Eating well with Diabetes: Caribbean and African diets

grilled fish with lemon

Many of the staple foods in Caribbean and African diets are good for your health. From leafy green vegetables to fresh mango and beans, there are many nutritious choices. If you have diabetes, you can work with your dietitian and your health care team to develop a plan that’s right for you. It will probably include a meal plan, physical activity, blood glucose monitoring, and perhaps medication. This article will focus on the dietary changes that you can make.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic 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 African 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 an African heritage.

There are many other risk factors for diabetes. Some can be managed while others are beyond your control. Read more about the risk factors for diabetes and diabetes prevention here.

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 balanced snacks when you are hungry. A balanced meal includes vegetables and fruits, protein foods and whole grains.

You can work with a dietitian to make a personalized meal plan. An example of a balanced meal plan may look like this:


  • ¾ of a cup of cooked hominy, oatmeal or porridge

  • ¼ cup of unsalted peanuts or almonds

  • 1 banana


  • ½ a cup of curried pigeon peas

  • ½ a cup of yams

  • 1 cup of salad with 1 tablespoon of oil-based salad dressing

  • 1 guava


  • ¾ of a cup of yogurt

  • ½ a cup of mango or soursop


  • 2 ½ oz of roasted chicken

  • 1 cup of collards

  • ½ a cup of green banana or cassava

  • 1 small whole grain roll, chapatti or other bread

  • 1 teaspoon of soft margarine


  • 1 oz of low-fat cheese

  • 4 whole grain crackers

  • Water with lemon or lime

Note: the portion sizes are just a guide and depend on many factors such as your level of activity and calorie needs. Work with your dietitian to find out how much food is right for you. 

Choose healthy fats

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

  • vegetable oils (like olive, canola, sunflower)

  • nuts

  • seeds

  • avocado

  • fatty fish such as salmon

Try to limit saturated fats such as butter, lard, shortening, palm oil and coconut oil. You can also lower saturated fat by choosing protein foods such as beans and peas, nuts and seeds, lean meat, fresh fish, skinless poultry and low-fat milk products. Choose lower fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling, barbequing or roasting. Cook with less oil.

Dietitians are familiar with diverse foods and food practices across cultures.  Speak to a dietitian who can support a balanced eating plan that reflects your lifestyle, food choices and eating patterns. 

Limit these higher fat meats:

  • Chicken wings

  • Sausage

  • Spareribs

  • Chicken, cow or pig feet

  • Cow tongue

  • Pig or ox tail

Cut back on fried snack foods such as plantain chips, mandazi, vetkoek, puff puff and dumplings. Pastries, tarts and baked goods should also be limited.

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 amount 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: okra, eggplant, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens such as callaloo, kale, collards, spinach and Swiss chard
Fruits: guava, sapodilla, pomegranate, oranges, mango, banana, papaya, pineapple, apples, melon and berries
Whole grains: oats, millet, teff, barley, brown rice, maize and whole wheat
Legumes: kidney beans, lentils, pigeon peas, chickpeas and cowpeas
Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, flax seeds and cashews
Limit sugary foods such as fruit juice and nectars, jam, candy, baked goods and pop. Talk to your dietitian about the type and amount of sweet foods that fit into your meal plan. 

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian is an important part of your diabetes care team. They will work with you to develop a personalized meal plan to help manage your blood sugars that includes the right amount of carbohydrates for you. They will also help you make heart healthy food choices like those higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

You can still enjoy your favourite foods and meals by following a balanced diet with the right amount of carbohydrates for you. To help manage your blood sugar levels, follow Canada’s Food Guide and your personalized meal plan. Choose higher fibre foods and heart healthy fats.

You may also be interested in:

Diabetes, Sugar and Sweet Foods
Diabetes and the Health Benefits of Fibre
What Are the Different Types of Sweeteners? Are They Safe?
What Can I Expect When I Go and See a Dietitian?
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – February 6, 2023

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