Eating a healthy diet

Here's a simple guide to make healthier eating easier.

Making healthy food choices will help you manage your weight, control your blood sugar and increase your energy levels. But sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what makes up a healthy diet. A healthy meal for people with diabetes looks a lot like a healthy meal for everyone else, and you can still eat a wide variety of foods. Sticking to your SmartPoints budget will guide you towards a healthier diet overall.

The Eatwell Guide and the Plate Model

The Eatwell Guide displays the types and proportions of foods that we need to have a well-balanced, varied and healthy diet. When you have Diabetes, or other health or allergy concerns, it is still a great guide but it’s worth speaking to a dietitian to help tailor the advice to you.

One way to help plan your meals and manage your portion sizes of carbohydrates is something called ‘the plate model.’ You start by dividing your plate in half by drawing an imaginary line down the middle. One half should be further divided, leaving a total of three sections. You then put different food groups on each section of the place to make sure you are eating the right proportions of the right things. The largest section should contain non-starchy vegetables, and the two smaller sections should contain protein and starchy vegetables and grains.

Remember that it’s also important to keep an eye on your total portion size. And that the plate model doesn’t have to represent each and every meal. It can represent an overview of your daily nutritional intake.

Non-starchy vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables include tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and all of the leafy green veggies.  This section of your plate should be the largest. You should try to eat between 3 and 5 portions of vegetables per day. Non-starchy vegetables are high in minerals, vitamins and fibre but low in carbohydrates and calories. They’re also zero SmartPoints, so you can eat as many as you like.

Grains and starchy vegetables

Grains and starchy vegetables (including bread, rice, beans, cereals and starchy vegetables like potatoes) tend to be high in carbohydrate. When you eat these your digestive system will break them down into sugar, causing your blood sugar levels to rise. It’s important to limit starchy foods to a quarter of your plate and to make sure that your carbohydrate intake is spread consistently across the day to avoid peaks and troughs in your blood sugar.

When it comes to cereals and grains, it’s a good idea to look at labels to ensure you’re making the best choices. Go for whole grain, high-fibre foods where possible as these contain vitamins, minerals and tend to help you stay full for longer with less of an effect on your blood sugars. In fact, it’s recommended that in the UK adults aim for 30g of fibre per day.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • Wild or brown rice
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal/porridge
  • Bulgar wheat

Protein

Protein includes meat, chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, and pulses. Pulses include beans, peas and lentils and are a low-fat alternative to meats. These foods are high in vitamins and minerals and help to keep you feeling full for longer. Lean proteins are low in SmartPoints, so having some protein t each meal can make your budget go further. As a general rule, one serving of protein should be about the same size as your fist, or should fit into the palm of your hand.

It’s recommended that you eat at least two portions of steamed or grilled oily fish per week. Examples of oily fish include salmon, tuna and mackerel as all of these contain high levels of omega 3 – a fatty acid which is thought to protect against cardiovascular disease.

Meats are a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. But some meats are healthier than others. Here’s some tips to help you make healthy choices when choosing your meats:

  1. Avoid processed meat Processed meats include parma ham, salami, pat­e and bacon. Try to keep these to a minimum as they tend to be high in salt and fat which can lead to increased blood pressure and heart disease.
  2. Choose lean, lower-fat options Ask your butcher for a lean cut. Before cooking it is also a good idea to try and remove all visible fat. Grill or bake foods to avoid using extra fat, but if you need to use oil then use as little as possible and always measure it, or use a sprayer to make your oil go further.
  3. Choose meats low in saturated fats Meats high in saturated fats can raise cholesterol and lead to heart disease. So it’s important to try and pick low-fat meats such as chicken or turkey with the skin removed. If you’re not sure which meats are low in saturated fat, let the SmartPoints value guide you; the lower the saturated fat, the lower the value. Also, if you’re using oil to cook then choose monounsaturated fat such as olive oil rather than butter

Dairy

You should aim to have 2-3 servings of milk or dairy products throughout the day. It’s important to remember that these can be high in fat so try to pick lower fat options such as skimmed milk where possible. But remember, some low fat products can be high in sugar so you keep an eye on the amount of added sugar. If you need to use a dairy alternative, such as soya milk or almond milk, choose the unsweetened variety.

More information on food groups, the plate model and portion size can be found at Diabetes UK.