Below are some of the frequently asked questions our accredited practising dietitians get asked. If you have a different question, please call or email Diabetes Tasmania or use our referral form to make an appointment with one of our dietitians.
Can I still eat foods containing sugar like biscuits, cake or chocolate?
When you have diabetes, you can still eat foods containing sugar. Like the rest of the population, we suggest you limit the amount of food with added sugar you eat to small portions and try not to eat these foods every day.
Do I need to start using artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners can be used as a tool to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet. It is safe to eat and drink foods and drinks which contain small amounts of artificial sweeteners. For example, tea and coffee with artificial sweetener or diet products. A healthy long-term plan would be to try to reduce the amount of sweet foods you consume, including both foods and drinks with added sugar as well as those with artificial sweeteners.
What type of sugar is best?
Once your body has digested any type of sugar (white, brown, raw or coconut sugar and honey), your blood glucose levels will increase. Whichever type of sugar you choose to use try and limit how much and how often you use it.
I’ve been told to avoid all foods that are white, is this true?
This is often a blanket statement made to people newly diagnosed with diabetes. It is not very helpful. Lots of white foods fall within the five food groups of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and are recommended to be eaten every day. Healthy white foods include things like onions, potatoes, cauliflower, bananas, milk and yoghurt, fish, basmati rice and quinoa. A more helpful statement would be to limit highly processed white foods such as white bread, potato chips and refined breakfast cereals.
Are carbohydrates (carbs) bad and should I avoid them?
Carbohydrates are one of the three types of fuel in the food we eat (the other two are fats and protein). In your body, carbohydrates are digested into glucose, which provides fuel for your muscles and organs. If you restrict your intake of carbohydrate foods, you might start to feel tired because not enough energy is being supplied to the body. Carbohydrate foods also contain many other vitamins and minerals which are essential for the body like fibre, calcium, iron and vitamin B. Try and include nutritious carbohydrate foods in your diet every day, like wholegrain breads and cereals, pasta, sweet potato, fruit and dairy.
Bananas and grapes make my blood glucose levels go very high, so should I avoid them?
Bananas and grapes are types of fruit. It is recommended we eat two pieces of fruit every day for good health. If you find bananas and grapes make your blood glucose levels rise too high, but you enjoy them, limit your intake to no more than a small handful of grapes; or a small, firm banana in in one sitting. It is very easy to snack on grapes throughout the day without being conscious on how many you are consuming. Rest assured bananas and grapes are high in fibre, vitamin C and potassium making them a healthy choice to include everyday if you like.
Should I eat six smaller more frequent meals or three larger meals a day?
The short answer is, do what suits you and your diabetes. Some people prefer to eat smaller more frequent meals throughout the day because they have the time and ability to eat like this and they find their blood glucose levels respond better. If eating three main meals a day is what suits your appetite, then this is also fine. Either eating style should consist mostly of foods from the five food groups, grains and cereals, fruit, vegetables, meat and meat alternatives and dairy. The type of medication you take for your diabetes might influence how often and what time you need to eat. Discuss this with your doctor, credentialled diabetes educator or accredited practising dietitian if you are unsure.
When I look up ‘best diabetes diet’, I get lots of different options. Which is best?
There are lots of different diets available for people to follow. A ‘diet’ is simply the word used to describe someone’s eating habits. People with diabetes should follow an eating plan which includes a variety of foods from each of the core food groups and minimises ‘sometimes’ foods. Importantly, your way of eating (or ‘diet’) should not only be healthy but suit your eating preferences, tastes and culture; fit in with your lifestyle and be sustainable in the long-term. In general, the Mediterranean diet is a healthy way of eating for most people and a good starting point if you want to improve your eating habits. For more specific, individualised advice about how you can improve your eating habits, see an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Do I have to lose weight to better manage my diabetes?
Research shows you do not have to lose lots of weight to better manage your diabetes. Eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods is an effective long-term solution to improving your overall health. If you would like to lose weight, then it is best done with help from your doctor, an accredited practising dietitian and exercise physiologist. Aiming for small achievable weight loss goals of 5% - 10% of your body weight can have significant positive results on your diabetes. Remember to look at all area of wellbeing to manage your health, don’t just focus on weight.
What about diabetes and alcohol?
Most people can enjoy small amounts of alcohol. It is important to be aware that drinking too much alcohol can have some negative effects on your overall health and diabetes. Too much alcohol can cause weight gain, high and low blood glucose levels, and elevate cholesterol and blood pressure. If you choose to drink alcohol, then it is suggested you keep it to two standard drinks per day.
Do I still need to eat well if my blood glucose levels are at target?
Eating well is important for everyone to maintain good health and to reduce the risk of diabetes related complications. If your blood glucose levels are within target eating well is still important, as food from the five food groups provides our body with the essential nutrients it needs to function. Eating well also helps us maintain a healthy weight, improves energy levels and is good for mental health.
I feel like I eat well but my blood glucose levels are above target, why is that?
Blood glucose levels are influenced by many factors other than the food we eat. Diabetes management is different for everyone. It is normal for your diabetes management to change over time despite your best efforts to eat well. There is no such thing as having “failed” because your diabetes management changes, it is just the normal progression of the condition. Discuss with your doctor or credentialled diabetes educator on how to manage your diabetes in a way that works for you.
How can a dietitian assist me with my diabetes management? I don’t want to follow a meal plan or be told what I must eat.
Accredited Practising Dietitians are trained health professionals who have university qualifications in nutrition and dietetics. They love food and recognise that the food we eat is not only important for our physical health but also our sense of wellbeing. A diagnosis of diabetes doesn’t mean that you will have to give up your favourite foods or no longer be able to enjoy a meal at your favourite restaurant! Dietitians work with you to make dietary changes to achieve your health goals in a way that fits in with your food preferences and lifestyle.