Diet for diabetes

I’ve seen many clients recently who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are struggling with their weight and understanding which foods to eat, here is some practical advice to help get you on the right track.


Type 2 diabetes is a condition where a person's blood sugar becomes too high and the hormone insulin which is responsible for controlling the level of sugar in the blood is no longer doing this correctly. In type 2 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react correctly to the insulin. This means the sugar stays in the blood and isn’t used to fuel your cells like it's designed to. Often the body tries to get rid of the excess sugar in the urine, meaning people can feel thirsty from the excess urinating and very tired.

Currently, there are four million people estimated to have diabetes in the UK with 700 new cases diagnosed every day and an estimated 500,000 people have the condition but are undiagnosed.

How can diet help

If you’ve been prescribed medicine to help control your blood sugar levels it's important to use this and monitor yourself regularly, however controlling your diet and following the tips included in this article will help you control your blood sugar levels and possibly eventually (with medical support) reduce your medication.

Healthy eating for diabetes

It's important to enjoy food and eat a wide variety of food to ensure you obtain all the necessary nutrients, however, some foods are going to help control your blood sugar better than others. So here is a little science to help.

Foods which are protein based (meat, fish, eggs and beans) are broken down into amino acids in the body and used to supply our muscles, a little can be used for energy and a small amount is stored in our muscles, the rest is broken down and excreted out in our urine (people who drink protein shakes generally will just have the excess protein in their urine – expensive wee!).

Fat based foods (butter, oil, fat on meat, nuts, seeds, cheese [protein and fat]) are broken down into fatty acids and used for energy and the excess is stored as fat.

Carbohydrate based foods are broken down into (glucose) sugars and used as energy. Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source, however, if you are diabetic to use the sugar as energy you need insulin (therefore medication). Excess carbohydrates, those not needed for energy, are stored as fat in the body.   

An option for people with diabetes is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed and therefore reduce the need for medication. We also now know that if someone is overweight the excess fat in our body can only be mobilised and burnt for energy if we don’t have insulin and sugar circulating in our system, hence why many diabetics are overweight.

The difficulty is that many foods contain more than one macronutrient, ie. cheese contains fat and protein, a doughnut contains carbohydrate (sugar) and fat. With diabetes it's important you avoid any refined carbohydrates, these are the ones which are quickly absorbed by our bodies, often referred to as ‘white products’ – white bread, rice, pasta. Instead, stick to wholemeal versions and only have a small amount.  

A days example intake could be:

  • Breakfast - two boiled eggs and a slice rye bread toasted with a little butter.
  • Lunch - chicken salad with chicken breast, colourful mixed salad leaves, peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
  • Evening meal - salmon fillet topped with a tbls pesto, grilled and served with a selection of roasted vegetables such as; courgette, butternut squash, pepper, red onion and cherry tomatoes and a tbls of wild rice. Greek yoghurt or natural plain yoghurt with handful blueberries and tablespoon pumpkin seeds.
  • Snacks - brazil nuts, ½ avocado eaten from its shell, plain Greek yoghurt.

The emphasis on this plan is to provide a low glycaemic index, meaning the food will slowly be digested and not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels and an overall reduced carbohydrate content to help reduce the need for insulin, containing healthy fats and proteins, which help to keep us full for longer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds LS20 & LS18
Written by Dr Lisa Gatenby, RNutr PhD MMedSci BSc (hons) FHEA
Leeds LS20 & LS18

I am a registered nutritionist with a PhD in nutritional intakes and a Masters of Medical Science in Human Nutrition. I love food and believe that we can all enjoy a diet which can promote health and optimise nutritional intakes. I am also a qualified Chef and use these skills to help people on their healthy eating journey.

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