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I am a diabetic –what I should take and what should I avoid ?

Posted on: 12 Jan 2023

By: Dr Vinoth Kumar

Published in:

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When we talk about diet plan for diabetics, we can’t be restricting ourselves to a particular meal plan as every region and religion has its own different dietary pattern.

Particularly in a country like India where we have diverse cultural and regional food items it is very important to understand the diet to be consumed based on the 5 major components of food – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fruits, and vegetables.

What we need to understand is

what should be taken and what to be avoided.

-how much should be consumed and beyond what is excess.

Let us quickly have an overview of how to consume the major components of food from the diabetic standpoint.

CARBOHYDRATE: (restrict to less than 50% of the total calories)

A normal person usually needs 2000-2200 calories/ per day. Diabetic patient needs to restrict calories to less than 1800 calories per day.

In that only up to 50% should be carbohydrates. Overweight or obese patients who want to loose weight may cut down the carbohydrates to 25% or less according to their weight and doctor’s advice.

More of – Try to consume more of complex carbohydrates which are present in whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, oats, millets like finger millet, pearl millet, barley, quinoa etc.

Less of- Restrict simple carbohydrates like refined flour, polished white rice, white bread, sugar etc.

PROTIENS: (restrict to less than 10-15% of total calories)

Overall plant proteins are better for health compared to animal proteins. But in people with low haemoglobin, iron from animal products are better absorbed and is preferred.

Plant protein:

Daily diet should include-

Lentils like Black gram (urad dal), green gram (moong dal), red gram (masoor dhal),split bengal gram, yellow pigeon peas(Toor dhal), kidney beans(Rajma) , chickpeas, green peas, black eyed peas.

Animal protein-

More of—-To be preferred-Oily sea fish types-Atlantic salmon, Sardines, Herring, Tuna and mackerel and egg white, lean meat without skin

Less of—–To be restricted- red meat , processed meat

It is always better to eat grilled/ baked/ boiled/ steamed meat than deep fried items

FATS: (less than 30-35% of total calories)

Restrict the following food items which contain more saturated fats_

Plant fat- restrict coconut oil, palm oil or vanaspathi (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils)

Animal fat- Restrict the usage of ghee, butter, cheese, whole milk and whole milk yogurt

Use skimmed milk or 1% fat milk in limited quantities. Cheese may be preferred to butter. Panner may be preferred to cheese. Tofu is preferred over panner

Lean meat is preferred over red meat and processed meat

Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats (MUFA &PUFA) which are present in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado oil, ,almond oil ,pea nut oil and oily sea fish.


Most of the vegetables contain carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins

Which vegetables?

Avoid starchy  vegetables like-potatoes, yam, turnip, green peas ,pumpkin ,corn

Use less starchy vegetables like- Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum, beetroots, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, carrot ,sprouts

1 serving = half cup of cooked vegetables or full cup of uncooked vegetables =25-30cal


Restrict – High calorie fruits like sapota, grapes, watermelons, mango

Prefer – fruits like guava, apple, pomegranate-small, lemon, oranges

Restrict tender coconut water and avoid fruit juices. Always take the fruit with skin and pulp if possible

1 serving = one small or medium size of fruit or ½ cup of cut fruits -60 cal


Avoid  = sport drinks, sweetened carbonated drinks, sweetened fruit juices, energy drinks

Prefer – butter milk

Coffee -Prefer filtered  or instant coffee and avoid unfiltered coffee

Tea -Prefer green tea followed by black tea. Drinking 6-8 cups of green tea per day is protective for heart. Try to avoid whole milk and replace it with skimmed or low-fat milk. Milk component of the tea should be minimised when more than 2 cups of tea is consumed per day.


Walnuts, pistachios, almonds, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, cashew nuts, flax seeds chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds contain adequate amount of fibre, vitamins, micro and macro nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. You can take up to 25-30 gm of nuts per day which may be roughly equal to the size of an adult palm. It also should be included in the calorie intake calculation per day to avoid excess calories.


To be avoided – Vanaspati

To be restricted -Ghee, coconut oil, palm oil

To be preferred-cold pressed peanut oil, sesame oil, cold pressed sunflower oil, Extra virgin olive oil, almond oil, and avocado oil.

It is not only the type of oil that matters but also the type of cooking method used is very important. Different oils have different smoking points ( for a detailed discussion on cooking oils and smoking point look into my write up on cooking oils)


What not to eat??

Avoid all type of sweets, white sugar, jaggery, honey

Avoid cookies, pastries, cakes, desserts, candies

What to eat??

Boiled and less salted chick peas, black eyed peas, green gram, white peas or green salad may be taken as snack between 4-5 pm .These help to supress the appetite during the dinner time due to their high fibre content and at the same time sugars will not spike

How to eat ??

Frequent small meals are always better than few large meals. Use complex carbohydrates with plant proteins and  lot of vegetables, seeds, nut and fruits with eggs and sea fish. Cook with minimal amount oil which is not reheated. Prefer boiled ,baked  and roasted items than deep fried items. Less salt and without simple sugar.

Simple methods for portion understanding-

1 serving of meat-palm of your hand

½ cup cooked  rice – tennis ball size