Food and Exercise

Food & Shopping Lists

Food management plays a major role in diabetes management. Healthy eating is highly encouraged as it helps manage blood glucose levels, maintains a healthy body weight, prevent or slow complications, and maintain a healthy blood pressure. It is important that people with diabetes do not think that their condition requires them to eat differently to everyone else. Eating should be an enjoyable experience and there is no specific meal preparation, cooking, or shopping for people with diabetes. If the person is having difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels, it is recommended they see a dietician and/or keep a food diary to identify necessary changes to their diet.


Recommendations for people with Diabetes

Healthy-eating recommendations for people with diabetes:

  • Spread meals evenly throughout the day and keep mealtimes consistent.
  • Make vegetables the main part of lunch and dinner – aim for at least half of these to be non-starchy vegetables.
  • Include long-acting carbohydrates at each meal.
  • Choose lean meats and alternatives (tofu, eggs, etc.)
  • Limit saturated fats: replace with unsaturated fats.
  • The person you are supporting does not need to cut our sweet treats, replace cakes, biscuits etc for sugar free options, within moderation.
  • Avoid using salt when cooking and avoid high-salt foods when possible.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to a maximum of two standard drinks per day.
  • Choose reduced-fat or low-fat dairy products.
  • If taking insulin or diabetes medication, snacks may be required between meals.


Long-acting carbohydrates are recommended as they help regulate sugar levels for longer periods of time. The higher the amount of carbohydrates in a person’s meal will have the greatest impact on blood sugar levels. Examples of long-acting carbs include the following:

  • Fruits such as apples, berries and oranges.
  • Vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers and cucumbers.
  • Grains including brown rice, oats and barley.
  • Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and nut butters.
  • Dairy such as milk, skim or low fat and sugar free yogurt.

When doing food shopping for someone you support with diabetes it is important to choose sugar free options where possible. This will help regulate the person’s blood glucose levels.

If the person you support enjoys having sugary items you should encourage a long-acting carb for after such as a biscuit, cereal bar, a piece of fruit or a cheese sandwich.


Regular exercise is important for everyone, but for those with diabetes it plays an important role in regulating blood levels. You should seek advice from a doctor to receive recommendations on safe levels of exercise for the person you support and utilise input from an exercise physio if needed. 

Exercise and Diabetes

The benefits of exercise for diabetics include but are not limited to:

  • Causes the body to be more sensitive to insulin, therefore making it more effective.
  • Reduces the bodies resistance to insulin.
  • Reduces blood sugar levels.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Helps to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease.

Some individuals may benefit from a comprehensive exercise plan informed by their diabetes team.

Before exercising:

Before commencing physical activity, ensure that the person under your care is feeling well and their blood sugar levels are within their normal range – an ideal suggested range is between 5-10mmol/L. If these conditions are not met, the person should not engage in exercise. If all is well, ensure that the person is carrying plenty of water to avoid dehydration, has a diabetes identification tag (particularly if they are on insulin or take diabetes medication), and has a sugary snack/drink on hand in case of hypoglycaemia. Lastly, make sure that the person is wearing comfortable and well-fitting shoes (a doctor or podiatrist can make recommendations specific to the person in your care).

During exercise:

The best practice is to follow the doctor’s recommendations on how long to exercise for, when to test blood sugar levels, and when to stop exercising. These things can vary depending on the individual, so it is recommended to seek advice from a healthcare professional. If unsure or the person is starting a new type, intensity, or duration of physical activity, it is recommended that blood sugar levels are checked every 20-30 minutes. Australians should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day to maintain in good health. This can be done all at once, or in shorter (10-15 min) intervals if needed.

After exercise:

  • Check blood sugar levels.
  • Check the person’s feet for calluses, cuts, bruises, or corns.
  • If required, ensure the person has a carbohydrate snack or meal.
  • Insulin or medication dosage may need to be altered following exercise, speak to the person’s healthcare team or follow their diabetes action plan to check for this.

Signs that the person should cease exercise:

  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations.
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or light-headed.
  • Symptoms of hypoglycaemia (see low blood sugar page for more details).
  • Leg cramps/pain.
  • Chest, neck, jaw, or abdominal pain/tightness.

If the person is experiencing symptoms of hypoglycaemia, have them stop exercising and treat this immediately. If symptoms above do not go away within fifteen minutes of interventions, seek urgent medical attention and consult their GP before exercising again.