Diabetes Mellitus: Basic Dietary Guideline

Effective management of diabetes can be achieved through an appropriate diet in conjunction with medications and exercise.


What is Diabetes Mellitus? 

Diabetes mellitus  (also known simply as diabetes) is a metabolic disorder whereby the body cannot utilise blood sugar in the proper way owing to lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use it effectively. This leads to an increase in the blood sugar level causing symptoms such as extreme thirst, passing large amounts of urine, tiredness and weight loss.

In the long term, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to damage of various organs such as the eyes, kidneys and nervous system. It can also increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Related: Beat Diabetes Step by Step

Good Foods for Diabetics

With the right advice, you can learn how to control diabetes effectively through an appropriate diet together with medications and exercise. Your doctor will let you know if medication is required to control your blood sugar level.

Regular exercise which can help you to achieve a desirable body mass index (BMI)  between 18.5 and 23 has also been shown to be beneficial, as it can improve insulin sensitivity.

Basic Diabetes Management Guidelines 

1. Eat a Balanced Diet

You should eat a variety of foods to meet your nutritional requirements. Your dietitian will work with you to ensure you eat a suitable amount and types of food from each of the food groups.

2. Moderate Your Sugar Intake

Sugar and sugar products contain carbohydrates, which can affect your blood sugar level. They are therefore among the foods to avoid with diabetes when possible, or take very occasionally and in small amounts only.
Replace sweetened drinks (e.g. soft drinks, sweetened packaged drinks and fruit juice) with unsweetened drinks (e.g. water, plain tea and unsweetened soy milk)
Have fresh fruits instead of fruit juice and canned fruits soaked in syrup
Choose a piece of fresh fruit for dessert instead
Avoid eating snacks that are high in sugar content such as jellies, ice cream, chocolates and cake
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame or saccharin can be used as a substitute for regular sugar

3. Moderate Your Consumption of Rice and Other Starch 

Pasta, noodles and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, corn and yam) contain carbohydrates, which will affect blood sugar levels.
Spread these foods evenly throughout the day to manage your blood sugar level
Select foods rich in fibre, such as brown rice and wholemeal or wholegrain bread, to prevent the rapid rise of glucose in your blood

Every individual has different nutritional requirements; your dietitian will advise you on the appropriate portion sizes. 

4. Fruits for Diabetics 

It is recommended to have two servings of fruits per day to provide you with adequate vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. As fruit also contains carbohydrate in the form of sugars, your blood sugar levels will be affected if you consume too much.
Spread your fruits evenly throughout the day
Choose fresh fruits instead of fruit juice or canned fruits soaked in syrup
Limit the amount of dried fruits you eat, as they have a higher sugar content than fresh fruits

5. Limit Fat Intake

Type 2 diabetics should not consume excessive amounts of fat or oils, as this decreases the effectiveness of insulin action.
Use less oil when cooking and remove all visible fat before eating
Instead of deep-frying food, select healthier cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and grilling. Limit deep-fried foods to one or two times a week
Choose lean meat or poultry without skin
Choose fat-free or lower-fat food products such as low-fat milk and fat-free yoghurt
Go for healthier cooking oils with polyunsaturated fat (e.g. corn, soybean) or monounsaturated fat (e.g. olive, canola)

6. Moderate Your Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is only allowed if blood sugar is well-controlled. Avoid alcohol if you have a high blood triglyceride level, kidney disease or heart disease. A standard alcoholic drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, which translates to 100 millilitres of wine or two-thirds of a can (220 millilitres) of regular beer.
Drink alcohol in moderation, i.e. not more than one standard drink per day
Use sugar-free sodas or water to mix your drinks and cocktails

My Healthy Plate

Use My Healthy Plate as a guide to make sure your meals are balanced and come from different food groups.

This is how your plate should look like if you were to follow the healthy plate portioning, using a 30.5-centimetre (12-inch) plate.


Tips on Healthy Eating from Other People with Diabetes

I drink diet soft drinks instead of regular ones
I bring a little bag of walnuts around with me to snack on when I’m hungry
I used to skip breakfast, but now I have breakfast every morning to give me more energy

Tips for a Healthy Diabetic Diet

Eat small, regular meals
Have a small snack between meals. You can keep your blood glucose levels within the target range by spreading the carbohydrates that you eat evenly throughout the day
Reduce the amount of fats, salt and sugary foods in your diet
Eat more foods that are high in fibre, including wholegrain products
Match your mealtimes to your medication timings

If you choose your food wisely, you may be able to cut down your diabetes medications. Eating regularly and healthily is the key to good diabetes control. Your dietitian will be able to assist you further in your meal planning.

Where to Obtain Further Dietary Information 

You will need to obtain a referral from your doctor for a consultation with a dietitian .

It is recommended that people with diabetes consult a dietitian for an evaluation of their current eating habits and an assessment of specific dietary needs for their health conditions. Individualised advice and a nutrition plan can be developed to meet your needs.

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Diabetes Mellitus: Basic Dietary Guideline

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