Do I need a special diet if I have diabetes?

"The good news is that people with diabetes do not need to go on a special diet. You may have to modify your diet, rather than overhaul it," advises Kala Adaikan, Principal Dietitian from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. 

"What’s important is that you understand how different foods, especially carbohydrates, affect your blood sugar (glucose) levels. Then, you can modify your diet by choosing healthier alternatives," she adds.

4 FAQs about diet for diabetes

1. Should I reduce or even avoid carbohydrates?

"Carbohydrates are foods that give you energy and should be included as part of a healthy meal plan. In fact, they should provide half of your energy needs", says Ms Adaikan.

However, not all carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels the same way. Carbohydrates can be divided into: 

  1. Sugars (simple carbohydrates) and 

  2. Starches (complex carbohydrates)

Examples of sugars (simple carbohydrates) include: glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, jams, sweets.

Examples of starches (complex carbohydrates) include: bread, rice, pasta, noodles, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and peas.

Avoid sugars (simple carbohydrates) 
The more refined the carbohydrate, such as sugar, the faster the glucose is released into your bloodstream. This can cause a surge in blood sugar levels. Thus, you have to watch out for simple carbohydrates.

Choose starches (complex carbohydrates) instead
Complex carbohydrates (or starchy foods) release glucose into the bloodstream at a slower rate compared to sugary foods, thus providing more stable and sustainable energy levels. This is better for appetite control.

2. Should I switch to brown rice?

Brown and white rice contain the same amount of carbohydrates, weight for weight, but brown rice provides more fibre. Fibre can slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, thus improving your blood sugar levels, says Ms Adaikan. 

Besides brown rice, try to include whole grain breads and high-fibre cereals in your diet, as these contain more helpful fibre too.

3. What about fruits and vegetables?

Fruits do contain sugar, in the form of fructose, but they are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre so they ought to be included as part of your meal plan and part of your carbohydrate intake

In general, most vegetables are recommended as they provide fibre. No food is off limits. The important thing is to watch the portions of carbohydrates you eat in a day and ensure that these are evenly distributed throughout the day, says Ms Adaikan. 

For instance, make sure you count starchy vegetables such as potatoes as part of your carbohydrate requirements for the day.

Carbohydrate requirements will vary from one person to the next, depending on weight, age, physical activity levels and other health-related conditions. A dietitian can calculate your individual requirements and teach you carbohydrate-counting techniques for more flexibility in your diet.

4. Can I eat more protein foods to fill up?

Protein foods like chicken and fish do not contain carbohydrates, so they will not raise blood sugar levels. However, 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 counted as part of your carbohydrate intake and requirements.

Bonus tip: Know the 8 golden rules for a healthy diabetes diet!
Click here to find out more.

Unsure what to put on your plate? See our guide below!

Nutrition is key to winning diabetes!

Diabetes is a common and serious chronic illness and when poorly controlled, leads to multiple complications.

“Although there are many medications available, nutritional therapy or dietary modification remains paramount to good diabetes control,” says Dr Daphne Gardner Su-Lyn, Senior Consultant from the Department of Endo​crinology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. 

"Learning to eat regular meals, controlling the amount you eat and making healthy food choices can help you manage your diabetes better and help prevent other health complications."

Ref: I23 (ed)

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