Eating for Diabetes


Eating for Diabetes

Diabetes is fast becoming an epidemic around the world and in Malaysia, an estimated 15% of our population has diabetes!! This number is projected to continue on an upward trend and before we know it, 1 in 5 Malaysians could become diabetic! That is a scary statistic!

Our population really do not know very much at all about diabetes. It is a chronic disease with a whole plethora of life threatening complications not to mention sight threatening ones as well. What I have found with my patients is also their complete lack of knowledge about how to eat properly when they have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is very common to think that taking less sugar is good enough but in reality, there is a lot more to it.

Eating for diabetes isn't about going on a diet - it's about making changes to your eating habits to create a healthier balance. Diabetes doesn't change the kinds of food you can eat. The focus should be on making smart food choices to lead a healthier life; i.e. eating less fat, less sugary foods, a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish. Basically, having a balanced diet.

Diabetics should work closely with their physician and dietician to come up with meal plans. There is no one special diabetic diet - the meal plan has to be personalized to meet the unique requirements of each diabetic individual. The meal plan should aim at keeping the blood glucose levels as near to normal levels as possible - it is those large swings in blood glucose levels which do the most damage to the organs. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard my patients tell me that the reason their sugar levels have been so high is because they just had something to eat! If eating properly, the levels should not fluctuate so wildly. It is therefore, important to monitor your own blood glucose levels.

The Food Groups

Protein - A healthy diet should consist of 10-20% of calories from protein and sources of protein include poultry, fish, dairy and vegetable sources.

Fat - A healthy intake of fat should be less than 30% of daily calories. You should take less of saturated fats (meat and dairy products) and more of polyunsaturated fats (fish and other seafood).

Carbohydrates - the remainder of daily calories should come from carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, noodles, etc)


Steps to eating well

1) Eat regular meals at consistent times. Rather than have 3 heavy meals, consider having smaller meals but more frequently.

2) Cut down on the fat you eat (especially saturated fats). Take less butter, cheese and fatty meats. Take skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Grill or steam meats rather than fry.

3) Eat more fruit and vegetables - at least 5 servings a day.

4) Aim for at least 2 servings of fish a week. Omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for the heart and eyes amongst other things.

5) Limit sugar and sugary drinks.

6) Reduce salt in your diet - limit the amount of processed foods.

7) Drink alcohol in moderation.

8) Don't be tempted by diabetic foods or drinks - they are often expensive with no added benefit as they contain much fat and calories as the ordinary versions and can have a laxative effect and will still affect blood glucose levels.


Staying healthy with diabetes is a challenge but yet very achievable. Eating right is but one aspect of living with diabetes. It is important to maintain a healthy weight and to exercise regularly as well. It is vital that you set health goals for yourself and work together with your healthcare professionals to achieve these goals. Eating a balanced diet, managing your weight, and following a healthy lifestyle, together with taking any prescribed medication and monitoring where appropriate will ensure that you can prevent or delay the side effects of diabetes!