How to manage diabetes with diet
Learn how to use what you eat and drink to manage your diabetes.
It can come as a shock to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and you may have a lot of questions about what you can and can’t eat and drink, as you learn to manage your condition.
A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, whether you are living with diabetes or not, but also helps with diabetes management. Your type 1 diabetes diet should include food from all food groups – fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and dairy1.
There are more flexible insulin regimens available now2, which mean you don’t need to avoid certain foods if you have type 1 diabetes. However, it is still advisable to try to plan nutritious meals1 and create a type 1 diabetes meal plan.
Top tip: try developing simple habits to help you stay on track with your type 1 diabetes diet. The diagram below shows you how much carbohydrates, vegetables and protein your meals should include2,3.
Top tip: try to stick to small, healthy portion sizes by using
It is a good idea to include some carbohydrates with your meals. This is because your insulin may cause blood sugar levels to drop too low without carbohydrates. The amount and type of carbohydrates you consume should be dependent on your sugar levels4. If, for example, you plan a night out where you know you will consume alcohol, you should alter the level of carbohydrates in your meals accordingly5. Find out more about drinking alcohol while living with diabetes in this article.
All carbohydrates will affect your blood sugar levels, so it’s important to count your carbohydrates, which will help keep blood sugar levels steady6. You will need to match the amount of carbohydrates you eat and drink to your insulin regimen to help maintain your blood sugar balance4.
It is a good idea to count the carbohydrates you eat and drink, so you can adjust your insulin according to this and other factors, including4,6:
It is possible to be more flexible with when you eat carbohydrates, and how much you eat, if you are on an insulin pump or you are using a basal bolus insulin regimen4.
This means you can be more flexible about your type 1 diabetes diet, without compromising your blood sugar control4.
If you are on a twice-daily fixed insulin regimen, your type 1 diabetes meal plan should include regular mealtimes and a similar amount of carbohydrate every day. If you eat more carbohydrate than usual, your blood sugar levels may go too high7. Eating fewer carbohydrates may lead to low blood sugar levels, also sometimes called a ‘hypo’4.
Top tip: when shopping for food, you don’t need to choose products labelled ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’, as these usually cost more and can work as a laxative in your body – instead aim for unprocessed food where possible4.
Water is the best choice of drink, and you should aim to drink approximately two litres of water every day8. You can have tea or coffee but avoid adding sugar or full-fat milk. Instead, you could have semi-skimmed or skimmed milk4.
Top tip: add to the flavour of water by using cucumber slices or pieces of fruit, such as strawberries, limes or oranges8.
Sometimes you may need to help keep your blood sugar levels up by having a small snack between meals4. Some examples of healthy choices to include in your type 1 diabetes diet, are:
Try to avoid highly processed food, e.g., crisps, chocolate, and
Top tip: manage your portion sizes to maintain a healthy weight4.
Avoid drinking sugary drinks and fruit juices because they usually increase blood sugar levels to high rates very quickly4. Fruit juice can harm teeth, so if you are giving it to a child living with type 1 diabetes, dilute it with water and provide it at mealtimes10.
Aim for a healthy, balanced diet, with lower levels of4,11:
Having a healthy and balanced type 1 diabetes diet will reduce your risk of long-term diabetes complications, including heart disease and stroke, by helping you to4:
Top tip: it’s a good idea to make changes to your diet slowly over time and to set realistic goals. This will make it easier for you to stick to your type 1 diabetes meal plan and any lifestyle changes.
With these tips, we hope you feel more comfortable managing your diet with type 1 diabetes.