Healthy Food Choices

by diabetes care guide

When diagnosed with diabetes, was one of your first thoughts that you’d never be allowed to have sweets again? If so, you’re not alone! The thought that diabetes means you have to eliminate your favourite foods – especially the sugary ones – can stop you in your tracks and keep you from learning about healthy food choices.

Fortunately, foods containing sugar can be part of a healthy meal or snack. Moderation is the key. A ‘diabetes diet’ is actually a healthy approach to eating that would be beneficial for anyone who is concerned about his or her health. Today, much of the focus in choosing meals revolves around balancing the four food groups and controlling portion sizes.

Choosing your food

Whether you have diabetes or not, the best approach for healthy nutrition is to follow Canada’s Guide for Healthy Eating. Eat a variety of foods as outlined in this food guide.

  • Have whole grain cereals and, breads, fruits and vegetables more often.
  • Choose dairy products that are lower fat, lean meats and foods prepared with little or no fat.
  • Achieve a healthy body weight through physical activity and healthy eating.
  • Limit salt, caffeine and alcohol.

Portion size matters

As they say, too much of a good thing is not always a ‘good thing’. A simple approach to keeping an eye on portions and making sure you have a variety of food is to use the plate method. It is easy and can help you manage any meal, anywhere.

First, divide your plate in half. Fill one half with vegetables, preferably with more than one colour. Divide the remaining half into two, fill one quarter with potatoes/rice/pasta or bread, and the remaining quarter with meat or meat alternative.

Add a fruit and a serving of milk and you are on your way to healthy portions and balanced meals.

The facts on fats

Our bodies need a little fat every day. It is an essential part of our diet. Fats are a source of energy and also serve as stored energy.

There are 2 types of fats:

Saturated Fats come mainly from animal food products and are solid at room temperature. Meat fat, lard, butter and solid shortening are examples of saturated fats. Palm and coconut oils are also saturated fats. These types of fats are not desirable, as they tend to raise our cholesterol level.

Unsaturated Fats are liquid at room temperature and come from plant oils such as peanut, olive, corn, sunflower and canola. These are good fats as they tend to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, but they also need to be limited.

Check labels for saturated and trans fat. Trans fats are found in many processed foods like crackers, cookies and snack foods. Aim for no more than 20 grams of both fats combined.

Be aware of hidden fats in luncheon meats and sausages, nuts, chips, gravies and sauces, whole milk and cream.

Cutting the fat

  • Bake, broil, boil, steam, barbecue or braise using non-fat pan spray.
  • Trim off all visible fat on beef and pork before cooking and remove the skin from chicken.
  • Choose light and fat-free varieties of salad dressing.
  • Choose light or fat-free mayonnaise. Add zip to your salads with herbs, vinegars and spices.

In milk and dairy products:

  • Use skim or 1% milk.
  • Eat low-fat or skim milk cheese (less than 20% butter fat).
  • Buy fat-free yogurts.
  • Use low-fat milk for coffee and tea. Avoid dairy substitutes that contain coconut or palm oil.

TIP: Add more flavour to your meals with fresh and dried herbs, garlic, onions, vinegar, hot pepper sauce, lemon juice, mustard, extracts such as vanilla and almond and artificial sweeteners.

Healthy eating tips

  • Space your meals evenly throughout the day with no more than six hours between meals. Eating at regular intervals helps you control your blood glucose.
  • Choose lower fat foods. Use low fat dairy products, lean meats and limit added fats like margarine and butter.
  • Limit sugars and sweets such as sugar, candies and desserts.
  • Choose lower glycemic index foods more often rather than refined carbohydrates. These include bran cereals, whole wheat bread, lentils and legumes and fruits and vegetables.
  • If you are thirsty, choose water or diet pop.

Glycemic index

It is a measurement of how much your blood glucose increases when you eat certain foods. Foods with a low glycemic index can raise your blood glucose levels less than foods with a higher glycemic index.

What about sweeteners?

Maintaining a healthy weight is key to managing diabetes. Start with a zero calorie sweetener instead of sugar. It’s an easy way to make a big difference in weight management and help your carbohydrates go further. Sweeteners let you enjoy your favourite foods and beverages while managing carbohydrate and calorie intake to help maintain glycemic control. Sweeteners come in a variety of product forms and can be used in beverages, on cereal, fruit and in cooking and baking.

Watch for hidden sugar in products like presweetened cereals, throat lozenges and cough syrups. Your pharmacist can help you choose.

Learn to recognize sugar words

Products and ingredients containing words ending in ‘-ose’ (e.g. dextrose or fructose) or ‘-ol’ (e.g. manitol). Limit these, as well as products listing sugar, honey, molasses.

Be label wise

Health Canada’s 2005 regulations make nutrition labeling mandatory on most food labels.

Knowing how to read a food label will help you choose healthy foods, work out your portions, control fats and sodium, as well as help you keep count of carbohydrates and calories.

Nutrition labelling, together with help from your dietitian, provides you with important tools to make informed food choices for meals and snacks.

Read the Nutrition Facts table on your food products. The label will show you the amount of food in a serving and the number of servings in a package or can. (It’s important that you check whether you are eating more, less or the same amount as the serving given). It shows the calories, and nutrients (fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and proteins) per serving. It also gives the % Daily Value, which shows you what percentage of your daily nutrient requirement is contained in a serving. This is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

Eating out

Diabetes doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy restaurants. Follow the same approach you do at home. More and more restaurants are including heart healthy choices on their menu. Ask about ingredients and preparation when you’re unsure.

If portions are too large, share a serving or arrange to have some boxed as takeout. Avoid fried and battered foods. Have sauces, gravies and dressing served on the side so that you can control the quantity.

Eating out can often mean eating later than usual. If you take insulin or diabetes pills, talk to a member of your diabetes team about how to manage a delay in mealtime. Eating a small snack may help prevent a drop in your blood glucose.


Discuss safe use of alcohol with a member of your diabetes team. The Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada note the recommendation for alcohol consumption for people with type 2 diabetes is the same as for any other adult:

  • no more than two standard drinks per day or 10 drinks per week for women;
  • no more than three standard drinks per day or 15 drinks per week for men.

One standard drink contains 10 grams alcohol as described:

  • 341 mL beer (5% alcohol)
  • 43 mL spirits (40% alcohol)
  • 142 mL wine (12% alcohol)

Alcohol is not recommended if you have high triglycerides, high blood pressure, liver problems or you are pregnant or breast feeding.

Eat a carbohydrate-containing snack when you drink alcohol. Alcohol can also mask the usual symptoms of low blood glucose. Speak to your educators about the safe use of alcohol.

If you take medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it is safe to drink alcohol.

For a nutritional assessment and help with your individual nutritional requirements, book an appointment with your dietitian today. You can also find helpful resources and detailed nutrition information at Dietitians of Canada website

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