Eating Well

Eating healthy food and living an active life is essential for your health.

Even more so, if you have diabetes.

Maintaining a healthy diet and a healthy weight can be achieved by choosing wholesome food options and being active.

Making healthy choices can help manage your blood glucose levels and your weight.

Your general health and wellbeing can improve – as well as your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.

But this is often not as easy as it sounds, particularly if this has not been a regular routine for you.

How to start or maintain a healthy balanced diet or routine of activity is where many people struggle.

The first stage is to have a better understanding of the food we eat and the steps for being active.

Attend an Education Session: CarbSMART, ShopSMART, Supermarket tour, Central market tours, Ready Set Go

What foods should I eat?

Not any one food contains all the essential nutrients your body needs. So you need to eat foods from each of the core food groups every day to maintain good health.

The 5 food groups

The five food groups are:

  • Vegetables, legumes and beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain or cereal foods
  • Meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese or their alternatives (calcium fortified)

The Australian Dietary Guidelines for Adults

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives – reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible
  • Drink plenty of water and take care to:
    • Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
    • Choose foods low in salt
    • Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink
    • Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars

Online course: Healthy Eating

Information sheet: Food Choices for people with diabetes

Guide: Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

How does food affect my health?

The saying “you are what you eat” is very close to the truth.

If you eat healthy food your body can function well to maintain your health.

Understanding food as nutrients for health can become complex but it is helpful to have some basic information to help you manage living with diabetes.

Described simply, there are 3 main nutrients found in various amounts in the food we eat:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrate

All nutrients in food are important to maintain your health and provide energy when broken down through your digestive system.

Many foods contain various amounts and combinations of these nutrients.

Only carbohydrate containing foods will directly affect your blood glucose levels.

Protein containing foods do not break down into glucose. Protein breaks down into amino acids that are needed for growth and tissue repair.

Protein containing foods include: Meat, chicken, fish, eggs cheese, nuts, seeds and tofu.

Fat containing foods do not break down into glucose. Fat breaks down into fatty acids that are needed for cell membranes, vitamin absorption and insulation.

Fat containing food include:

Unhealthy fats: Saturated fats. Fats from animal foods: cream, butter, cheese and fatty meats. Some vegetable fats that contain palm oil and coconut products.

Healthy fats: Mono-unsaturated and Poly-unsaturated. Mono-unsaturated: Avocado, canola, peanut and olive oils. Poly-unsaturated: Unsaturated margarine, oily fish, walnuts, seeds and bean oils.

Carbohydrate containing foods all breakdown into glucose. Glucose is needed for energy which is required for your brain to function.

Carbohydrates are found in a wide range of foods from the 5 food groups including: Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruit, milk and yoghurt.

Water is essential for good health and will not affect your blood glucose levels. Water is needed daily for hydration and body functions.

Plain water is best but other options include: soda water, plain mineral water, coffee, tea or herbal tea.

Alcohol does affect your blood glucose level and should be limited to 2 standard drinks per day and include 2 alcohol free days each week.

Information Sheet: Alcohol & diabetes

Vitamins and minerals are also essential. Vitamins and minerals are necessary to keep the body healthy and functioning

They support growth, function of muscles and organs, skin health and prevent infection.

A lack of some vitamins and minerals can lead to serious health problems.

Vitamins and minerals are found in different foods across the five food groups.

What can I do to eat more healthily?

There is not any food or drink that you cannot consume when you live with diabetes.

Yet it is important to know that eating foods high in sugar and fat such as cakes, lollies, chips, soft drinks and highly processed foods have minimal health benefits.

These foods provide extra kilojoules that can be stored as body fat, if not used for energy during activity. 

Guideline: Australian Dietary Guidelines

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a part of a healthy balanced diet and are needed for daily energy.

Carbohydrates are broken down from many of the foods you eat and drink into glucose.

The amount and type of carbohydrates you eat and drink will make a difference to your blood glucose levels and diabetes management.

What foods contain carbohydrates?

There are two main types of carbohydrates:

Sugars

Natural sugars – fructose in fruit and lactose in some dairy foods (milk and yoghurt). Added sugars – lollies, cakes, soft drinks, chocolate, etc.

Starches

Starchy foods – breads and cereals, rice and pasta, potatoes, legumes and corn.

Carbohydrates foods are found in a whole range of foods within the five food groups.

You should enjoy eating carbohydrate foods along with the other main nutrient foods, protein and healthy fats.

Choose to limit the food with added sugars which are usually low in nutrients and high in kilojoules.

Additionally, fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested. 

There are two main types of fibre:

Insoluble fibre – brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals.

Soluble fibre – apples, bananas, carrots, potatoes and oats.

Many healthy foods contain fibre. The fibre portion of food does not breakdown to glucose and will help to slow the breakdown of foods into glucose.

Fibre therefore helps manage your blood glucose levels. It also improves your cholesterol and helps maintain a healthy digestive system.

Fibre is found in: fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrain breads and legumes.

Attend an Education Session: CarbSMART, ShopSMART, Supermarket tour, Central market tours, Ready Set Go

What is the glycemic index (GI)?

Carbohydrate foods break down into glucose at different speeds to enter your bloodstream.

This process is known as the glycemic index (GI). It describes how fast or slow the food is broken down and released.

The slower the breakdown to glucose the lower the GI of a food and the less your blood glucose level is affected.

Attend an Education Session: CarbSMART, ShopSMART, Supermarket tour, Central market tours, Ready Set Go

Information sheet: Glycemic Index

How much carbohydrate?

We all need daily carbohydrate foods for energy and for our brains to function well.

When you are living with diabetes it is recommended that you spread the quantities of carbohydrates you eat or drink evenly across the day.

Your blood glucose levels will be affected by the amount of carbohydrate foods eaten.

The amount of carbohydrate needed is individual and will depend on a range of things such things as your age, size and activity levels.

Attend an Education Session: CarbSMART, ShopSMART, Supermarket tour, Central market tours, Ready Set Go

Diabetes SA Resource: Guide to Carbohydrate Serves

What is carb counting?

Counting carbohydrates in food can help you manage your blood glucose because carbohydrate containing food raises your blood glucose levels.

This can be done at a basic level by understanding carbohydrate foods or at an advanced level requiring measurements.

Advanced carb counting is a way of counting the grams of carbohydrate in a meal and matching it to a dose of insulin.

Carb counting can help people manage blood glucose levels along with a balance of physical activity and insulin. With practise carb counting can make meal planning more flexible.

Attend an education session.

Information sheet: Carbohydrate counting and diabetes

Food labels

Not all products contain labels and many healthier products such as fruit and vegetables don’t require labels.

For packaged or processed foods, you can look at the nutrition information panel on a product to check the nutrients it includes. 

To check how much of a nutrient is in the serve of food you plan to eat, check the serving size and how many serves a products package contains.

If you plan to eat two servings you will need to double the amount on the label.

Understanding serves and the right amount of nutrients for you can take time and may change depending on your circumstances.

Attend an Education Session: CarbSMART, ShopSMART, Supermarket tour, Central market tours, Ready Set Go

information sheet: Understanding food labels

Meal ideas

Many people aim to eat healthily, enjoy food and cook at home more. 

Time is often a barrier to eating healthy but with a simple plan before you shop you can have everything you need to make a healthy meal.

Focus on including a variety of whole foods. Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables or salad and don’t forget to add plenty of flavour with herbs and spices.

Explore our delicious recipes for meals and snacks.

Diabetes SA Resource: Salad and sandwich builder

Diabetes SA Resource: Healthy lunch tips

Diabetes SA Resource: Perfect lunchbox formula

Healthy snacks

Snacks are not always needed but can help with your daily nutrition and hunger needs. 

Some people may need between meal snacks when on certain medication or insulin.

If choosing a snack between meals, aim to choose whole foods or less processed foods. 

Some ideas to get your started may include:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Yoghurt
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cheese and grainy crackers
  • Vegie sticks and dips (hummus, tzatziki, cream cheese)

Modify your recipes

Cooking your own food is often a healthier option. But some of your favourite recipes may not be so healthy.

You can make your meals healthier by making some small changes.

Changes may include:

  • Adding more vegetables
  • Reducing the amount of sugar or salt added
  • Using unsaturated fats when cooking (olive oil, canola oil)
  • Reducing use of saturated fats (butter, cream)

Explore our delicious recipes for meals and snacks.

Information sheet: Healthy hints for modifying recipes

Guide to eating out

Living with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to miss out on eating out.

However, it can be a challenge to find healthy options when you’re eating out.

Tips for eating out:

  • Ask for extra vegetables or salad
  • Choose a steamed or grilled option
  • Ask for gravy or sauces on the side
  • Choose a smaller portion
  • Eat to your appetite (don’t feel like you have to eat everything if you are full)

Information sheet: Eating Out

Sweeteners

Sugar in small amounts as part of a healthy meal plan should not affect blood glucose levels greatly.

Food and drinks containing alternative sweeteners may be used to replace sugar. 

If you decide to use sugar or sweeteners, it is encouraged to use these in small amounts.

Information sheets

Online courses