Diet Basics with Diabetes

If you are still grappling with some of the basics of having diabetes, I hope this page will help.


  1. The Theory is ...
  2. Carbohydrate and Blood Sugar Levels
  3. What are 'Normal' Blood Sugar Levels?
  4. Diabetes Type 1 and 2, What's the Difference?
  5. Type 1 Diabetes
  6. Type 2 Diabetes
  7. Fast Food
  8. The Glycemic Index
  9. Watch Your Weight as Well!

The Theory is ...

No, its not E=Mc2 stuff!

The normal advice for everyone still applies to diabetic's. That is:-

Carbohydrate and Blood Sugar Levels

This is the element of food that makes blood sugar levels rise quickly after a meal.

Nutrionalists however advise that the bulk of our calories are eaten as Carbohydrate.

Most foods have some carbohydrate but some foods have a lot. These are foods like Grains (used in Bread, Pasta, Noodles, Rice and Cereals), Sugar and Potato.

As a general rule try to replace the highly processed foods in your diet with less processed or higher fibre food. These usually convert to blood sugar more slowly and can help reduce blood sugar levels. For example replace some or all of the:-

White Breadwith Wholemeal, Granary, Seeded Bread or Pitta Bread.
Table Sugarwith Fruit.
Potatowith Jacket Potatoo or Pasta.
Corn Flakeswith Porridge or Shredded Wheat.
Pastawith Durum Wheat Pasta.

What are 'Normal' Blood Sugar Levels?

A normal (non diabetic) blood sugar reading would usually be somewhere between 4 and 7 mmol/l. If you are monitoring your blood sugar levels you should have a target range to aim for. If not contact a professional and ask.

If you fail occasionally is not the end of the world so do not over compensate, just try to learn from what went wrong and make any deliberate treats the exception not the rule.

If you are frequently outside of your target levels take some action or get some professional advice. Don't wait for the next check-up!

This action may be a simple change of diet - adding a mix of salad vegetables to a sandwich, reducing (or sometimes increasing) the quantity of carbohydrate or choosing durum wheat pasta instead of potato.

Any of the tips on the site in fact but ultimately may mean higher doses of drugs or even insulin. If it comes to that just remember that better control of blood sugar levels mean lower risks of complications later!

Type 1 and 2 Diabetes! What's the Difference?

Type 1 diabetic's cannot produce insulin, they need to inject insulin every day.

Type 2 diabetic's can produce insulin but not as much as they need. They can be treated purely by diet and exercise treatments (d&e), by drugs with d&e or by insulin/drugs with d&e.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetic's can balance the amount of insulin they inject with the food they eat and how they exercise.

However foods that are more slowly converted to blood sugar will make control of blood sugar easier. Changes in blood sugar levels should be less dramatic!

Many of the tips for Type 2 diabetics can make control easier for Type 1's, reducing the risk of blood sugar levels getting to high (hyperglycemia) or to low (hypoglycemia).

DAFNE: Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating. Is worth a look too, actually for anyone injecting insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

The majority of Type 2's will be trying to reduce the peak levels of blood sugar without over doing it. In brief here's some ways to do that:-
  • Don't forget the obvious! If you are over your target weight, try a small reduction in the portion sized of high calorie foods eaten. Thats foods like bread, pastry and potato also foods high in animal fat.
  • Try replacing some foods that are quickly converted to blood sugar (marked Quick in the tables) with foods that have a slower conversion rates (marked Medium or lower).
  • See the next page Tips to Improve Blood Sugar Control.
  • Exercise will help reduce peak levels too, even a little is better than nothing. Try not to over do it if you are on drugs or insulin and prone to dips in blood sugar levels.
  • If using drugs to increase your production of insulin or reduce insulin resistance, consider the peak times the drug will effect blood sugar levels. If possible aim to time those peak(s) about an hour after you finish your main meal(s).

    Note : You still need to follow any instructions given with the drugs, ie with food, before food, etc ... If you are not sure when to take the drugs get professional medical advice.

Blood sugar meter. For the best control Type 2 Diabetics should check their blood sugar levels at different times of the day (see monitoring page).

If you test once a day swop the times you test, try it two hours or so after finishing a main meal. It may give you an insight into how the tablets/insulin, food, exercise all effect your blood sugar levels.

Eat Fast Food?

Should You Eat Fast Food?

If you have diabetes or not, there are problems with fast food. Its quick conversion to blood sugar make it worse for diabetic's though.

If you consider the beef burger and chips illustrated, here is what may be wrong with them:-

  • Chips: High in fat (possibly animal fat) and high in calories. Chips also causes a quick rise in blood sugar levels, with chips or any form of potato not counting towards your target of 5 vegetables and fruits every day.
  • White Bread: High in calories also causes a quick rise in blood sugar levels. The spread too may be high in animal fat (butter) or may be margarine high in hydrogenated fat which is no better.
  • Beef Burger: 100% beef 'lean' burgers can still be high in beef fat, may be cooked in animal fat too and high in calories. Non 100% beef burgers also have an unknown quantity of carbohydrate and fat added.
  • Fried Onions: Nice salad vegetable but fried again, thin cut, makes it absorb lots of fat!

Well, you don't really need me to tell you will be better off not having it to often. If you do succumb to tempation though.

Don't make it worse:-

  • By adding yet more very quick acting carbohydrate, say a sugary drink.
  • By having the 'large' or 'extra large' portion.

Make it better (healthier):-

  • By having a good serving of salad vegetables too.
  • Just have the burger in the bun no chips.
The 2004 film 'Super Size Me' is quite interesting, while nothing but McDonalds fare for 30 days, three times a day <shiver!> Is not a real world test, I think it was worth doing.

Have a look at some of the user reviews at the end of the page in the film information link.

Things have changed of since then of course but many fast foods should be an occasional treat, not a regular major source of calories in your diet.

The Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is used throughout the diet section of this site. Its gives diabetic's a way to estimate how certain foods will affect their blood sugar levels.

Personally I don't delve deeply into the science of it all. I simply try to have not to large portions of the 'Quick' rated foods that raise blood sugar levels quickly. When I do have them I also mix them with slower rated foods in a meal.

I also look at medium alternatives to the quick rated foods, granary bread instead of white for instance.

For more information see:-

Here are some examples with the highest rated foods cause a quick rise in blood sugar which we want to avoid.

Sugar Absorption Rate GI ValueTypical Examples
60 or above
White Bread, Potato, Pineapple, Ice cream, Soft Drinks, Sugar and Dates
40 to 59
Grapes, Orange, Kiwi Fruit, Granary Bread, Baked Beans, Carrot, Durum Wheat Pasta, Most Rice and Digestive Biscuit
20 to 39
Apple, Pear, Strawberry, Cherry, Plum, Beans, Peas, Milk and most Nuts
Very Slow
0 to 19
Green Vegetables, Most Salad Vegetables, Unsweetened Yoghurt and Soya Beans

Note that two versions of the Glycemic Index can be found on the web. The one used in the above table is based on white bread having a G. I. of 70 (with Glucose=100) the other is based on white bread having a GI of 100 (with Glucose=142).

The The University of Sydney - GI Database although its missing some common UK foods is the broadest ranging GI database I have found.

Don't forget by the way that a food can have a low GI and still be not recommended for Diabetics. Foods high in saturated fats or hydrogenated fats for instance.

Watch Your Weight As Well!

Being over weight does make a difference. Insulin works less efficiently if you are over weight.

If you are over your target weight losing weight will often make your diabetes easier to control.