By Michelle Tong
Diabetes Queensland dietitian and CDE
A diagnosis of diabetes may mean your doctor has suggested you
make changes to your diet. This may be a good time to become wiser
about your regular eating pattern, but does that mean you need to
follow a "diabetic diet"?
Despite all the publicity surrounding nutritional guidelines and
research, many people living with diabetes still believe that there
is something called a "diabetic diet". Some believe this diet
consists of avoiding sugar, while others believe it to be avoiding
carbohydrates. Unfortunately, neither are right.
As with any healthy eating plans, looking after your diabetes is
more about your overall eating pattern rather than becoming
concerned about specific foods. At the end of the day, your
nutritional needs are virtually the same as all Australians. So the
need to prepare separate meals, buy special foods and avoid your
favorite foods or special family meals are usually not
In truth, your diet is really nothing more than a nutritionally
balanced meal plan aimed at maintaining your blood glucose levels
(BGLs). Here are some tips to help you better understand how to eat
to support your diabetes management.
Choose carbohydrates that keep blood glucose
Eating the right quality and amount of carbohydrate foods at
each meal can help prevent spikes in your BGLs. The quality of
carbohydrates is determined by how quickly they are digested and
broken down into glucose. They are rated on a scale called the
Glycaemic Index (GI). High GI carbohydrate foods break down into
glucose quickly, resulting in a faster rise in your BGLs, while low
GI carbohydrate foods break down into glucose more slowly,
resulting in smaller and slower rise after eating.
Lower GI foods are
generally higher in fibre, less processed and contain less added
For a list of low GI foods, head to our factsheet The glycemic index. Aim to include at least
one low GI food per meal, but remember, taking care with portion
sizes is still important, as a large amount of low GI foods can
still result in elevated BGLs.
Choose foods with lower saturated fat, trans
fat and salt
People living with diabetes are two to four times more likely to
develop heart (cardiovascular) disease, including heart attack.
Although fat plays an important role in the body, the amount and
type of fat also matters.
Saturated fats and trans-fat can increase the amount of bad
cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol in
the body, where too much can lead to a buildup of fatty material in
the artery walls, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats are found in animal foods such as fatty meat,
full fat dairy foods, butter and cream, as well as plant sources
such as palm oil and coconut oil. Trans fats are formed during food
manufacturing and can be found in fried foods, and baked goods such
as cakes, biscuits and pastries.
Too much salt can also contribute to high blood pressure,
leading to greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Most of our
excess salt intake comes from processed foods, so check the package
for sodium content. Aim for products that have less than 400mg
sodium/100g. To learn more about label reading, come along to a
You can find more details at our What's On calendar of events.
A high fibre diet is essential for good health by lowering
cholesterol, improving glucose management, maintaining healthy
bowel function and regularity. Make vegetables the main part of
your meal by filling at least half your plate with non-starchy
vegetables or salad. Fruits are also high in fibre, so try to
include two serves of fruit each day. A serve of fruit is
equivalent to one medium piece, two small pieces or half a cup of
Now that you know what foods to consider, the final piece in the
puzzle of healthy eating is portion sizes.
Remember, allowing yourself to enjoy an occasional sweet may
empower you to self-manage your diabetes in a way that suits your