Shopping tips for diabetics..

by Deborah Condon

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a healthy and balanced diet can help you to control the condition more effectively. Diabetics need to make the right choices when shopping for food. However, this does not need to be a complicated ordeal of label analysis and sugar content measurements - in fact, the ideal shopping list for people with diabetes is very much the same as for anyone trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

According to Paula Mee, food and nutrition manager with Superquinn, anyone, whether they have diabetes or not, can benefit from the 'diabetes shopping list'.

"Like most diseases, diabetes is multi-factorial. Because diet is only one factor, we cannot say for definite that those who have good diets will never develop it. But it is true to say that if people eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay within the healthy weight range for their height, they are probably less likely to develop diabetes", explained Ms Mee.

Fresh foods

Practically speaking, the ideal shopping list for a person with any type of diabetes contains more fresh foods, that are low in fat and sugar - a completely sugar-free diet is not necessary, however you do need to cut down. Food should also be high in the right type of carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

So what kind of foods should you be looking out for in the supermarket? As with any healthy diet, fruit and vegetables are a must and all types are suitable for your diet. But as fruit is a natural source of sugar, spread your portions out during the day, i.e. do not eat three pieces of fruit at the same time.

At the salad bar or deli, watch out for foods containing mayonnaise, Ms Mee advises. Full-fat mayonnaise has up to 80% fat and is therefore high in calories, so if you are watching your weight, avoid foods such as coleslaw and potato salad. Even low-fat mayonnaise should be used sparingly. If possible, opt for salads in vinaigrette dressing instead.


At the bakery, chose wholemeal and wholegrain bread whenever possible - the best choices are heavy grain breads such as granary. Pitta bread and chapattis are also good choices. Rather than sugar or honey-coated buns or biscuits, choose English muffins, plain pancakes, fruit loaf or banana cake.

At the butcher, always choose lean meats. Opt for lower fat pork sausages or try chicken sausages, which are also lower in fat. Pates are quite high in fat, so choose a reduced fat pate.

General tips for shopping

Some other tips to remember when shopping are:

-Use low or reduced sugar jelly

-Ordinary whole fruit, no added sugar jams and marmalades can be consumed, but in very small amounts

-Peanuts and most other types of nuts are a good source of monounsaturated fats and therefore should be included in your diet. However this should only be occasionally if you are watching your weight, as they are high in calories. Consider popcorn as an alternative - it contains less fat and calories.

-Avoid drinking high sugar drinks and do not add sugar to tea/coffee. Use sugar-free/low sugar or diet minerals where possible.

-Artificial sweeteners, such as Canderal and Spenda, can be used in food and drink. Spenda can also be used when cooking/baking

-Limit salt intake, as too much salt may increase your blood pressure. Salt is used as a preservative in processed foods, so check labels for low-salt varieties. Use garlic, herbs and spices instead of salt whenever you can.

According to Ms Mee, people should not spend their money on 'special diabetic products', such as 'diabetic chocolate'.

"A person with diabetes can eat the same type of chocolate as the rest of us - they simply need to watch the amount. A diabetic should only eat a small amount of chocolate at a time. They do not need to be spending money on these types of products, which are inevitably more expensive", she said.

Ms Mee points out that 'special diabetic foods' usually contain too much fat and unhelpful ingredients such as sorbitol, a sugar substitute.

"Sorbitol can raise your blood sugar and when it eaten in large amounts, one of the side effects of it is that it acts as a laxative. So you may have a person who believes that because this is a 'special diabetic' product, they can eat more of it, which can result in this side-effect", she explained.

Different fats

As weight control is so important in both the prevention and management of diabetes, cutting down on fat is key, however not all fats are the same.

So-called 'good' fats are monounsaturated fatty acids, which are mainly found in vegetable oils, such as olive and peanut oils. Polyunsaturated fats are also good and are found mainly in vegetable oils such as sunflower and flaxseed oils. These are also the same oils found in oily fish (known as the omega 3 fats) and they help prevent blood clotting.

Fats which should be limited are saturated fatty acids. These are found primarily in animal sources such as meat, poultry and dairy products, like milk, cream and some cheeses and butter. Some vegetable oils are also saturated, such as coconut oil. These fats encourage cholesterol to deposit on the artery walls.

But what about carbohydrates? When you are trying to lose weight or control diabetes, carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index (GI) are better for you. GI ranks carbohydrate foods on how they affect the blood sugar levels, measuring how much your blood sugar will increase two to three hours after eating. The GI scale ranks foods on a scale of one to 100.

Low GI foods give a smaller rise in blood sugar, helping to control established diabetes. A low GI diet can also help a person to lose weight and can improve the body's sensitivity to insulin. Low GI foods include apples, oranges, beans, spaghetti, porridge, All Bran, skimmed milk and diet yoghurts.

Medium GI foods, which should be bought in moderate amounts, include bananas, honey, jam, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix and ice-cream. While high GI foods, which should only be used sparingly, include watermelon, white bread, rice cakes, cornflakes, Rice Krispies, potatoes and jelly beans.


So, finally to alcohol. Research shows that if your diabetes is under control, a moderate amount of alcohol has only a minimal effect on blood sugar. However alcohol has a lot of calories and very few nutrients. You should consult your doctor about how much alcohol you can have with meals, as this may depend on the type of medication you are on. Never drink on an empty stomach and drink slowly.

A moderate amount is defined as no more than two alcoholic drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women. One drink equals a half a pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a 25ml shot of whiskey. If your blood sugar is not under control or you have diabetes-related complications, alcohol should be avoided.

The key, according to Ms Mee, is quantity, both when purchasing and eating food. Buy large amounts of fresh, non processed, low GI foods and avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, but little else. When eating, keep an eye on your blood sugar and try to balance your meals with some exercise.