Eating well with Diabetes: South Indian and Sri Lankan diets

Many staple foods in the South Indian diet are good for your health. From fresh guava to lentils to vegetarian cuisine, there are lots of nutrient-rich choices. However, deep fried items, high-fat foods and refined flour are also common and should be limited.

If you have diabetes, you can work with your healthcare team to develop a plan that is right for you. It will likely include exercise, a meal plan, blood sugar monitoring and perhaps medication. This article will focus on the dietary changes that you can make. Diabetes information in other languages! Call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 to get practical tips and information on managing diabetes in: Gujrati, Pakistani, Punjabi and Urdu. This information will tell you which of your favourite traditional foods fit into a healthy diet and which should be limited to help you manage diabetes.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body does not use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas.

When the body is working well, insulin helps carry sugar (glucose) from your blood to your cells where it is used for energy. If you have diabetes, your body's cells do not receive enough glucose, so it stays in your blood. High blood glucose (or high blood sugar) can lead to heart, kidney, vision and blood vessel problems.

Who has a higher risk of diabetes?

Some ethnic groups in Canada have a higher risk of getting diabetes, including people of South Asian descent. There are certain genes that affect insulin function. Having these genes increases your risk of diabetes. These genes are commonly found in high risk populations such as people with South Asian heritage.

What to eat…and when

If you have diabetes, it is important to eat every 4 to 6 hours to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Try to have three daily meals at regular times and have healthy snacks when you are hungry. A balanced meal has foods from at least 3 of the 4 food groups:

  1. Vegetables and Fruit
  2. Grain Products
  3. Milk and Alternatives
  4. Meat and Alternatives

You can work with a Registered Dietitian to make a personal meal plan.  An example of a healthy meal plan may look like this:


  • 2 small whole wheat dosas
  • ¼ cup of savoury chutney (try dhal chutney, coriander mint chutney or onion tomato chutney instead of coconut chutney)
  • 1 cup of sambhar
  • ½ cup of papaya
  • Tea, coffee or water (without sugar/honey)


  • 1 small orange
  • ¾ cup of diluted buttermilk


  • ½ cup of mung dal (pacha payiru)
  • ½ cup of rasam ½ cup rasam
  • 1 cup of cauliflower or broccoli
  • ½ cup of rice (try brown rice)
  • 1 orange
  • ¾ cup of low-fat yogurt


  • 2 tsp of peanut butter on 1 whole wheat roti
  • ½ cup of berries


  • ¾ cup of vegetable pilau
  • ½ cup of masoor dal (paasi paruppu)
  • 1 cup of poriyal with minimal oil (use non-starchy vegetables such as green beans, plantain stem/flower, cabbage, snake gourd, okra, eggplant or bitter gourd)
  • 1 small whole wheat roti/chappati


  • ¾ cup of low-fat yogurt
  • 1 apple

Choosing healthy fats

In addition to the four food groups, it is also important to include healthy fats in your diet.  People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease so choosing better fats is important. Healthy fats are found in:

  • oils (olive, canola, sunflower)
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • avocado
  • oily fish such as salmon.

Try to limit saturated fats such as ghee, butter, cream, lard, shortening or coconut oil. You can also lower saturated fat by choosing lean meat, skinless poultry and low-fat milk products. Choose lower fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling, barbequing or roasting.

Limit foods that are high in fat such as:

  • Sweets such as ladoo, jalebi, adhirasam, gulab jamoon and so on
  • Coconut
  • Pakoras
  • Samosas
  • Bhaji
  • Medu vada
  • Chips: banana, plantain, potato, jackfruit or tapioca
  • Murukku
  • Pappadums

Choosing carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is a word for foods that have starch, sugar and fibre. The type and amount of carbohydrate you eat and when you eat it is important. Having too much carbohydrate in a meal can cause your blood sugar to go too high. Your personal meal plan will have the right levels of carbohydrate for you. 

If you have diabetes, choose more high-fibre foods. A type of fibre called soluble fibre may help control blood sugar levels. Try these high-fibre foods:

  • Vegetables: snake gourd, plantain, cauliflower, spinach, corn, sweet potato, green beans, broccoli, mustard greens, carrots
  • Fruits: plantain, apple, banana, berries, mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, melon, pomegranate
  • Grains: Use whole grain wheat, besan, brown rice, millet or sorghum to make roti, dosa, adai, appam, puttu, uppuma and venpongal
  • Legumes: Lentils, dried beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, pistachios

Limit foods such as:

  • Jam, sugar, jaggery and honey
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Candy
  • Baked goods
  • Payasam
  • Halwa, ladoo, jilebi, and other sweets

These foods are mostly fat and sugar. They can make your blood sugar levels go too high. Talk to your dietitian about the type and amount of sweet foods that can fit into your meal plan.

Bottom line

By making small changes to traditional recipes, you can still enjoy your favourite foods. To help manage your blood sugar levels, follow Canada’s Food Guide and your personal meal plan. Choose more high fibre foods and the right types of fat.     

If you have questions about diabetes, call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian for FREE at 1-877-510-510-2.

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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