Healthy eating

Healthy eating is important for everyone, including young people with diabetes. The dietary guidelines for diabetes are the same as those recommended for everyone.

Children and adolescents should:

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • Include milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives – reduced fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents
  • Choose water as a drink
  • Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
  • Choose foods low in salt
  • Consume only moderate amounts of sugar and foods/drinks containing added sugars

The right balance of foods from the different food groups is important for managing diabetes.

Food is made up of 3 main fuels:

  • Carbohydrate
  • Protein
  • Fat

The proteins, fats and carbohydrates in food provide us with the fuel (energy) our body needs.

Carbohydrates are one of the main sources of energy for the body. When we eat carbohydrates they are broken down into glucose in the blood stream which is then converted into energy for our body cells and muscles to use.

Foods containing carbohydrate include:

  • Breads and cereals
  • Fruit
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Snack foods
  • Sugars

All carbohydrate foods break down to glucose in the blood stream and provide an important source of energy. The right balance of carbohydrate foods is important for managing diabetes.

Proteins are important for growth and development, repair of body tissue and can be used as a source of energy by the body. Protein does not affect blood glucose levels.

Foods containing protein include:

  • Meat, chicken, fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Milk

Protein foods can also be high in saturated fat so it is important to choose lower fat options such as lean meats and low fat dairy foods.

Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet and are important for normal growth and development. The different types of fats in food include:

  • Polyunsaturated
  • Monounsaturated
  • Saturated
  • Trans fats

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils and margarines such as olive oil, canola and sunflower, as well as nuts, seeds, avocado and fish. These fats are the healthiest choices.

Saturated fats are found in animal foods such as fatty meats, butter, lard, full-fat dairy products as well as many snack foods and takeaway foods. Trans fats are found in foods such as solid cooking fats, pastries, snack foods and takeaways. Saturated fats and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol levels and should be limited.

Dietary fat won’t directly affect blood glucose levels, however, a low saturated diet is recommended for long term good health and to reduce the risk of diabetes complications. All fats are high in kilojoules and too much of any type of fat can lead to weight gain.

Foods such as green vegetables, salad vegetables, carrots, onion, eggplant, cauliflower, pumpkin and strawberries won’t have any effect on blood glucose levels. These foods contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber and are good for health.

Carbohydrates and diabetes

Carbohydrates directly affect blood glucose levels and need to be balanced with activity levels and insulin dose. Achieving this balance can help blood glucose levels mostly within the normal range. To get this balance right, it’s important to think about the amount, type and timing of carbohydrate foods eaten over the day.

About half of a child’s daily energy intake should come from carbohydrate foods. How much carbohydrate a child needs will depend on things such as appetite, stage of growth and development, weight, height and activity levels. All children with diabetes should see a diabetes dietitian for personalised advice.

The healthiest carbohydrate choices are low in fat and added sugars, and high in fiber. These include high fiber breads and cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables, noodles, pasta and rice, bulghur, low fat milk and yoghurt, and legumes like lentils and kidney beans.

Sugar

Despite what many people think, a small amount of sugar can be included as part of a healthy eating plan.