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 dietitian and 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. The information in this article will tell you which of your favourite traditional foods fit into a healthy diet and which ones to have in moderation to help manage your diabetes.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body does not respond to 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. People of South Asian descent are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes due to a combination of diet, lifestyle and genetics.

You can read about the risk factors for diabetes here

What to eat and when if you have diabetes

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 that include plenty of vegetables and fruits, high protein foods and whole grains. 

You can work with a 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
  • ½ cup of milk


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

Choose healthy fats to help manage diabetes

In addition to eating a variety of foods, 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, trout and mackerel

Try to limit saturated fats such as ghee, butter, cream, lard, shortening or coconut oil. Use healthier oils such as vegetable oil, canola oil and grapeseed oil instead. You can also lower saturated fat by choosing lean meat, skinless poultry and low-fat milk products. Use less fat in your cooking or choose lower fat cooking methods such as steaming, grilling, stir-frying or roasting.

Limit deep fried foods  that are high in fat or make lower fat versions of the following (brushing with oil and baking instead):

  • Pakoras
  • Samosas
  • Bhaji
  • Medu vada
  • Chips: banana, plantain, potato, jackfruit or tapioca
  • Murukku
  • Grill or microwave pappadums instead of frying
  • Reserve sweets such as ladoo, jalebi, adhirasam and gulab jamoon for special occasions

Choosing carbohydrates to help manage diabetes

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: whole grains such as whole wheat, besan, brown rice, millet or sorghum. Their flours can be used to make roti, dosa and appam. Brown rice can be used to make puttu and venpongal.
  • Legumes: Lentils, dried beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, pistachios

Limit foods that have a lot of fat and sugar such as:

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

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, eat a variety of foods according to Canada’s Food Guide and your personal meal plan. Choose more high fibre foods and healthier types of fat.

You may also be interested in:

Eating well with Diabetes: North India and Pakistan diets
Tips for healthy snacking for people with diabetes
Diabetes and Healthy Meal Planning
Facts on Fat

Last Update – September 16, 2019

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