The thing to remember is, diets are personal. What makes a balanced diet for you, may be very different for someone else. For someone with diabetes, what the body needs will differ even more. Below are some general guidelines for what makes a balanced diet. For tailored advice, specific to you and your symptoms, please consult a qualified nutrition professional.
Fruit and vegetables
Packed full of vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables are essential for a balanced diet. Naturally low in calories, they also help to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure. While it’s recommended we aim to eat at least five portions a day, don’t be limited by this. Experiment with recipes and add vegetables where you can; the more, the better!
Fruit can be high in sugar, so if you’re worried or confused about how much to include in your diabetes diet, consult a nutrition professional. What’s advised will depend on your circumstance.
Carbohydrates found in starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes are broken down into glucose, which is used to fuel the body. Carbohydrates are still an important part of a diabetes diet, though complex, whole grain and wholewheat varieties are advised since they are known as low glycemic foods. Slow-releasing carbohydrates help to keep your blood sugar levels normal, while also keeping you satisfied.
Carbohydrates are key in maintaining a balanced diet, though it’s important you track how much you eat every day. Depending on your symptoms, you may be required to adapt your intake.
Meat, fish, eggs and pulses are rich in protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscles. Oily fish (salmon and mackerel) also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help to protect and maintain heart health. Within a balanced diet, there should be a source of protein with every meal, and it’s recommended you eat oily fish twice a week.
Sources of calcium include milk, cheese and yoghurt (greek yoghurt), and are essential in keeping our teeth and bones strong. However, dairy products can be high in fat, so eating too much of this can cause weight gain. If due to diabetes, you are required to lose weight, you may need to reassess your fat consumption by choosing low fat alternatives.
Sugar, salt and high-fat foods
Too much salt can make you more at risk of high blood pressure and stroke. To maintain a balanced diet, try cooking from scratch so you know just how much salt you’re consuming. Processed foods often have added salt and sugar, so keep an eye on labels.
Foods that are high in fat and sugar can be enjoyed as an occasional treat, as part of a balanced diet. But it’s important to remember that these foods are often high in calories and can contribute to weight gain if eaten in excess. Fatty foods aren’t necessarily a bad thing - foods like nuts, avocados, oily fish and vegetable oils are unsaturated fats, which is known as the ‘good fat’ and can help the body absorb essential vitamins. Make your choices wisely!
Living with diabetes
Diabetes is mostly irreversible and because of this, it’s important you take care of your health to help manage symptoms and avoid further complications. Regular exercise, limiting alcohol and smoking, and healthy eating is key in managing symptoms and increasing quality of life.
Ensuring you have a balanced diet is important in managing your condition. The foods you eat will directly affect your glucose levels, and trigger any symptoms. Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed and don’t know where to start, or have been living with diabetes for a while yet want more support, consider speaking to a nutrition professional.
Regular physical activity is recommended for those with diabetes as it has been found to lower blood glucose levels. Aim for 150 minutes (30 minutes, five times a week) of moderate-intensity activity each week. Be sure to consult your doctor before increasing your exercise regime, as insulin treatment may need to be adjusted.
Monitoring blood sugar levels
Living with diabetes will mean regular management and monitoring of your blood sugar levels. It is important you make regular check-ups with your doctor for in-depth blood tests. It is also important to check your feet, nerves, and eyes regularly, as these can be affected by all types of diabetes.
Alcohol and smoking
Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, and other serious smoking-related conditions. As with diabetes, this risk is already high, it is advised you reduce smoking, or stop completely.
Alcohol can spike your blood levels, or cause them to drop, depending on how much you consume. Cocktails and fizzy mixers are high sugar, so if you are going to drink, be aware of what’s available and try choose a low sugar option. Bear in mind, it's advised you reduce or stop the consumption of alcohol or don’t drink on an empty stomach