Healthy living plays a crucial role in managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This page will explain how adjusting your diet and regularly exercising can help people living with diabetes achieve greater stability with their blood glucose levels, reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, support the management of a good body weight and maintain a good quality of life. 

Although many factors are linked with developing type 2 diabetes, such as your age and family history, being overweight and having a poor lifestyle are strongly linked with type 2 diabetes. By taking preventative measures, such as adjusting your diet and taking regular exercise to lose weight, many people can avoid being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. 

Top tips for healthy eating

  • Eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Reduce fat, especially saturated (animal) fat
  • Reduce salt intake – the most effective way of doing this is to cut out as many processed foods as possible
  • Increase intake of omega 3 oils – try eating at least two servings of oily fish per week
  • Reduce alcohol intake
Several large jars filled with different types of pasta


The main type of nutrient in food that raises blood glucose levels is called carbohydrate, often referred to as ‘carbs’. Carbohydrates are found mainly in starchy and sugary foods. All carbohydrates, whether sugar or starch, processed or unprocessed, will affect blood glucose levels. 
Examples of foods containing carbohydrate are:

  • Starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta, noodles, rice and all foods made with flour.
  • Pulses such as lentils, peas and beans including baked beans, chickpeas and mushy peas.
  • Sugary foods including cakes, chocolates, jams, squashes and fizzy drinks.
  • Foods containing natural sugar like fruit (they contain a natural sugar called fructose), or milk (which has a natural sugar called lactose). 

Whilst these food may increase blood sugar levels, people with diabetes do not need to completely avoid them. Sugary foods and high-carbohydrate meals can still be eaten by anyone living with diabetes, so long as they are consumed in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Recent evidence suggests that unprocessed and wholegrain carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, wholegrain cereals) are healthier than potatoes and processed starches such as white bread, pasta and rice. Including some of these wholegrain starchy foods is a useful way of providing your body with the essential energy that it needs.

Carbohydrate counting

'Carb counting' is another popular system people living with diabetes use to monitor their carbohydrate consumption and achieve better blood glucose levels. Carb counting involves calculating the total amount of carbohydrate in a meal or snack and injecting insulin to match the amount eaten. Studies have shown that this system can improve blood glucose control and is a primary strategy for those with type 1 diabetes. Most diabetes services in the UK offer structured education programmes. If you would like to take part, see your diabetes healthcare professional.

What about sugar?

Everyone should keep their sugar consumption to a minimum in order to support a healthy diet and lifestyle. New guidelines recommend that the maximum recommended amount for adults is approximately 6 teaspoonfuls a day. If you are attempting to lose weight you should pay close attention to your daily sugar intake and potentially consider reducing it.

Sugar substitutes and sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners, commonly called artificial sweeteners, have little effect on blood glucose levels. There are now 11 non-nutritive sweeteners licensed for use in the UK including aspartame, cyclamate, saccharine, acesulfame-K, stevia and sucralose. There are other sweeteners known as nutritive sweeteners e.g. sorbitol and fructose. These nutritive sweeteners have some effect on blood glucose levels and provide calories so are not recommended for weight loss. Sorbitol and similar sugars have a laxative effect if consumed in quantity.

Diabetic foods

Products labelled as ‘suitable for diabetics’ are generally not deemed necessary to use as they are usually more expensive and can have a laxative effect. If you like ‘ordinary’ (not sugar free) chocolate or cake, small amounts can be included as part of a healthy diet. 

Two alcoholic drinks with two limes next to them.

Reduced alcohol intake

People with diabetes can drink alcohol, but it is important to be aware of potential hazards in beverages and how to drink safely. Many alcoholic drinks, especially ciders and alchopops, can contain large amounts of added sugar, which will raise blood glucose levels. It is advisable to monitor your intake and regularly check your blood sugar levels. 

Alcohol is also high in calories and can raise blood pressure, so keep drinking to a minimum. Recent UK Government guidelines state that there is no safe limit for alcohol, but that adults can lower risk of health issues by drinking no more than 14 units each week, spread out over 3 days or more. Here is a rough guide to alcohol units:

  • A pub measure of spirits (25ml): 1 unit
  • Half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider (4%): 1 unit
  • 1 small bottle (330ml) strong beer, lager or cider (5%): 1.5 units
  • 1 small bottle (330ml) extra strong beer, lager or cider (6-7%): 2 unit
  • 1 medium glass (150ml) wine: 2 units

The benefits of exercise

Unlike medication, exercise is low cost and side-effect free. Those  with diabetes who don’t exercise are three times more likely to have  poor diabetes control and more likely to suffer related complications. Exercising regularly improves sensitivity to a range of metabolic hormones and the body becomes better at transporting glucose. This happens because exercise stimulates the body’s muscles.

Exercise also reduces the level of fat in the body, particularly round  about the tummy area. It is thought that it is this mobilisation of the  body’s fat stores, by exercising, that might improve blood glucose control. Less glucose in the blood, because it’s now stored in the body’s muscle, means the blood flows better and some of the blood vessel complications, associated with diabetes, may be avoided.

People who exercise have lower blood pressure, lower heart rates and improved circulation. They also have lower cholesterol and less body fat, as well as higher rates of metabolism and consequently better weight control. They sleep better, have more energy, are less stressed/anxious and tend to be happier and more confident.

A woman tying her shoelaces whilst exercising.

Diabetes Wellness Events

Sharing experiences with like-minded people is a great way to feel supported in your efforts to attain a healthy balanced lifestyle and manage your diabetes effectively.

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, newly diagnosed or ‘old hat’, parent or carer, attending a Diabetes Wellness Event is a great way to meet new friends, share stories of living with diabetes, learn about all aspects of the condition and related health from a host of clinicians and healthcare professionals, in a relaxed and friendly environment.

With 15 years experience of bringing people together through the Diabetes Wellness Event programme, we know that it provides a fabulous support network and something for everyone.

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Each year we run events for people living with diabetes, ranging from educational workshops and wellness events, to fundraising marathons and group skydives. To find out more about our events and how we support people living with diabetes, please visit our Events Page.


Since 1998 we have provided over £12 million of funding for medical research programmes, with the aim of finding a cure for all types of diabetes. In 2004, we made a significant commitment to Islet Cell Research and Transplant, a programme which focuses on the role of islet cells in diabetes. Read more about our commitment to research by visiting our Research Page.


We rely on our amazing donors who raise the funds that help support people living with diabetes across the UK, as well as funding our vital research programmes. There are lots of ways to raise money to support people living with all forms of diabetes, there’s something for everyone! To discover more about fundraising with us, please visit our Fundraising Page