What to eat when you have diabetes?

Nutrition is an integral part of diabetes care. Rather than a restrictive diet, a diet suitable for diabetes is simply a healthy eating plan that is individualised according to your requirements and lifestyle.

People with diabetes do not need to go on a special diet. You may have to modify your diet, rather than overhaul it. If you have diabetes, your doctor would likely recommend that you see a Dietitian to guide you on dietary changes that can help you control your blood glucose levels and manage your weight.

“It is important that you understand how different foods affect​ your blood glucose levels, especially carbohydrates, since it is the nutrient that has the greatest effect on your blood glucose levels,” says Ms Kala Adaikan, Senior Principal Dietitian, at the Department of Dietetics, Singapore Gene​ral Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

3 steps to effective diabetes nutrition

  1. Understand the role of the various food nutrients in diabetes management and how they affect blood glucose levels
  2. Keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you consume by using carbohydrate counting techniques
  3. Reduce and maintain weight within the desirable weight range to improve insulin resistance and achieve better blood glucose control

Step 1: Understand how food affects blood glucose levels


Carbohydrates give you energy and should not be avoided. They should be included as part of a healthy eating plan.

For optimal diabetes control, one must recognise that quantity and quality of carbohydrates are to be considered. Not all carbohydrates affect your blood glucose levels the same way.

The more refined the carbohydrate, such as sugar, the faster the glucose is released into your blood stream. This can cause a surge in blood glucose levels, resulting in unstable blood glucose profiles. Thus, you have to watch out for refined carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and sweets.

Choose starchy carbohydrates

Starches release glucose into the blood stream at a slower rate compared to sugars, thus providing more stable and sustainable energy levels. This not only results in better blood glucose profiles, it is also better for appetite control.

Examples of starchy carbohydrates include rice, noodles, pasta, cereals and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.


It is also important to pay attention to the other nutrients in your diet. Protein foods like chicken and fish do not contain carbohydrates, so they will not raise your blood glucose levels.

Some foods contain a combination of protein and carbohydrates. These include milk and dairy products and plant-based protein foods such as beans, dhal and lentils.

These should be accounted for as part of your carbohydrate intake and allowance.


It is also important to increase fibre intake as fibre is known to slow carbohydrate digestion and glucose absorption, leading to better blood glucose control. Small changes such as switching to brown rice and whole grains will help.

Opt for brown rice, wholewheat noodles and pasta, wholegrain breads and oats in your diet, as these contain more helpful fibre.


Fat does not convert to glucose when digested but delays stomach-emptying and slows the digestion of carbohydrate in a meal. This keeps blood glucose levels elevated for longer, making it difficult to keep your blood glucose levels within the desirable range. Fat is also very calorie-dense. Reduce your total fat intake!

See the next page to learn how to keep track of your carbohydrate intake.

Ref: O17​​