Does a diabetic diet exist?HC-One’s Head of Catering and Housekeeping Support Services, Mark Meacham, shares his knowledge and expertise about catering for older people living with diabetes as part of Diabetes Awareness Month 2023.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough or any insulin - the hormone released when carbohydrates are eaten. As all carbohydrates turn to glucose, glucose will build up in the blood if the body does not produce enough insulin, which can cause a range of health problems if the condition is not managed correctly.

Can diabetes be cured?

Managing diabetes correctly is important because, without proper management, it can lead to people having higher levels of fats in the blood which can lead to cardiovascular problems.

While there isn’t a cure for diabetes right now, there is plenty of support available to help people manage the condition.

Fortunately, insulin treatments are now more advanced and flexible, and a healthy balanced diet and weight management will help control blood sugar levels and reduce complications.

Do diabetic diets exist?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a special diabetic diet or diabetic foods, which the Diabetes Associations make clear.

Products labelled as ‘diabetic foods’ offer no benefit to older people living with diabetes. They can still affect blood glucose levels and often contain just as much fat and calories as the ordinary versions. They can also have a laxative effect and are often more expensive to purchase.

Instead of consuming diabetic foods, the Diabetes Procedure clearly advocates that a suitable diet is an important part of managing diabetes. As such, we make sure all of our residents at HC-One benefit from a varied diet containing all essential nutrients, ranging from proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential fats, fibre and adequate fluids.

How can we support older people living with diabetes?

It’s imperative for older people living with diabetes to maintain weight and appetite, whilst trying to sustain a well-balanced diet that does not have a detrimental effect on their blood sugars. I would always promote seeking advice from dieticians in the first instance.

Sometimes people living with diabetes struggle to stabilise blood sugars, in which case carb counting could be a solution. Goals to keep in mind include 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal or less, and 15 to 30 grams of carbs per snack or less. Here, it’s best to choose complex carbs, such as wholegrains which are slower-burning and higher nutrient starches, over refined or simple carbs.

What are your top tips to support a healthy diet and lifestyle for older people living with diabetes?

• There is no need to follow a sugar free or ‘diabetic’ diet.

• Limit sugary foods, which can be substituted easily for sugar free alternatives or sweeteners. Salt intake and fatty processed foods should also be reduced.

• Include a variety of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and dairy products in your diet. High fibre, low GI (slow releasing) and wholegrain carbohydrates should also be incorporated, while ‘fast burning’ carbohydrates like sweetened breakfast cereals, white bread and pastries should be eaten in moderation.

• Aim for at least two portions of fish per week, with at least one portion being oily fish (e.g. salmon, pilchards, sardines or mackerel) as they are beneficial for reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors.

• Keep hydrated regularly throughout the day, but remember as diabetes can cause higher levels of thirst, it’s still important to avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices as these raise blood sugar too quickly.

• Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, but is best consumed with food.

• Encourage an active lifestyle (where possible).

• Tailor meal patterns and the consumption of carbohydrates and alcohol to the needs of the individual. This is particularly important in a care home setting to help reduce the risk of hypoglycaemia in residents treated with sulphonylureas or insulin.

For more information on supporting a loved one living with diabetes, please visit or speak with your GP for further advice.