Food Groups

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are all the foods that are converted into glucose in your body and they will have an effect on blood glucose levels. But that does not mean you should avoid carbohydrates. You need them as they are an essential source of energy as well as providing vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. The amount of carbohydrate that you eat is important.
There are 2 main types of carbohydrates:

  • starchy or complex carbohydrates
  • Sugary carbohydrates – sugars and naturally occurring sugars

Starchy or complex carbohydrates
These carbohydrates include breads, potatoes, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, yam, chapatti, sweet potatoes, cous cous and crackers. Starchy carbohydrates should form the basis for each of your meals and, when choosing, reach for whole grain or high fibre options. These will help you feel fuller for longer, and because they are more slowly digested, will help to stabilize your blood glucose levels. They will also provide fibre to help your digestive health. Watch your portion size – see portion sizes section for more information.

Sugars
This type of carbohydrate (white, brown, demerara, castor, icing sugar, golden syrup or also called sucrose, dextrose, maltose when listed in ingredients) and all the foods and drinks that are cooked, baked or manufactured with them e.g. sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolate, jam, marmalade, fizzy drinks, puddings, ice cream etc. These foods provide a very concentrated source of energy and so contribute to weight gain. They are generally low in other nutrients and are often termed ‘empty calories’. These foods also contribute to tooth decay. For all these reasons it is recommended that, for everyone, sweet and sugary foods should be eaten as treats, with only small amounts taken occasionally.

As these foods are a concentrated source of refined sugars when you have diabetes they will cause your blood glucose to rise more rapidly than other foods. Because of this you may hear it said that people with diabetes can’t have sugar. This is untrue. People with diabetes can have sweet foods but it is important that you get most of your energy from the starchy carbohydrate group and keeps sweet foods as occasional treats, and have only small amounts of them.

Naturally occurring sugars
These are found in some foods including fruit and fruit juices (fructose), milk and yogurt (lactose). While these foods are encouraged as part of a healthy diet, with diabetes it is important that you spread your fruit intake over the day. Fruit juice is very quickly absorbed so, if you are having it, only have a small glass (about 100mls) and have it with a meal to slow it’s absorption.
If you are looking at using an alternative to sugar, choose an artificial sweetener which will have no effect on your blood glucose. Remember, all naturally occurring sugars like honey, fructose, agave nectar and any syrups will have an effect on your blood glucose.
Some vegetables also contain a certain amount of carbohydrate e.g peas, beans, lentils and corn. These healthy foods are very suitable for people with diabetes but you may notice a slight effect on your blood sugar.
What tends to give best blood glucose control, is when we distribute our carbohydrate intake evenly over the day, and base our portion size on both energy needs and activity levels.

Fat
This extra fat in our diet is contributing to weight gain and is not good for our hearts. Eliminating all fat from your diet is unhealthy – fat is essential for many body functions like production of bile to aid digestion, producing hormones like insulin and for the proper absorption of many vitamins.

All fats contain the same calorie value however some are better for your heart than others. It is important that we reduce the total amount of fat we are eating and that we replace some of the less healthy fats (like trans fats and saturated fats) with unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to keep your heart healthy.
Example; A simple catering pack of butter contains 5 grams of saturated fat. A pack of Sunflower margarine would have almost 5 grams of “better” polyunsaturated fats. By choosing the sunflower option and only eating half of it you are reducing your overall fat intake and eating the healthier type of fat.
Trans Fats are manmade to improve flavour and shelf life of processed foods. Sources include processed foods including baked goods. If you see hydrogenated vegetable oil listed on the food label, the food contains trans fats and should be avoided. Trans fats lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while increasing “bad” LDL cholesterol. Trans fats increase your risk for heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible.

To help reduce your fat

  • Have your favourite fatty foods or snacks occasionally as treats.
  • Choose grilling, baking, steaming boiling instead of frying
  • In general, the less processed the food is, the healthier it will be.
  • Fats do not have an immediate effect on your blood sugar levels but must be counted as part of your daily intake. Your daily intake of fat should be less than 35% of your total daily intake and less than 10% should be from saturated fat.

Protein
Protein is required by the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of all cells. Protein is necessary for the production of antibodies to fight infection and illness, and is the main food type that keeps hair shiny and healthy, our nails strong, our skin fresh and glowing, and our bones strong.
Sources of proteins : fish, meats, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans, peas, lentils.

Protein in our Diet
Protein is an important part of a healthy diet and it should be consumed twice a day, though teenage boys and young men may need a bit extra. For the main meals (lunch and dinner), it is recommended that you have one serving of a protein food which is equal in size to the palm of your hand while having a slightly smaller portion at your light meal.. The larger the person’s palm size, the larger the recommended serving size as their protein requirement is based on stature and physique. See portion sizes.

Some protein-rich foods like meat and cheese are high in saturated fats see ‘Fats’ page. They should be eaten in moderation, remove visible fat, choose lower fat versions where possible and prepare using a healthy cooking method e.g. grilling, baking, stewing or steaming.
Fish should be eaten twice a week including oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines) once a week. Tinned oily fish is just as good as fresh or vacuum-packed. Opt for varieties in spring water or tomato sauce. If these are unavailable, drain the brine or oil which the fish comes in.

Remember – the goodness comes from the oils within the fish, not the canning liquid! When buying frozen fish – go for a plain kind and try to avoid coatings such as batter/breadcrumbs which can be high in fat.