choices:

  • Home-made cakes that have been made with wholemeal flour or oats and reduced amounts of sugar.
  • Lean meat (including chicken, pork and turkey), fish, tofu. Avoid frying or coating these in breadcrumbs and batter.
  • Oily fish including mackerel, sardines, trout and salmon.
  • Semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk.
  • Low calorie or fat-free dressings and mayonnaise.
  • Low fat cheeses such as Edam, reduced fat cheddar and cottage cheese.
  • Low fat spreads either high in monounsaturates or high in polyunsaturates.
  • Tinned fruit in juice.
  • Plainer biscuits including rich tea biscuits, ginger biscuits, oatcakes.
  • Sugar-free fizzy drinks and no added sugar squash.
  • Reduced sugar jams and marmalades.

If you have diabetes and need insulin to control your blood glucose levels, it’s worth finding out about carbohydrate counting. Specialist dieticians and diabetic nurses can help you with this. Carbohydrate counting enables someone to closely estimate the amount of carbohydrate contained in a particular meal. You’ll have worked out how much insulin your body needs to deal with a certain amount of carbohydrate and so can inject the appropriate amount of insulin for that meal. Whilst this can seem daunting at first, it soon becomes second nature with experience.

Some people use an app for their phones called ‘Carbs & Cals’ which contains nutritional information and pictures to help calculate the amount of carbohydrate contained in a meal. This can be especially useful when dining out or having food that you don’t normally eat. This is also available as a book.

Apart from any other dietary restrictions due to other medical conditions, there’s not a food that a person with diabetes mellitus should be told that they can never have again. This is especially important when considering the impact of such restrictions on children. If the general diet is a healthy and sensible one, a little treat followed by an appropriate adjustment in the dose of insulin or a period of increased exercise will help to lessen any feelings of being ’abnormal’ compared to their friends.

Some people with diabetes may need to take a snack in between meals or before bedtime. This isn’t normally needed for those controlling their diabetes through diet alone. The dietician and diabetic nursing teams will have advised where this is appropriate.

A good source of recipes can be found via Diabetes UK.

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