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Diet and diabetes

Posted by Eamonn Brady on


The type and amount of food you eat each day is reflected in your sugar levels and your weight. But how much is too much? And how often do you really need to eat? The key is to eat regular meals and never skip a meal. Skipping meals, for whatever reason, will upset your blood sugar levels and will not help you lose weight if that is your aim.

Irregular meals upset your metabolism (the rate that you burn up calories) and can actually lead to weight gain in the long-term. For most people with diabetes, timing of meals is important too, for example, breakfast at 8am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 6pm. For those using insulin, the newer fast-acting insulin regimes means you can be more flexible with meal times.

No single food can supply all the nutrients we need. To help us understand how to have a balanced healthy diet the Food Pyramid is useful. It is better to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid and less from the top.


The bottom shelf is the bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice shelf. These foods provide energy, fibre, B vitamins and iron and are a major source of starchy carbohydrate. Go for the high fibre varieties of these foods. A bowl of porridge or cereal (the non-sugar coated variety) is a great start to the day. Cereals are low in fat, high in starchy carbohydrate and most are fortified with vitamins and minerals. An example of a serving from this shelf is one bowl cereal, one slice bread, three dessert spoons cooked pasta/rice and one medium potato (boiled or baked). Six servings of carbohydrate are recommended daily for the average adult. Eat more if you are quite active or trying to gain weight.


Fruit and vegetables

These foods provide most of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre we require. You should eat the “five a day”, which is 5 or more portions of fruit and veg per day. To increase your fruit and vegetable intake, tips include adding a banana to your cereal, drinking a small glass of fruit juice with one of your meal, adding cooked or raw vegetables to your meals; having fruit for dessert (raw or stewed). Remember, frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh. A single serving of fruit and vegetables is a glass of fruit juice, three dessert spoons cooked vegetables or salad, a bowl of homemade vegetable soup, one medium size piece of fresh fruit or three dessert spoons cooked or tinned fruit (in own juice).


Dairy products

Milk and milk products are rich sources of calcium, protein and vitamins. It is advisable for most diabetics to go for the low-fat varieties of these foods. Low-fat milk contains as much calcium as full-fat milk. Older people or pregnant women are advised to use fortified milks, which contain added vitamin D and calcium and are also low in fat. It is not recommended that low-fat products be used in children under two. A single serving is 200ml (1/3 pint) of milk, one pot diet yogurt and 25g (1oz) hard cheese. It is advised to have three servings from this group daily and choose low fat varieties.


Meat, fish, poultry and alternatives

These are the protein and iron rich foods but can be high in saturated fat if you are not careful. Trim the fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry before eating to reduce the fat content. Oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna, and pilchards are a good source of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega 3 fat. This type of fat can help protect against heart disease. It is recommended that we eat one to two portions of oily fish per week (this can include tinned varieties). Oily fish is also a good source of vitamins A and D.


Eggs can be scrambled, boiled or poached, or occasionally fried in a little oil. Eggs are a good source of vitamin D. If your cholesterol is high three to four eggs per week is still safe, and if your cholesterol is normal, “an egg a day is ok”. Aim to include beans, peas or lentils so you get protein from a variety of sources.  A serving from this group is 60g (2oz) lean meat, poultry or fish, two eggs, six table spoons peas/beans and 90g (3oz) nuts. Two servings daily from this group is recommended.


Sugars and fats

The “top of the pyramid” foods are high in calories, sugar and fat while containing no nutrients. Eat as little as possible from this shelf. Use small amounts of fats and oils daily. Go for mono- (olive or rapeseed oil) and poly- (sunflower oil) unsaturated, as these are healthier than saturated fats like lard and vegetable oils. Sweets, chocolate, toffees, cakes, biscuits and high fat snacks should be restricted to small amounts and only on special occasions. Alcohol is also high in calories and can increase your weight.



Regular exercise not only helps us to maintain a healthy weight, but Improves blood-sugar control, improves blood cholesterol, improves mood and reduces stress, decreases risk of heart disease and keeps your muscles and bones strong and healthy. Aim to be active throughout the day, exercising for at least 20-30 minutes most days of the week.


Upcoming Diabetes Day with free checks and assessments with specialist nurse

Whelehans Pharmacy in association with MSD and Diabetes Ireland are delighted to run a Diabetes testing Awareness Day in Whelehans on Friday 28th October 2016. The day runs from 10am to 4pm. We aim to highlight undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes and anyone is welcome to be tested for free. If you are already diagnosed as Diabetic you can assess your goals and progress on the day with specialist Diabetes Nurse Pauline Dunne. Call in to the pharmacy on the day.

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