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Eat healthy for diabetes: the one article you need to read

What do people with diabetes need to eat? That’s the big question! Here are the answers. Eating healthy food for diabetes management is one of the 4 things you need to remember to keep you healthy. All you have to remember is TEEL:

Take your medication
Eat healthy food
Exercise, a little every day
Lose weight, if you need to

teel how to manage diabetes eat healthy

Healthy food for diabetes

So what is healthy food for diabetes? Great question. There are so many different opinions about what people with diabetes should eat, but there is no one magical diabetes diet. There are a few rules that everyone agrees on, though.

Rule #1: Half a plate of green vegetables

The plate model is a helpful way to decide what to eat. If you fill half your plate with green, leafy vegetables that fills up a lot of space! The other half of the plate can be divided into good quality protein (eggs, fish, chicken, meat) and low GI, high fibre starch (sweet potatoes, brown rice, butternut). Add in a small amount of healthy fat (olive oil, avocado) and you have a healthy plate! If you’re eating low carb, you can leave out the starch.

balanced plate for diabetes


Not sure what kind of food to put on your plate? We have a free Diabetes Cookbook with all kinds of ideas, or you can check out this article on understanding diabetes nutrition: 10 helpful tips for a healthy diabetes diet.

Rule #2: No refined carbs

To understand what refined carbohydrates are, it’s first important to understand what carbohydrates are. Essentially, carbs are sugars. They break down in the body to create glucose, a major source of energy. Too many of the wrong kind of carbs (refined carbs like white bread, white rice, pap, cakes, cookies) spikes your blood glucose.

Choosing the right carbs and cutting out all refined carbs is very important, but it’s also helpful to be able to count your carbs. Counting the carbs you eat at every meal and pairing them with the correct dose of insulin can keep your blood sugar level closer to normal range. Here’s a guide to exactly how to count carbs. And here’s what normal blood sugar should be.

Refined carbs include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Pap
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Pies
  • Chips and slap chips
  • Cakes
  • Cookies and biscuits
  • Baked treats (doughnuts, muffins, vetkoek)
  • Cooldrinks (fizzy drinks, energy drinks, juice of all kinds)
  • Sweets
  • Chocolates
  • Ice-cream
  • Most breakfast cereals, including cornflakes

It’s a good idea to stop eating all of these foods. It’s hard, we know! But nothing on this list is healthy food for diabetes. Here are some ideas for which foods to choose instead – healthy alternatives for diabetics.

healthy food  options for diabetes

Rule #3: Watch your portion sizes

A portion is how much of a food you eat: how much you serve yourself. It’s really important to understand portion sizes so that you can eat the right amount of each food. We created a free Diabetes Food Guide that tells you which food to choose and how much of each you can eat at each meal – take a look at it here, or download it for free.

Always dish your food onto a plate! Don’t eat out of the bag or pick from a serving plate, because then you don’t know how much you’re actually eating.

Sweet Life Diabetes Community

Rule #4: Choose the diet that works for you

Each person with diabetes is different – and not just because they have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. (Here’s the difference between the two.) What works for you might not work for someone else living with diabetes, and that’s totally fine. Remember: there is no one magic diabetes diet!

The biggest question is usually around low carb diets. Are they a good idea? Essentially, a low carb diet means cutting out the carbohydrate portion of your diet so that your blood sugar remains more stable – closer to normal blood sugar.

low carb for diabetes

Here’s some information that can help you decide what works for you:

A simple way to eat low carb: Outlines how to start eating much less carbs without having to change your diet completely.

The low carb diabetic pantry: Tells you what to stock your kitchen with if you want to eat low carb.

Download free low carb meal plans: 7 day low carb / Banting meal plans to download.

Another big question when it comes to healthy food for diabetes is whether diabetics can eat fruit. Yes or no? Here’s a diabetic’s guide to fruit to help you decide.

Sweet Life Diabetes Community

So there you have it! An outline of healthy food for diabetes so that you know what to choose to feel your best. Don’t forget to join Diabetic South Africans and share your diabetes meal ideas and healthy eating tips.

Do you have any questions about healthy eating for diabetes? Let us know and we’ll ask our diabetes experts to give us the most helpful answers. We know that diabetes is a lot to manage, but we also know that we’re all in it together and that makes it a little easier, doesn’t it?

What to read next?

How to lose weight with diabetes: Expert tips to help you succeed.

The basic diabetic pantry: Exactly what to add to your shopping list so you can eat a healthy diet.

Our Meal Plans: Choose a meal plan to download for free, including low carb, vegetarian and budget options.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash and Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.