Eating 11-14 homemade meals a week may reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes. It’s important to eat a healthy diet in order to be heart healthy.
The foods you eat not only make a difference to how you manage your diabetes, but also to how well you feel and how much energy you have.
This information will help you get to know the five main food groups that make up a healthy, balanced diet.
Eating from the main food groups
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fibre helps to keep your digestive system healthy
Some affect your blood sugar levels more slowly
Wholegrains help protect your heart
Try to have some starchy foods every day.
Examples of what to try
two slices of multigrain toast with a bit of spread and Marmite or peanut butter
brown rice, pasta or noodles in risottos, salads or stir-fries
baked sweet potato with the skin left on – add toppings like cottage cheese or beans
Protein foods like beans, nuts, pulses, eggs, meat and fish
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.
Helps keep your muscles healthy
Oily fish protects your 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.
Examples of what to try
a small handful of raw nuts and seeds as a snack or chopped with a green salad
using beans and pulses in a casserole to replace some – or all – of the meat
eggs scrambled, poached, dry fried or boiled – the choice is yours
grilled fish with masala, fish pie, or make your own fishcakes
chicken grilled, roasted or stir-fried
We’ve got lots of healthy recipes to choose from – like our bean stew or try one of our fish dishes.
Dairy foods and alternatives
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.
Good for bones and teeth
Keeps your muscles healthy
We all need some calcium every day.
Examples of what to try
a glass of milk straight, flavoured with a little cinnamon or added to porridge
natural or unsweetened yogurt with fruit or on curry
cottage cheese scooped on carrot sticks
a bowl of breakfast cereal in the morning, with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
a cheese sandwich for lunch, packed with salad
a refreshing lassi or some plain yogurt with your evening meal
Oils and spreads
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.
Unsaturated fats help protect your heart
Examples of what to try
A drizzle of olive oil on your salad
Peanut butter on your wholemeal toast
Foods high in fat, salt and sugar
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, 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.
Tips for cutting these out
Cook more meals from scratch at home, where you can control the amount of salt you use.
Check food labels – look for green and orange colours. We’ve got more information to help you read labels and we’re campaigning for things to get more consistent and less confusing.
Try unsweetened teas and coffees – they’re better than fruit juices and smoothies as they don’t add any extra calories and carbs.
Banish the salt shaker from the table – black pepper, herbs and spices are great ways of adding extra flavour to your food.
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