Practical tips and advice | Diabetes Hub

Healthy eating isn't hard. Try these tips on healthier cooking, eating out and festive dining. Also, learn how to fast safely, and when you shouldn't do so.

Healthy Eating

Practical tips and advice

Meal times

People with diabetes are recommended to have regular meal times every day.

For persons on regular insulin treatment and certain oral diabetes medications (i.e., sulfonylureas such as glipizide, gliclazide, glimepiride, tolbutamide), it is especially important not to skip or delay meals. This is to prevent the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level).

You should consult your doctor if you have to fast or change your meal times for a prolonged period of time (e.g., religious reasons such as Ramadan), as your diabetic medications may have to be adjusted accordingly.

If your schedule does not allow you to take regular meals, do discuss with your healthcare team on a diabetes medication regimen that is more suited for your lifestyle.

If you are planning to substantially reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your meals, you may be at risk of hypoglycaemia if you are on insulin or certain oral medications (sulfonylureas such as glipizide, gliclazide, glimepiride, tolbutamide). Do discuss with your doctor on how your medication can be adjusted to match any change in your diet.


Healthier cooking

You can whip up delicious and healthy meals even if you have diabetes.

Here are some tips on how you can do this:

  • Use healthier cooking methods (e.g., steaming, baking, boiling, grilling)
  • Use healthier ingredients
    • Choose wholegrains instead of refined grains. For example, replace white rice with brown rice
    • Choose lean meat and remove all visible fat before cooking
    • Reduce salt, instead use natural seasoning (e.g., herbs and spices). Use condiments and sauces in moderation
  • Plan meals that incorporate vegetables as the main dish (together with fruits, they should make up 50% of your plate), rather than meat or carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet

How to cook healthy and yummy meals

Cooking methods:

Stir fry
Boil or steam
Grill or bake
Reduce salt, instead use natural seasonings (e.g., herbs and spices)
Choose healthier cooking oil (e.g., sunflower, olive or canola)
Remove all visible fat before cooking

Suggestions for local cuisine:

  • Steam dumplings instead of frying
  • Switch to brown rice
  • Control the amount of sodium (e.g., salt and soy sauce)
  • Use herbs and spices
  • Choose Ikan Bakar or Ayam Panggang
  • Use low-fat or skimmed milk in curries and gravies, instead of coconut milk
  • Cook meat together with gravy instead of stir-frying separately
  • Use leaner cuts of meat
  • Use healthier oil options
  • Grill, boil, steam & bake where possible
  • Use low-fat plain yoghurt as a substitute

Eating out

It can be challenging to eat healthy when eating out with the wide variety of food and drink options available in Singapore.

Some tips on how you can make healthier food choices when eating out:

Plan ahead

Look out for food outlets that are part of the Healthier Dining Programme.

These outlets have healthier dishes which are lower in calories , prepared with wholegrains or healthier oil, or lower in sugar.

Ordering food when you are very hungry can cause you to order more than you intend to, and overeat. Look at the menu before arriving to better plan your meal.

Read the menu with care

Look for menu wordings to check how food is prepared. For example, foods that are described as 'steamed', 'boiled', 'baked' or 'poached' are healthier than foods that are 'fried in oil'.

Avoid foods that are also 'rich' and 'creamy' which tend to be high in fat.

Eat just enough

It is okay to not eat everything on your plate. Aim to eat until you are 80% full.

To prevent food wastage, request to take away any remaining food to eat later.

Do not leave cooked food standing at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Reheat stored cooked food at temperatures above 75°C and make sure it is served piping hot.

Choose healthier options when eating out

For main meals:

  • Select a variety of items to make up a balanced meal – include one or two vegetable side dishes, and one or two protein-rich items such as tofu, fish, or lean meat
  • Select foods that are prepared with healthier cooking methods (e.g., steamed, baked) rather than fried foods
  • Rice, bread or pasta – choose wholegrain options (e.g., brown rice, multigrain bread)
  • Choose fresh salads with non-cream based dressings

For drinks:

  • Request for water. Ask for less ("siew dai") or no added sugar ("kosong“) options
  • Choose drinks with reduced sugar or no sugar (e.g., drinks with Healthier Choice Symbol or Nutri-Grade mark A or B)

For desserts:

  • Choose fresh fruits over fruit juice. Share desserts to control your intake

Suggestions when you visit hawker centres

Sliced Fish Soup*
Yong Tau Foo*
Grilled Chicken Chop
Bee Hoon Soto
*Omit soup to reduce your salt intake

When you eat economy rice

Choose this:
  • Brown rice
  • Steamed, stewed, braised or stir-fried dishes
Instead of this:
  • White, flavoured or fried rice
  • Deep-fried dishes
You can also:
  • Order more non-starchy vegetables dishes (e.g., kailan, broccoli, eggplant)
  • Limit the amount of gravy and sauce

Other eating occasions

When eating at a buffet

Don’t skip your meals before going for the buffet. Going to a buffet on an empty stomach will cause you to eat more than needed. You can eat a small snack before heading out.

Check which options are available before you pick up the plate. Choose healthier options and try new food in smaller portions. This will help you make the best choices for yourself.

Enjoy your meal slowly and don’t rush through it just so that you can eat more. Consuming more food doesn't necessarily mean a better dining experience!

Festive occasions and social gatherings

Food is often an integral part of social experiences, such as going to a buffet for celebrations, or catching up with friends over a meal in a restaurant.

However, these situations may encourage overconsumption, especially of less nutritious food.

Some tips on how to eat healthy during social occasions:

  • Having a bottle of water on hand helps you stay hydrated and you will have a readily available alternative to sugary drinks
  • If a meal portion served is too much or if there are leftovers, don't be afraid to ask to take it away to consume at a later time
  • Avoid alcohol as it provides empty calories, i.e., provides energy with limited nutritional value. If you do drink, limit your intake and don't consume alcohol on an empty stomach as it can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) if consumed excessively

Helpful tips:

Plan meals ahead
Opt for healthier products
Use healthier cooking methods
Eat in moderation
Avoid alcohol as much as possible
Maintain medication schedule and insulin dosage

How to handle peer pressure at social gatherings?

Peer pressure during social situations is common, and it's okay to communicate your boundaries when you feel pressured to eat something you don't want to.

Have some phrases in mind to help practise them politely when a situation calls for it!


How to fast safely (for religious reasons)

Before fasting:

Consult your doctor if it is safe for you to fast
Adjust your diet with your healthcare professional
Adjust your medication or insulin dose with your doctor

During fasting:

Self-monitor blood sugar levels regularly and check for symptoms of hypoglycaemia  (low blood sugar)
If your blood sugar level is low (less than 4 mmol/L), stop your fast and take a sweetened drink
If symptoms of low or high blood sugar persist, stop your fast and seek medical attention

When should you not fast

Frequent hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or poorly controlled diabetes
Serious conditions such as nerve disorders, heart problems or uncontrolled hypertension
Pregnant or breastfeeding
Not been following your prescribed medication, diet and physical activities
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