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Our food guide for diabetics

Roasted salmon with vegetables
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Healthy food choices can make a difference 

Making simple changes to your diet can make a big difference when you're living with diabetes. It doesn’t mean giving up all your favourite foods and recipes, more a matter of adjusting how much you eat and limiting the food and drink that affect your blood glucose levels.

Improving your diet

Whether you are living with diabetes or not, eating well is important. The NHS suggest these simple daily changes:

  • Breakfast

    When you’re diabetic, breakfast is a particularly important meal. Research shows that those who eat breakfast find it easier to maintain their weight as they tend to eat less during the day.

    • Choose semi-skimmed, skimmed or 1% fat milk instead of whole milk.
    • Eat a wholegrain breakfast cereal such as porridge or shredded wholegrain wheat cereal with no added sugar instead of a sugar-coated breakfast cereals.
    • Top your cereal with fresh or dried fruit that counts towards one of your 5-a-day instead of sprinkling with sugar.
    • Choose lower-fat or fat-free Greek yoghurt or natural low-fat yoghurt instead of a full-fat yoghurt.

    Try these energy-boosting and protein-packed healthy breakfasts

    • Apple pie porridge or with mashed banana and dried blueberries
    • Muesli, fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt
    • Reduced sugar and salt baked beans on wholemeal toast
    • Scrambled eggs or 1-minute omelette with optional wholemeal toast
    • Low-fat Greek yoghurt topped with fruit and nuts
    • Smoked salmon and low-fat cream cheese wholemeal bagel

    Or if you are short of time:

    • Smoothies
    • Grab-and-go breakfast bars
  • Lunch

    • Swap white breads, bagels and muffins for wholegrain alternatives.
    • Fill your baked potato with reduced-fat spread and reduced salt and sugar baked beans instead of butter and cheese.
    • Choose a tuna salad sandwich on wholemeal bread with no mayo instead of a tuna melt panini.
    • Replace a Cheddar sandwich filling with a reduced-fat hard cheese in your sandwich.
    • Ensure you include salad leaves or steamed vegetables where you can to get your 5-a-day.
  • Dinner

    • Swap creamy or cheesy sauces for tomato or vegetable- based sauces.
    • Mash your potato with low-fat spread and semi-skimmed, skimmed or 1% fat milk instead of butter and whole milk.
    • Grill your meat instead of frying it and choose leaner cuts of meat such as back bacon instead of streaky.
  • Snacks

    • Swap a blueberry muffin for a currant bun on its own or with reduced-fat spread.
    • Try plain raisins instead of yoghurt-coated ones.
    • Choose unsalted nuts over salted ones.

    Try these snacks - only 100 calories (kcal) each

    • Fruit salad
    • Cheese and pickle canapés
    • Smoked salmon and cream cheese parcels
    • Apple and peanut butter
    • Baked beans on toast
    • Homemade popcorn

    Have you got a sweet tooth? Why not swap your usual biscuit for these no bake cinnamon oatmeal energy balls from Dr. Hazel Wallace?

Sticking to a diet

People usually feel the most motivated during the first few weeks of a lifestyle change. However, as the weeks pass, it’s normal to start to lose momentum, especially if you can’t see instant visible results. Don’t worry though; there are plenty of ways to keep yourself on track.

How to stay motivated and positive

  1. Treat yourself to non-food rewards e.g. cinema, haircut, new clothes, bubble bath.
  2. Surround yourself with positive encouragement from your friends and family.
  3. Break down your ultimate goal and tick off when you’ve achieved steps along the way.
  4. Picture your goal – remember why you wanted to make this change and the benefits it will bring.
  5. Find a buddy – having someone on the same mission can be really supportive for you both.

Comfort eating

Many of us reach for our favourite treats when we’re feeling sad, want to celebrate, or are just a bit bored. There’s nothing wrong with this sometimes, but it could be more beneficial to identify and manage your emotions, rather than using food to cover them up. If you’d like help to manage comfort eating, Diabetes UK has a helpful guide on emotional eating and feasting. 

Making your family favourites healthier

There are certain dishes that are guaranteed to be a hit with your family and put a smile on their faces. But are they healthy? Living with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your family favourite meals. Dr. Hazel Wallace talks to us about how she made three classic meals healthier, but still as tasty.

Staying in control of your portion sizes

When managing your diet, it's just as important to manage the amount, and the type of food you eat. When it comes to a balanced diet, it’s best to try everything in moderation.

Food watch outs

Help to manage your diabetes each day with these helpful food and lifestyle recommendations, as well as foods to avoid with diabetes:

  • Keep fresh fruit on the menu

    You might think you can’t eat fruit if you have diabetes because of its sugar content. But the sugar in fruit is natural and is different to the added sugar in drinks, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, fruit juices and honey.

    A portion of fresh fruit contains natural sugars as well as vitamins, minerals, fibre and 15-20g of carbohydrates. Try to snack on fruit rather than foods loaded with sugar like a chocolate muffin or a small bar of chocolate.

    Also consider the difference between fresh and dried fruit: a serving of dried fruit has a much higher carbs and sugars content than an apple that also takes longer to eat. Fruit juices with no added sugar can still add to your intake of carbs and sugars. It’s best to try drinks with zero sugar or stick to 1 small glass a day (150ml) and make your drink go further by diluting it with water. For more information visit diabetes.org.uk.

  • Cut down on salt

    The recommended daily intake of salt for adults is just a heaped teaspoon (about 6g). Although salt doesn’t affect your glucose levels, eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure which increases the chance of stroke, as well as heart and kidney problems.

    Try to avoid or cut down on these foods because of their high salt content:

    • Processed foods such as ready meals and takeaways
    • Hams, bacon and sausages
    • Snacks such as crisps, popcorn, salted nuts and biscuits
    • Stock cubes, gravy powder and soy sauce
    • Cheese
    • Prawns, smoked fish and tinned anchovies
    • Some bread and breakfast cereals
    • Canned, packet and instant soups

    Cutting down on salt doesn’t mean eating tasteless dishes. Here are some great flavouring ideas:

    • Sprinkle your potatoes with paprika, ground white or black pepper, chives or mild chilli powder
    • Pep up oily fish such as salmon with ginger, dill and spring onions
    • Chop coriander into your curries
    • Add garlic or basil to liven your pasta dishes
    • Thyme and sage works well on chicken and turkey
  • You can still drink alcohol but…

    Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a few drinks at home or in the pub, but you need to know how it can affect your body and how to manage it.

    Alcohol makes your blood sugars drop, which increases the chances of a hypo. Some drinks like beers, ales and ciders have carbohydrates that can increase your blood sugar levels. Try, spirits, dry wines or Prosecco instead.

  • Follow government guidelines

    It’s recommended that adults don’t drink more than 14 units a week, but what does that actually mean?

    Drink lots of water
    Drink a pint of water before you go to bed to keep hydrated.

    Always have breakfast

    Even if you don’t feel like eating it’s important to try to have breakfast as it helps you manage your blood sugar.

    Check your sugar levels

    If you use a blood sugar meter, check your levels at regular intervals the next day. It’s important to understand if you could be having a hypo attack as the symptoms are similar to a hangover.

    If you take insulin, you may need to adjust your dose according to these blood sugar readings. Ask your pharmacy team or diabetic nurse to advise you if you’re in any doubt.

  • Diets to try

    The DASH Diet
    The DASH diet can help you lose weight in both the short and long term while keeping your blood sugar on an even keel. It also cuts your risk of conditions such as heart disease, strokes and can help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol.

    It’s a delicious high-fibre diet that can easily fit in with most lifestyles. It’s rich in vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, with fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils. You can still enjoy a very small amount of foods high in saturated fat such as fatty meat, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oils. But it also limits how many sugar-sweetened drinks you have as well as sweets in general.

    The Mediterranean Diet
    This diet follows the traditional healthy lifestyle from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and has been scientifically proven to help you stay healthy. It’s high in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.

    To try this out, eat:

    • Plenty of fruit and vegetables
    • Less meat
    • Fish
    • Plenty of starchy foods such as bread and pasta
    • More products made from vegetables and plant oils such as olive oils

A piece of cake

Love to bake and looking for a sugar free dessert recipe that's tasty? We've created a sugar free (and gluten free) chocolate cake recipe for you to rustle up and impress your friends. Let's bake.