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Healthy eating

The foods you eat can affect your diabetes management, how well you feel and how much energy you have. Choosing healthy foods and being active can help you manage your blood glucose levels and your body weight.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide advice about the amount and kinds of food generally recommended for good health and well-being. Read more at Eat for health.

To help manage your diabetes, try and aim for your meals to be:

  • regular and spread evenly throughout the day
  • low in fat, particularly saturated fat
  • based on high-fibre carbohydrate (carb) foods, such as wholegrain breads and cereals, beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits.

Eating well

Healthy eating for people living with diabetes is no different from what is recommended for everyone else. There is no need to prepare separate meals or buy special foods—the entire family can enjoy the same healthy meals.

To help you get started, check out our fact sheet Making healthy food choices.

Read more in our fact sheets:

What does eating right mean for you?

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you might need to lose, gain or maintain your current weight. But it’s important to make healthy food choices while you do this.

Portion sizes are important to think about. It makes calculating nutritional facts a lot easier when you’re counting carbs or managing your weight. Remember, portion sizes are different for everyone, so what’s right for someone else might not be right for you.

Eat lean meat

You can choose protein foods that are also low in fat. This will help to reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat. Protein foods that are low in fat include lean meat, poultry without the skin, seafood, eggs (not fried), unsalted nuts, soy products such as tofu and pulses (dried beans and lentils).

Choose healthier fats

We all need fat in our diet because it gives us energy. But different types of fat affect our health in different ways.

Fats have the highest energy (kilojoule or calorie) content of all foods. Eating too much fat can make you put on weight, which can make it more difficult to manage blood glucose levels. While it is important to try and reduce fat in your diet—especially if you are trying to lose weight—some fat is good for your health.

Saturated fat

It is important to limit saturated fat because it causes your LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels to rise. Saturated fat is found in animal foods like fatty meat, milk, butter and cheese. Vegetable fats that are saturated include palm oil (found in solid cooking fats, snack foods or convenience foods) and coconut products such as copha, coconut milk or cream.

To reduce saturated fat:

  • Choose reduced or low-fat milk, yoghurt, ice-cream and custard.
  • Choose lean meat and trim off any fat before cooking.
  • Remove the skin from chicken (where possible, before cooking).
  • Avoid using butter, lard, dripping, cream, sour cream, copha, coconut milk, coconut cream and hard cooking margarines.
  • Limit the amount of cheese you eat and try reduced-fat and low-fat varieties.
  • Limit pastries, cakes, puddings, chocolate and cream biscuits to special occasions.
  • Limit pre-packaged biscuits, savoury packet snacks, cakes, frozen and convenience meals.
  • Limit the use of processed deli meats (devon/polony/fritz/luncheon meat, chicken loaf, salami etc) and sausages.
  • Avoid fried takeaway foods such as chips, fried chicken and battered fish. Choose BBQ chicken (without the skin) and grilled fish instead.
  • Avoid pies, sausage rolls and pastries.
  • Rather than creamy sauces or dressings, choose those based on tomato, soy or other low-fat ingredients. As some tomato and soy sauces can be high in salt, choose low-salt varieties or make them yourself without any added salt.
  • Limit creamy style soups.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats

Eating small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help ensure you get the essential fatty acids and vitamins your body needs.

Polyunsaturated fats include:

  • polyunsaturated margarines (check the label for the word ‘polyunsaturated’)
  • sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed and sesame oils
  • the fat found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardine, salmon and tuna.

Monounsaturated fats include:

  • Canola® and olive oils
  • some margarines
  • avocado.

Seeds, nuts, nut spreads and peanut oil contain a combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.

Ideas for enjoying healthy fats

  • Stir-fry meat and vegetables in a little Canola® oil (or oil spray) with garlic or chilli.
  • Dress a salad or steamed vegetables with a little olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar.
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds on steamed vegetables.
  • Use linseed bread and spread a little canola margarine.
  • Snack on a handful of unsalted nuts or add some to a stir-fry or salad.
  • Spread avocado on sandwiches and toast or add to a salad.
  • Eat more fish (at least three times a week) because it contains a special type of fat (omega-3) that is good for your heart.
  • Dry roast, grill, microwave and stir-fry in a non-stick pan.

Choose healthier carbohydrates

All carbs affect blood glucose levels, so it’s important to know which foods contain carbohydrates. Choose the healthier foods that contain carbs and be aware of your portion sizes.

Carbohydrate foods are the best energy source for your body. When they are digested, they break down to form glucose in the bloodstream. Insulin takes the glucose out of the blood and deposits it into the body’s muscles, liver and other cells, where it is used to provide energy. A regular carbohydrate intake is required to provide our body and brain with instant energy. Most foods contain carbohydrate and provide us with fibre, vitamins and minerals. Very low-carb diets are not recommended for people with diabetes.

If you eat regular meals and spread your carbohydrate foods evenly throughout the day, you will help maintain your energy levels without causing major increases in your blood glucose levels. If you take insulin or diabetes tablets, you may need to have between-meal snacks. Discuss this with your doctor, dietitian or diabetes educator.

All carbohydrate foods are digested to produce glucose, but they do so at different rates—some slow, some fast. The glycemic index (GI) describes how a carbohydrate-containing food affects blood glucose levels.

The type of carbohydrate you eat is very important, as some can increase blood glucose levels. The best combination is to eat moderate amounts of carbohydrate and include high-fibre foods that also have a low GI.

Cut down on added sugar

A healthy eating plan for diabetes can include some sugar. However, it is important to consider the nutritional value of the foods you eat. In general, avoid foods with added sugars as much as possible. Manufacturers sometimes use fruit juice or other sources of sugar instead of table sugar. High-energy foods such as sweets, lollies and standard soft drinks are not recommended regularly. If too much is eaten at one time, added sugar may affect your weight, dental health and overall diabetes control. Discuss with your dietitian or diabetes educator about when and how frequently to include these types of foods/drinks.

Some sugar may also be used in cooking and many recipes can be modified to use less than the amount stated or substituted with an alternative sweetener. Select recipes that are low in fat (particularly saturated fat) and contain some fibre.

Alternative sweeteners

While it is no longer necessary to always use alternative sweeteners instead of sugar, artificially sweetened products are suitable alternatives for foods and drinks that are high in added sugars, such as cordials and soft drinks.

Related information

The following websites have information that can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight: