popular local food to avoid

Popular Local Foods to Avoid for People with Diabetes

You should avoid certain types of food if you've been diagnosed with high blood sugar or are insulin dependent. Find out what you should cut down on especially when it comes to local food in Singapore.

by Grace Koh

Our local food culture is one of the few things that makes Singapore incredibly unique. From chilli crab, chicken rice, to char kway teow, the options are nearly endless. But as we get older, we need to start prioritising our health and practice mindfulness when it comes to the food we eat regularly, even if that means cutting down on some of our favourite local delicacies. If you or a loved one has diabetes, this would be especially important for you. 

Here’s everything you need to know about a diet for a diabetic individual. 

What is diabetes? 

When you hear the word ‘diabetes’, the first thing that often comes to mind is having too much sugar in your body. This may be true, but there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. 

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that occurs when your body is unable to produce insulin or fails to use insulin effectively. This natural hormone is responsible for turning blood glucose into energy from the food we eat, which is vital in the way we function in our daily lives. When our body fails to produce insulin or develops insulin resistance, it causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of being distributed as stored energy to the cells in our body. 

Having diabetes as a result of high glucose levels can result in grave effects on one’s physical health, causing a range of health problems. Some of the most common early signs of this disease include: 

  • Frequent urination 
  • Increased thirst 
  • Sudden weight loss 
  • Frequent cravings and hunger 
  • Irritability 
  • Fatigue 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Dry mouth and skin 

Check out this article to learn more about diabetes in greater detail ranging from diabetes symptoms, types, common causes, as well as prevention. 

Getting the right care for diabetes

Homage Care Professionals go through extensive training and are equipped to provide care for people diagnosed with different conditions, including diabetes.

Some of our services include:

Our Care Advisors can come up with a personalised care plan for your loved ones. Simply fill up this form to schedule a free consultation.

The war on diabetes in Singapore 

A 2015 report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) revealed that Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetic patients among developed nations. To make matters worse, it was reported in 2016 that over 400,000 Singapore are living with diabetes. If left unchecked, the numbers are only projected to increase tremendously to one million people by 2050. Among these figures, 29.1 per cent of these Singaporeans between 60 and 69 years old currently have diabetes as well. 

With these alarming figures in mind, the War on Diabetes was declared by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2016 as a nationwide effort to prevent and manage diabetes in Singapore. One of the most unique health recommendations for persons with diabetes is to consume lower glycemic index (GI) foods to help control blood glucose levels in the body. 

But how does the glycemic index work in the first place?

The Glycaemic Index (GI), explained 

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you may have heard the term, ‘glycaemic index’ from your doctor. This Glycaemic Index (GI) is a ranking system that measures how quickly your blood glucose levels rise in the time after eating a single food. This is commonly used to rank carbohydrate foods, which uses a scale between 1 to 100. The smaller the value, the lesser impact the food has on your blood sugar. 

The index is categorised from low to high in the following order: 

  • Low GI foods: <55
  • Medium GI foods: 56 to 69 
  • High GI foods: >70 

Ideally, low glycemic foods are the preferred choice as they release glucose slowly into the bloodstream so that our bodies don’t demand too much insulin secretion at once. Since these foods are absorbed and digested at a much slower rate, this regulates insulin secretion and ultimately decreases the risk of diabetes. 

On the other hand, high GI foods are quickly absorbed and digested, resulting in rapid and repeated spikes in blood sugar in the body, which can be even more harmful to existing diabetic patients. 

Here are some common factors that influence the glycaemic index levels: 

Cooking method

The cooking techniques and preparation can increase the digestibility of food. The longer you cook foods like rice or pasta, the greater the digestibility of starch content, thus an increase in the GI of that food. 

Amount of processing done

Grinding, mixing, refining, and other methods in which food is processed can raise the GI of a particular type of food. Processed foods have a higher GI than their unprocessed equivalents as they are digested more easily, giving rise to higher levels of blood glucose in the body. 

Nutrient composition

Excessive consumption of foods high in carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar levels. When you regularly incorporate other macronutrients into your diet like fat or protein, it can help slow down digestion and reduce the glycemic response to a meal. 

The level of ripeness

This is especially relevant for fruits and vegetables. The more ripe a certain food is, the higher its sugar content; just like a banana, for instance. When fruits begin to ripen, the complex carbs of the fruit start to break down into sugars, leading to higher GI levels. 

While taking note of the GI ranking in foods is important for diabetic patients, it is also useful to note that this index was created with a primary focus on Western foods, as opposed to Asian cuisine. 

But here’s the good news: a recent database of GI of non-western foods has just been published this year with over 900 food items listed. Alongside Singapore, the list also includes foods from other non-Western nations such as The Philippines, Thailand, China, Japan, and Sri Lanka. The information gathered was a result of 159 separate studies conducted from 2000 to 2020 that involve diabetes, among many other conditions. 

Based on the published database, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular local Singaporean dishes to avoid if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood sugar or are insulin-dependent. 

The glycaemic index of popular local foods:

Low GI Foods (<55)GIMedium GI Foods
(56 to 69)
GIHigh GI (>70)GI
Bee Hoon35Char Siew Bao (Pork)66Lo Mai Gai106
Pandan Waffle46Nasi Lemak66Mee Goreng91
You Tiao55Chinese Steamed White Bun58Mee Siam81
Kaya Butter Toast49Dou Sha Bao (Red Bean Paste Steamed Buns)58Char Kway Teow80
Basmati Rice55Chicken Curry Puff92
Curry Puff41Red Bean Pau91
Plain Wholegrain Biscuits54Chinese Carrot Cake77
Chee Cheong Fun81
Rice Idli85
Rice Dosa76
White Bread100


Local foods to avoid if you have diabetes 

Hawker food with high GI to avoid 

Unfortunately, local dishes like lo mai gai, mee siam, and mee goreng are just some of the few hawker staples with excessively high GI levels. Such foods are known to have high starch content and highly processed elements like rice flour, which is one of the most common indicators of high GI foods. You may find it slightly challenging to find dishes with a low GI at hawkers, considering how noodles and rice are the main part of nearly every dish, especially in Chinese and Malay Cuisine. 

However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite hawker dishes entirely. If you’re looking to incorporate healthy carbs into your diet, try asking for brown rice if it’s available. For Chinese meals, your best bet is to incorporate vegetables into your meal with a balanced portion of meat. 

Supermarket food with a high GI to avoid

Grocery items like bread and rice are common staples that you can find in most Singaporean households. As harmless as they may be, these foods actually rank rather high on the glycaemic index and actively contribute to higher blood glucose levels due to their processed nature and starch content. 

Here are some common grocery staples with a high GI to cut back on: 

  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
  • Bread: Plain white bread, wholemeal, baguette, bagels
  • Rice: White, jasmine, glutinous, calrose
  • Cereals: Rice Krispies, Cornflakes 
  • Fruit: Watermelon, dried dates
  • Beverages: Sports drinks, sparkling or carbonated drinks 
  • Snacks: Jelly beans, pretzels, chips, corn thins, rice crackers

When shopping at the supermarket, try to stick to the least processed food possible and those with less refined sugars. Sugar can also take several other forms on a food item’s ingredients list. Take the time to look for other names like glucose, honey, fructose, dextrose, syrups, lactose, maltose, treacle, and hydrolysed starch. On top of that, certain packaged foods have the glycemic index labelled on them as well, so you might want to keep an eye out for that.

Whether it’s to satisfy your cravings or for convenience, we know it’s impossible to eliminate some of these hawker foods and grocery staples from your diet. But for those who are diagnosed with diabetes, it is essential to understand how your food selection and dietary behaviours can affect your blood glucose levels. 

While everything in moderation is acceptable, it is still best to save sugary eats for an occasional treat and to have them in smaller portions. 

Healthy food alternatives for people with diabetes 

Now that you’re aware of the types of foods you should avoid for a low-glycemic diet, here are some healthy alternatives, proving that you don’t have to give up all your local favourites to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Rice DishesNoodlesSnacks
Nasi PadangBan MianTau Huay (Beancurd)
Mixed Vegetable RiceTom Yum Bee HoonChin Chow without Syrup
Chicken RiceSliced Fish Bee Hoon SoupSliced Fruits
Watercress Soup with Brown RicePrawn MeeKueh Tutu
Thunder Tea RiceYong Tau FooSweet Barley and Ginkgo Nut Soup
Teo Chew PorridgeAssam LaksaSoon Kueh
Korean BibimbapIpoh Hor Fun with ChickenPopiah
Hotplate Saba FishBak Chor MeeSteamed Chicken Bao
Chapati with Chicken Tikka and VegetablesMala Xiang GuoYou Tiao


How to manage diabetes at home 

Unfortunately, elderly persons are more susceptible to diabetes due to having been exposed to sugar longer than other generations of people. With that, the possibility of developing this lifelong disease is much greater. While there may be no cure, diabetes can certainly be treated and managed, even at home. 

One of the simplest ways to start is by maintaining a healthy weight through regular physical activity and observing a diet. Consuming low-glycemic foods will help control and regulate blood glucose levels in the body, and provide prolonged release of energy as well. 

If diabetes management for your elderly loved one is something you have been considering, our team of Homage Care Professionals can help you address your concerns and provide them with the support needed from the comfort of their home. From nursing care and medication administration to vital signs monitoring, the cost of diabetes treatment and care in Singapore can be costly. That’s why we provide various treatment packages and subsidies to help families offset some of this cost. 

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  1. AS, T. (n.d.). Glycaemic Index of Foods. European journal of clinical nutrition. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1330533/.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 10). Insulin resistance and diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/insulin-resistance.html.
  3. A glycaemic index compendium of non-western foods. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348316718_A_glycaemic_index_compendium_of_non-western_foods.
  4. Khalik, S. (2016, April 13). Parliament: Health minister Gan Kim Yong declares ‘war on diabetes’; New Task Force set up. The Straits Times. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/moh-declares-war-against-diabetes.
  5. Sami, W., Ansari, T., Butt, N. S., & Hamid, M. R. A. (2017). Effect of diet on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A Review. International journal of health sciences. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426415/.
  6. Tan, J. H. (2021, June 14). Diabetes 101: Symptoms, types, causes and prevention. Homage. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.homage.sg/health/diabetes/
About the Writer
Grace Koh
Grace is a healthcare writer who has experience in hospital settings and community agencies. Apart from reading, singing, and plodding up muddy trails, Grace enjoys scribbling notes and thinking up a storm.
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