The Composition of Foods

Foods have energy and non-energy components.

Our cells need energy (calories) to function. The energy components of food include:

The non-energy components include:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and the sole fuel for the brain.

They comprise all the sugars in food and directly impact the level of sugar in the blood (glycemia). That’s why it’s so important to closely monitor the amounts you eat.

A person with diabetes must consider these three things when eating carbohydrates:

  • the amount
  • when carbohydrates are consumed during the day (their distribution)
  • the nutritional value of carbohydrate-containing foods

People with diabetes should choose nutritionally rich sources of carbohydrates (high in vitamins, minerals and fibre).

Visit our section on carbohydrates.

Proteins

Proteins are necessary for building, repairing and renewing all the organs of the body.

There are two types of proteins:

  1. Animal-based proteins: meat, fish, offal (organ meats), milk products and eggs
  2. Vegetable-based proteins: legumes and pulses, nuts, seeds, peanut and nut butters and tofu

Protein has little effect on blood sugar and can help control appetite because of its satiating effect (i.e., it makes you feel full).

Visit our section on proteins.

Fats

Fats, also called lipids, play a role in the transport of certain vitamins and provide the body with essential fatty acids.

Fats are found in:

  • meat and cured meats (deli meats)
  • poultry skin
  • fried foods
  • cheese
  • nuts and seeds
  • butter and oils
  • sauces, salad dressings (vinaigrettes), mayonnaise
  • pastries
  • chocolate
  • etc.

When eaten in excess, fats, particularly saturated and trans fats, can lead to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity.

Visit our section on fats.

Vitamins and minerals

The daily required amounts of vitamins and minerals is low but essential to life.

The body’s daily need for vitamins and minerals is generally satisfied by a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from each food group.

No single food contains all essential vitamins and minerals in sufficient amounts to meet the body’s needs. That is why it is vital to eat different foods each day.

A multivitamin supplement is normally not necessary, except for vitamin D (especially for adults over 50) and folic acid for women who might become pregnant. A supplement might be necessary for people with an identified deficiency, those with special needs or who do not eat enough.

Dietary fibre

Dietary fibre is a vegetable element not digested by the body. It helps promote intestinal regularity. It also makes you feel full.

When eaten in large amounts, certain types of fibre help slow the absorption of sugars and control the level of cholesterol in the blood.

Dietary fibre is found in:

  • whole-grain foods
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • legumes and pulses
  • nuts
  • seeds

Visit our section on dietary fibre.

 

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Team of Health Care Professionals

June 2014 (updated on July 2018)

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