NHS Diet Advice for Diabetes

NHS advise that there is no special diet advice for people with diabetes
NHS advise that there is no special diet advice for people with diabetes

In the UK, current 2015 NHS diabetes diet advice is that there is no special diet for people with diabetes.

Many people with diabetes focus on the carbohydrate content of their meals and prefer a low-carb diet for tight blood glucose level control.

The NHS (and Diabetes UK) recommend a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt and contain a high level of fresh fruit and vegetables.

NHS dieticians' advice

Earlier this year, top NHS dieticians were reported as providing the following tips for people with diabetes.

Together, these can be said to sum up the NHS approach to controlling type 2 diabetes with diet.

  • Eat plenty of starchy carbohydrates
  • Eat carbohydrate foods with a low GI
  • Avoid high GI foods, especially between meals
  • Eat regular meals and healthy snacks
  • Don’t miss breakfast
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Avoid all unhealthy/hydrogenated fats
  • Choose low-fat dairy products
  • Check food labels
  • Choose lean meat and remove fat and skin
  • Avoid fried and fast food, and baked goods
  • Keep hydrated and avoid binge-drinking

Base meals upon starchy carbohydrate

The NHS advises people, including those with diabetes, to base meals around food with starchy carbohydrate such as:

  • Potatoes
  • Cereals
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Bread

The advice has caused some controversy over people with diabetes. Read more about the debate around NHS carbohydrate advice.

Have plenty of fruit and vegetables

The Department of Health recommends we eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The 5 portions should ideally be different fruit and vegetables.

Fruit juice counts as one portion, and a smoothie can be up to 2 portions.


The NHS provides guidelines to help people make healthy food choices. The same advice applies to people with and without diabetes.

The NHS advises people with diabetes to eat a source of starchy carbohydrates at each meal. Starchy carbohydrates include rice, pasta, bread and cereals. Choose lower GI versions or whole grain varieties where possible as these are more slowly absorbed and contain more nutrients. The NHS advises people to base 1/3 of our meals on starchy carbohydrate.

This advice has courted some controversy from people with type 2 diabetes, who report that this amount of carbohydrate can make diabetes harder to control.

Testing your blood glucose before and after meals can help you to see how blood glucose levels respond to different levels of carbohydrate.

The NHS advises people aim to have at least 5 portions of fruit and veg each day. Nutritional research has shown that eating a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce the chances of suffering heart attacks, strokes and some cancers.

Examples of a portion include an apple or an 80g serving of fruit and vegetables. 80g will usually be around 3 heaped tablespoons of foods such as berries, carrots or peas.

The NHS encourages people to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, with one of these being oily fish.

  • Examples of oily fish include mackerel, sardines, pilchards and fresh tuna.
  • Non-oily fish includes haddock, plaice, cod and tinned tuna.

The NHS advises most people to consume less saturated fat. Where possible, they advise to choose unsaturated fat in preference to saturated fat.

  • Examples of sources of unsaturated fat include avocado, nuts and vegetable oils
  • Examples of sources of saturated fat include red meat, crisps, biscuits and butter

People with diabetes have extra reason to eat less sugar as sugar has a fast and direct impact on blood glucose levels. Products with a tendency to contain higher amounts of salt include tinned soups, ready meals and other tinned or packaged foods sauces. Check the side of tins and packages to see how much sugar and salt they contain.

Eat less saturated fat

The NHS recommends people to eat less saturated fat and advises eating foods containing unsaturated fats such as:

  • Oily fish
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Avocados

Rather than foods containing saturated fat such as:

  • Cheese
  • Biscuits
  • Sausages
  • Pies

Choosing leaner meats such as chicken or trimming fat off cuts of red meat can help to reduce saturated fat.

Eat more oily fish

Oily fish is a good diet option because it contains important minerals as well as being a good source of omega-3 fats. Eating at least 2 portions of fish a week is recommend, with at least 1 of those portions being oily fish.

Eat less sugar and salt

Cutting down on sugar comes expected for people with diabetes. It is also recommended to cut down on salt.

The Department of Health advise eating less than 6g of salt each day.

What is considered high salt levels?

Foods with more than 1.5g of salt per 100g are considered to be high in salt.

Eat breakfast

The NHS advises eating breakfast each day and not being tempted to skip the first meal of the day.

Research shows that a low GI breakfast can help to prevent overeating through the rest of the day.

Keeping hydrated

Aim to drink at least 1.2 litres of fluid each day.

Note this includes:

However, this does not include alcohol.

On warmer days, more than 1.2 litres of fluid may need to be consumed.

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