The Best Diabetic Diet

Written by Tamara Willner
Medically reviewed by 

5 min read
Last updated November 2019

There is no magic diet for diabetes, as everyone responds differently to certain foods. Whether you’re living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and be aware of the effect that different foods have on your blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition where your immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, resulting in very high blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, however, is a lifestyle disease and can be prevented. This guide will focus on the best diet for type 2 diabetes, as a healthy diet, alongside physical activity, can play a large part in achieving remission.

There are a number of convincing theories of how type 2 diabetes develops. Although different theories disagree on whether insulin resistance or weight gain come first, many of them include high carbohydrate intake as a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Why is a low-carb diet a good diabetes diet?

Maintaining stable blood glucose levels is important to prevent complications associated with diabetes. As carbs have the biggest impact on our blood glucose levels, reducing our intake of carbohydrate-containing foods will reduce the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream in the first place. This explains why a low-carb diet, rather than a low-fat diet, for example, has always been involved in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Graph showing the effect of carbohydrates, fats and proteins on blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Recent studies have found consistent benefits in improved blood glucose control, weight loss, and sustained medication reduction when participants with type 2 diabetes followed a low-carb diet. It’s also been shown that the low-carb diet had a high adherence rate after 12 months, suggesting it’s a more sustainable way of eating for the long run.

Some diets, such as the ketogenic diet (keto) eliminates carbs almost entirely. By doing this, the body is deprived of its primary fuel source, glucose. The body then creates new metabolic pathways and starts to use up fat for fuel instead (ketosis).

While this sounds ideal, it can be challenging to follow effectively in the long term. It’s much more restrictive and one ‘slip up’ will take you out of ketosis temporarily.

So it’s probably more practical to reduce your carb intake and replace refined carbs (e.g. white bread and white rice) with high-fibre, complex carbs (e.g. oats and sweet potato) where possible. Reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods (e.g. biscuits and cakes) will also help you avoid refined carbs and reduce sweet cravings.

Example diabetic diet plan

As we have discussed, the best diet for someone living with diabetes is a balanced, lower-carb diet that is low in ultra-processed foods (e.g. biscuits and crisps).

Devised by qualified dietitians and nutritionists, here is an example 7-day diabetic diet plan. All of these meals are naturally lower in carbs and free from refined substitutes. For full recipes, portion sizes, and instruction videos, click on the images.

Throughout the week this diet plan includes some easy ‘quick prep’ sections, that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. You can pre-prep the courgette frittata slices and lemon salad dressing (olive oil and lemon juice) to save time.

BREAKFAST LUNCH DINNER
MONDAY 200g plain, unsweetened Greek yoghurt

(Optional toppings: berries and sliced almonds)

Courgette Frittata slice +

Salad (2x handfuls of baby spinach, 1 tomato, ¼ cucumber, ½ chopped red pepper, pre-prepped lemon salad dressing)

Goulash soup

Quick prep: put one serving of leftover soup in the fridge for lunch tomorrow and the rest in the freezer.

TUESDAY Eggs your way +

Avocado (Slice or mash ¼ of an avocado on 1 slice of wholegrain toast)

Goulash soup (leftover) Mediterranean quinoa

(Optional topping: 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt)

Quick prep: put leftover servings into containers for lunch on Thursday.

WEDNESDAY Very berry smoothie

Quick prep: make a salad similar to Monday and put in a container with a serving of Frittata vegetable slice (leftover) for lunch.

Courgette frittata slice (leftover) + Salad Coconut Dahl

(Optional toppings: 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt and 2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley)

Quick prep: Put leftover dahl into a container in the fridge for dinner Friday.

THURSDAY Mushroom omelette (2-3 eggs) with 30g grated cheese

(Optional: serve with a slice of wholegrain bread)

Mediterranean quinoa (leftover)

(Optional topping: 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt)

Warm lamb salad

Quick prep: Put leftover lamb salad into containers for lunch and prep overnight oats (40g) for tomorrow breakfast.

FRIDAY Pre-prepped overnight oats

(Optional toppings: 200g Greek yoghurt, a handful of berries, or a handful of nuts)

Warm lamb salad (leftover) Coconut dahl (leftover)

(Optional toppings: 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt)

SATURDAY Blueberry oat pancakes

Quick prep: defrost a serving of goulash soup if you’re eating lunch at home today.

Eating out (opt for a meal with lots of non-starchy vegetables and a good source of protein)

OR

Goulash soup (leftover)

Meatballs in chilli tomato sauce +

Salad

Quick prep: store leftover meatballs in a container in the fridge.

SUNDAY Scrambled eggs (2-3 eggs)

(Optional: 1 grilled tomato, 1 handful baby spinach, 2 rashers of back bacon)

Peri Peri chicken + vegetables

Quick prep: put any leftovers into containers for quick and easy meals next week. For example, you could add leftover chicken to a salad, or use the leftover vegetables as a basis for another meal.

Meatballs in chilli tomato sauce (leftover)

(Optional: serve in a wholemeal wrap with baby spinach, red onion, and feta cheese)

OPTIONAL SNACKS

100g Greek yoghurt with a handful of berries (v)

½ – 1 blueberry oat pancake (v)

½ – 1 courgette frittata slice (v)

Veggie sticks with 60g hummus (v)

1-2 hard-boiled eggs (v)

1-2 meatballs in chilli tomato sauce

Looking for more support?

If you would like support from a registered dietitian to help you make lower-carb meal plans for yourself, consider joining the OurPath programme. OurPath is an online 3-month lifestyle change and weight loss programme. When you join you get:

  • Daily support from a registered dietitian or nutritionist
  • Simple, satisfying recipes with instruction videos
  • Support from an online group of other OurPath members
  • Motivational and educational articles
  • All your progress tracked in one app

Thousands of individuals with type 2 diabetes have successfully completed the OurPath programme. Our work in the NHS has demonstrated that 40% of people taking the OurPath programme have lowered their HbA1c to below the diagnostic threshold after 3 months.

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