This information will help you get to know the five main food groups that make up a healthy, balanced diet.
How much you need to eat and drink is based on your age, gender, how active you are and the goals you’re aiming for. But no single food contains all the essential nutrients your body needs.
That’s why a healthy diet is all about variety and choosing different foods from each of the main food groups every day.
And when we say balanced, we mean eating more of certain foods and less of others. But portion sizes have grown in recent years, as the plates and bowls we use have got bigger. And larger portions can make it more difficult for you to manage your weight. We’ve got more information for you about managing a healthy weight.
We’ve highlighted the benefits of each food group below – some help protect your heart and some affect your blood sugar levels more slowly – all really important for you to know. Get to know them and how healthy choices can help you reduce your risk of diabetes complications.
You can learn more about a healthy diet for diabetes with our Food Hacks section in Learning Zone.
Have type 1 diabetes? Get the basics on what to eat.
Have type 2 diabetes? Get the basics on what to eat.
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Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t have fruit. Fruit and veg are naturally low in calories and packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They also add flavour and variety to every meal.
Fresh, frozen, dried and canned – they all count. Go for a rainbow of colours to get as wide a range of vitamins and minerals as possible. Try to avoid fruit juices and smoothies as they don’t have as much fibre.
If you’re trying to limit the amount of carbs you eat, you might be tempted to avoid fruit and veg. But it’s so important to include them in your diet every day. There are lower carb options you can try.
Fruit and vegetables can help protect against stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers – and when you have diabetes, you’re more at risk of developing these conditions.
Everyone should aim to eat at least five portions a day. A portion is roughly what fits in the palm of your hand.
Check out our recipes to help you eat a healthy diet for diabetes – we’ve got lots of delicious main meals packed full of vegetables, and fruity breakfast options.
Starchy foods are things like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, chapattis, naan and plantain. They all contain carbohydrate, which is broken down into glucose and used by our cells as fuel. The problem with some starchy foods is that it can raise blood glucose levels quickly, which can make it harder for you to manage your diabetes. These foods have something called a high glycaemic index (GI) – we’ve got loads more information about this.
There are some better options for starchy foods – ones that affect blood glucose levels more slowly. These are foods with a low glycaemic index (GI), like wholegrain bread, whole-wheat pasta and basmati, brown or wild rice. They also have more fibre, which helps to keep your digestive system working well. So if you’re trying to cut down on carbs, cut down on things like white bread, pasta and rice first.
Try to have some starchy foods every day.
Try our chapatti recipe – just one option for a tasty lunch.
Meat and fish are high in protein, which keeps your muscles healthy. But a healthy diet means less red and processed meat – they’ve been linked to cancer and heart disease. Oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines have a lot of omega-3 oil, which can help protect the heart.
Aim to have some food from this group every day. Specifically at least 1 or 2 portions of oily fish each week. But you don’t need to eat meat every day.
We’ve got lots of healthy recipes to choose from – like our bean stew or try one of our fish dishes.
Milk, cheese and yogurt have lots of calcium and protein in – great for your bones, teeth and muscles. But some dairy foods are high in fat, particularly saturated fat, so choose lower-fat alternatives.
Check for added sugar in lower-fat versions of dairy foods, like yoghurt. It’s better to go for unsweetened yoghurt and add some berries if you want it sweeter. If you prefer a dairy alternative like soya milk, choose one that’s unsweetened and calcium-fortified.
We all need some calcium every day.
We need some fat in our diet but we need less saturated fat. This is because some saturated fats can increase cholesterol in the blood, increasing the risk of heart diseases and stroke. These less healthy options are butter, palm nut oil and coconut oil.
Healthier saturated fats are foods like olive oil, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, spreads made from these oils, and nut butters.
You don’t need any of these as part of a healthy diet. The less often, the better. But we know you’re bound to eat these foods from time to time, so it’s really important to know how they might affect your body.
These foods include biscuits, crisps, chocolates, cakes, ice cream, butter and sugary drinks. These sugary foods and drinks are high in calories and raise blood sugar levels, so go for diet, light or low-calorie alternatives. And the best drink to choose is water – it’s calorie free.
They’re also high in unhealthy saturated fats, so they aren’t good for cholesterol levels and your heart.
And they can also be full of salt – processed foods especially. Too much salt can make you more at risk of high blood pressure and stroke. You should have no more than 1 tsp (6g) of salt a day.
We don’t recommend ‘diabetic’ ice cream or sweets. It’s now against the law to label any food as diabetic and there’s no evidence to suggest that food for diabetics offer any benefits over eating a healthy balanced diet.
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Following a balanced diet will allow you to manage your blood sugar levels and also help you keep to a healthy weight. Both are important when you have diabetes. To make it that bit easier, answer three quick questions about yourself below and we’ll search out eating advice from our experts that we think will be really useful for you.
© The British Diabetic Association operating as Diabetes UK, a charity registered in England and Wales (no. 215199) and in Scotland (no. SC039136). A company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales with (no.00339181) and registered office at Wells Lawrence House, 126 Back Church Lane London E1 1FH