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Guide to Diabetes

Food Groups: Carbohydrates
(Starchy and Sugary foods)

Carbohydrate is an important source of energy. All carbohydrates that you eat and drink are broken down into glucose. It is only food containing carbohydrate that will directly affect blood glucose levels. There are two type of carbohydrate: Starchy carbohydrates and Sugary carbohydrates.


1. Starchy carbohydrates

e.g. bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, chapattis, pastry, noodles, flour

Although carbohydrate foods are healthy and should be eaten at each of your meals, consider the following points outlined below.

  • Eating carbohydrate has the potential to increase your blood glucose levels. The larger the portion of carbohydrate, the higher your blood glucose levels will be. Equally, if you eat smaller amounts of carbohydrate, the effect on your blood glucose levels will be smaller.
  • Choosing starchy foods that are low glycaemic index (GI) may have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels as they are broken down slowly. They can also help to fill you up for longer. Examples of low GI foods include granary bread, oats, wholewheat cereals. See Glycaemic Index 
  • Blood glucose levels are normally better controlled if you spread your intake of carbohydrate over the day rather than saving it until the main meal of the day.
  • Having more carbohydrate than your body needs can lead to weight gain. If you are trying to lose weight, consider reducing your portion of the starchy food at meal times. Also consider whether you can use less spread, butter, oil as these just add extra calories to the carbohydrate.

Tips to cut down on fats added to starchy carbohydrate

Try to…

  • Boil, bake or dry roast potatoes rather than cooking in oil or fat
  • Boil rice or pasta without adding butter or oil whilst it is cooking or afterwards
  • Eat chapattis without adding butter or ghee on top
  • Make chapattis with boiling water or some warm milk instead of
  • oil and serve just before you are ready to eat. If this is not possible then use less oil/ghee when making your chapattis.
  • Opt for tomato based sauces rather than creamy/ cheese ones with pasta
  • Spread margarine or butter thinly on bread


2. Sugary carbohydrates

Sugary food and sugary drinks affect blood glucose differently. A sugary drink raises blood glucose levels more quickly than a cake because liquid is absorbed more quickly as it does not need to be digested. A cake takes longer to be digested and therefore the blood glucose rise would take longer. However it is still important to ensure that even the more slowly released sugary foods are eaten in moderation


Where possible try the following:

  • Choose diet or low calorie fizzy drinks as alternatives to sugary drinks such as coke and lemonade. (Remember even the low sugar versions can damage your teeth)
  • Choose no added sugar/diet/ light squashes
  • Choose unsweetened fruit juice and ensure you have no more than one small glass (150ml) per day alongside a meal
  • Eat less cakes, biscuits, pastries, sweets and chocolate. If you want something sweet, try sugar free jelly, light yoghurts, a couple of plain biscuits such as rich tea/morning coffee, fruit, low calorie hot chocolate and perhaps the occasional fun sized chocolate!
  • Indian sweets are high in sugar and fat, try to eat these only on special occasions e.g. burfi, jalebi, laddu, penda, gulab jaman.
  • Instead of using sugar, try sweeteners such as Sweetex, Hermestas, Canderal, Splenda or the supermarkets own brand if you need to sweeten drinks or cereal
  • Limit your use of gur/jaggery/sugar in cooking
  • Use light evaporated milk instead of ordinary evaporated or condensed milk

Can I have a treat?

There may be occasions where you would like to have a treat e.g. birthday cake or chocolate. That’s fine! If you know that you are going to have a treat there are three options available to you to reduce the effect on your blood glucose levels:

Option 1: Reduce your carbohydrate portion

Remember it is the total amount of carbohydrate (i.e. starchy + sugary food intake) and the type of carbohydrate that affects the blood glucose. So if you were to have a treat after your usual meal your total intake of carbohydrate would be higher. This is likely to push your blood glucose levels up. To minimize this next time you could reduce the portion of either your starchy food or your pudding portion or reduce portions of both to minimize the rise in blood glucose levels.


Option 2: Be active

If you are able to be active after having a treat or big meal this can help to minimise the rise in your blood glucose levels. This is because activity helps your insulin to work better at lowering your blood glucose levels. Of course this can also help you to manage your weight. 

Option 3Adjust your diabetes medication

If your diabetes is managed with insulin, some insulin regimes allow you flexability to change your dose to fit around your food choices. Speak to your GP, Practice Nurses or Diabetes team about this.


Bear in mind that many people with diabetes do not require snacks. If you are trying to lose weight, including snacks will make this harder. If you feel you would like to include snacks, then try to reduce the carbohydrate portion of your meal/s so that overall you are not eating more. This may help you to manage your weight. Another good option would be to speak to your healthcare professional about adjusting your diabetes medications to allow you to eat less.

Diabetic Products: We do not recommend diabetic products!

They are often expensive, high in fat and can have a laxative effect.
Instead, try to opt for low sugar, reduced sugar, and sugar free foods.

You could try sugar free jelly, light yoghurts, a couple of plain biscuits such as rich tea/morning coffee, fun/snack sized chocolates, fruit, low calorie hot chocolate.


Read more in this section 


Carbohydrate Portion List 2012

Some people with type 1 diabetes will be adjusting their insulin to the amount of carbohydrate they eat. If you need support with estimating your portions of carbohydrate, please see the portions list. Download Document