Eating right

Everyone loves food! Food tastes good, food can be fun and food can make us feel good! But food’s also important for lots of other reasons too, like giving us important vitamins and minerals for our body to work properly, energy to do the things we like to do and making sure that we grow like we should.

Forget the fad diets and latest food craze, healthy eating is pretty straight forward. It’s as easy as choosing foods from the “eat most” section of the healthy food pyramid every day, with smaller amounts of “eat moderately” foods each day. The “eat only a little” foods can be enjoyed for treats or on special occasions, like parties.

To be healthy you need to eat a variety of food every day – This food pyramid is a good guide to making good choices

What’s the story with food?

Healthy eating for teenagers with diabetes is the same as what’s recommended for all teenagers. You don’t need special foods, so your friends, brothers and sisters should all be eating the same healthy foods as you, everyday! The difference is, when you’ve got diabetes, there’s a few extra things that you need to think about, like.

Carbs, proteins and fats

Food’s made up of three main fuels – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They all do something different in the body, but they’re all important.
Everyone needs the right amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats each day for good health.


Carbohydrate foods give your body energy. When you eat carbohydrate foods, they break down into sugar or glucose in your body. With the help of insulin, your body uses this glucose for energy.
Carbohydrate foods are things like:

  • Bread and bread rolls
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Dairy and soy milk, yoghurt, ice cream and custard
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and corn
  • Rice, pasta and noodles
  • Baked beans and lentils
  • Snack foods like biscuits, chips, muesli bars
  • Sugars and sugary foods
  • Takeaway foods like pizza, fries and burger

Carbohydrates & Diabetes

To look after blood glucose levels (BGLs) it’s important to eat carbohydrate foods at each meal and snack and try to balance these from day to day. Carbohydrate exchanges can help – exchanges (or serves) tell you how much carbohydrate is in different foods. Counting carbohydrate exchanges can help you balance the carbohydrate foods that you eat with your activity level and insulin dose.

The type of carbohydrate foods that you eat is also important. The best carbohydrates to choose every day are things like fruit, bread, cereals, milk, yoghurt, starchy vegetables, rice and pasta. Sugars and sugary foods are not the best carbohydrates to choose because they put a lot of glucose in to the blood stream and may cause high BGLs. Some carbohydrate foods give you longer lasting energy.

These foods are called low glycemic index foods and include things like grainy breads, raisin bread, fruit, baked beans, pasta, noodles, yoghurt and milk. These carbohydrates are good when you need longer lasting energy, like before sport. They are also a great choice before bed to help stop your BGLs dropping low overnight.


Protein foods are important for growth and development. Protein foods are things like:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Cheese

You need about 1-2 serves of protein foods each day for good health. One serve is about how much fits into the palm of your hand. Most protein foods don’t breakdown into glucose in your body, so they don’t raise BGLs. Unlike carbohydrate foods, you don’t need to count protein foods or eat these at each meal and snack.


Fats are important for good health, but you only need a small amount everyday. Fats are found in lots of different foods, especially:

  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Oil
  • Cream

Some fats are better for you than others. The best types to choose are the vegetable fats like poly or mono unsaturated margarine and oil. Fats don’t raise BGLs, but too much fat can lead to health problems like being overweight or having high cholesterol (a type of fat in the blood). Try not to eat too much of any type of fat.

The big picture

It’s important for everyone to make healthy food choices. When you have diabetes there’s some extra stuff you also need to think about to help look after diabetes and keep you healthy. It’s important to:

  • Eat your meals and snacks at the right time
  • Depending on the insulin you’re on, you might need to eat every 3 hours or so. If you forget to eat, skip meals or leave it too long until you eat, you might have a hypo (low BGL).
  • Eat carbohydrate foods at each meal and snack

You need to make sure that you eat some carbohydrate foods at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks like recess, afternoon tea and supper. If you’ve been told to follow carbohydrate exchanges, try and eat around the same number of exchanges at meals and snacks each day.

Choose foods low in fat

Too much fat can be bad for your health. Try to choose low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese. Watch out for foods that are high in added fats, like snack foods – crisps, biscuits, chocolates, cakes, donuts, as well as takeaways, fatty meats and fried foods.

Watch out for foods that are high in sugar

Foods high in sugar like regular soft drinks, cordials and lollies can cause BGLs to go too high. Make sure that you use diet / low joule soft drinks and cordials and try to keep other high sugar foods for special occasions. Remember that foods high in sugar can be used to treat a hypo.

Always carry hypo foods

Sometimes your BGLs can drop too low and you might have a hypo. To treat a hypo, you need to quickly eat or drink something sweet and then eat something else straight away to stop the hypo from coming back. Make sure that you always have hypo foods like juice or jellybeans with you, plus follow up food like plain biscuits or a muesli bar to stop you from dropping low again.


Depending on the insulin that you’re on, you might need snacks like recess, afternoon tea and supper to keep BGLs mostly in the normal range. Try some of these snack ideas:

  • Piece of fresh fruit eg. apple, pear, banana, orange
  • Chopped fruit – rockmelon, pineapple, honeydew
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Grapes or cherries
  • Canned fruit snack pack eg. two fruits, peaches, pears, fruit salad
  • Dried fruit boxes eg. sultanas, fruit salad, sultanas and apricots
  • Low fat yoghurt or low fat dairy desserts
  • Corn on the cob
  • Pikelets or scones/ Crumpets or English muffins
  • Fruit loaf, fruit bun or hot cross buns
  • Crispbread or rice cakes with low fat toppings e.g. tomato, low fat cheese
  • Popcorn
  • Rice crackers with low fat diet
  • Rice crisps
  • Low fat fruit bars

Food for sport

When you’re active you usually find that you need some extra carbohydrate foods to top up your energy levels and stop you having a hypo.
You might need extra carbohydrate foods before, during and after exercise. One extra carbohydrate exchange for every 30-40 minutes of exercise is a good guide. So don’t forget to throw in some extra carbohydrate foods.

Hypos can happen for 12-16 hours after you stop exercising, so keep an eye on your BGLs and top up your carbs if you need to. If you find that sport always drops your BGLs, talk to your diabetes team about changes you can make to your insulin dose that might help.
Try these carbohydrates before sport :

  • A piece of fruit
  • A small flavoured milk
  • A muesli bar
  • A fruit snack pack
  • A crumpet or slice of raisin toast
  • A ‘fun size’ chocolate bar

To top up during sport, try:

  • A 100% fruit juice popper
  • A cup of sports drink
  • A piece of fruit eg. banana, orange

Don’t forget to pack a hypo kit with hypo foods for sport.

Food on the run

Lots of takeaway foods can be high in fat and sugar. To be healthy, it’s a good idea not to eat takeaways any more than once a week. When you choose takeaways, it’s important to try and make the healthiest choices, look for lower fat takeaways like:

  • Lean meat or chicken salad roll / wrap
  • Doner kebab with lots of salad
  • Plain hamburger with lots of salad
  • A grilled chicken burger with lots of salad
  • Baked potato (skip the butter)
  • Toasted sandwich
  • Corn cob
  • Sushi roll
  • Vegie pizza or gourmet pizza
  • Toasted sandwich or focaccia
  • Small bowl of pasta with tomato based sauce
  • Stir fried vegetables with noodles or plain rice
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