Diabetes and eating well with a small appetite

This information is for people with diabetes who have a small appetite. It includes advice and ideas on how to eat a diet that:

  • is high in energy (calories) and protein
  • is well balanced
  • helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable

We also suggest healthy heart options. These are healthier food choices if you need to make your diet more nourishing (fortify it) for a longer period.

Reviewing your diabetes medicines

Some people with diabetes may get lower blood sugar (glucose) levels when they have a small appetite. This is more likely to happen if you take certain diabetes medicines, such as:

The amounts (doses) or timing of these diabetes medicines may need to be reviewed. If your blood sugar levels are lower or higher than usual, contact a GP or your diabetes team for more advice.

If you have any more questions or concerns, please speak to your dietitian or the doctor or nurse caring for you.

How eating well can help you

If you have a small appetite, eating well can help you to:

  • prevent or minimise weight loss
  • regain weight that you have lost
  • feel less tired and improve your strength
  • fight an infection
  • heal from wounds
  • cope with your treatment better
  • recover more quickly from periods of illness

How to have a higher calorie diet

Here are some ways to have a diet that is higher in calories and gives you more energy.

Eat little and often

Aim to have 3 small meals and 2 or 3 snacks or nourishing drinks every day.

Choose food high in calories and protein

Your meals, snacks and drinks should be high in calories and protein to give your body the nourishment (nutrients) that it needs every day. We have suggestions about how to increase the calories in your meals and make them more nourishing.

Eat some starchy foods with your main meals

Starchy foods give you energy and fibre. Examples include:

  • bread
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • pasta
  • cereals
  • chapattis
  • couscous
  • yams

Have at least 2 protein-rich foods every day

Foods high in protein include:

  • meat, chicken, turkey or fish (the recommended portion size is the palm of your hand)
  • 1 egg
  • a small piece of cheese (the size of a matchbox)
  • a standard pot of yoghurt or a vegetarian yoghurt
  • 3 tablespoons of tofu, soya, Quorn®, or beans and lentils (this is a healthy heart option)

Include small portions of fruit and vegetables with meals

This is a healthy heart option, but be careful not to fill up on fruit and vegetables. They are low in protein and calories. If you cannot eat everything on your plate, have the starchy and protein-rich foods first.

Have desserts to increase the calories in your diet

Puddings or desserts help to increase the calories in your diet. Good choices include:

  • tinned or fresh fruit with cream
  • full-fat natural or Greek yoghurt
  • fromage frais (a soft, creamy cheese made with whole or skimmed milk and cream)
  • cheese and crackers
  • a slice of plain cake

Avoid drinking fluids before and during meals

Drinks can fill you up. It is best to drink after your meals or at times that are not too near your main meals.

Include foods containing fats and oils

Foods containing fats and oils have more calories in each gram than protein and carbohydrate foods. They help you to put on weight. Examples include:

  • margarine
  • vegetable oils
  • avocado
  • nut butters (spreads made by grinding nuts into a paste, such as peanut butter)
  • oily fish
  • plain biscuits, such as 2 or 3 digestive or rich tea biscuits

The plant and fish-based oils are healthier for your heart than animal fats.

Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement if needed

You may need to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement every day if you can only manage small amounts of food. Talk to your dietitian or doctor about this if you are not sure.

How to increase the calories in your meals

If you can only eat small meals, you can make them more nourishing by adding high calorie ingredients to food and drinks. The following table gives you some ideas on how to do this.

For extra calories, add: To:

cheese, such as grated or full-fat cream cheese

  • sauces (have milky or creamy sauces)
  • soups
  • scrambled eggs or omelette
  • mashed potato
  • toast, potatoes or pasta dishes
  • cooked vegetables
skimmed milk powder
  • milk (to make fortified milk, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder to a pint of milk, mix well and use it in drinks, breakfast cereals or porridge)
  • mashed potato
  • sauces
  • creamy soups

extra fats, such as butter, margarine, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils (this is a healthy heart option), mayonnaise, salad cream or salad dressings

  • mashed potato
  • toast, bread, crackers, crumpets and chapattis
  • sauces and curries
  • cooked vegetables
  • pasta or rice


  • sauces
  • mashed potatoes
  • soups
  • fruits and tinned fruits
  • cereal or porridge

nuts and nut spreads or butters (this is a healthy heart option, but try to choose those with no added sugar or salt)

  • toast, bread or crackers
  • cereals or porridge
  • yoghurt
  • vegetable sticks

Small meals and snacks

The following table gives examples of quick, nourishing small meals and snacks.

Meal Suggested small meal or snack
  • Bowl of Weetabix™ or porridge with full-fat milk or fortified milk (tip: serve with mixed berries or mixed unsalted nuts and seeds)
  • Wholegrain toast with peanut butter

Mid-morning snack

  • Hot drink with full-fat or fortified milk and a creamy, unsweetened yoghurt or banana
  • Rice cakes, corn-based crisps, bread sticks, crackers with hummus (a dip made of mashed chickpeas) or full-fat cream cheese
  • A glass of full-fat milk with 2 plain biscuits, such as digestive or rich tea


  • Baked beans, cheese, eggs or tinned fish on toast with butter or margarine
  • Sandwich with your favourite filling, such as tuna mayonnaise, cheese and tomato or ham and pickle
  • Cold cooked meats, sausages, sausage rolls or quiche
  • Bowl of creamy soup and a roll with butter

Mid-afternoon snack

  • A nourishing, high protein milkshake and wholegrain crackers and cheese or a handful of nuts
  • Wholegrain toast with peanut butter
  • Omelette or scrambled eggs or oily fish on wholegrain bread
  • Macaroni or cauliflower cheese
  • Fish or shepherd’s pie made with creamy mash potato and buttered or oiled vegetables
  • Dessert
  • Full-fat yoghurt, fromage frais (a soft, creamy cheese) or reduced sugar custard with extra nuts and seeds
  • Tinned or fresh fruit with double cream
  • Egg tart and berries
  • Sponge with reduced sugar custard

Other ways to manage a small appetite

Tips if you have a small appetite

  • If you feel unwell or too tired for cooking, try frozen or chilled meals. Homemade or ready prepared meals can be good choices.
  • Takeaway foods can be useful, especially if a home delivery service is available.
  • Check if there are meals on wheels services in your area (when the council or other local organisations deliver meals to your home).
  • Keep a supply of your favourite foods and snacks at home.
  • If you know that you will be away from home for a few hours, carry some snacks with you. Plain biscuits, fruit, crackers, oatcakes or nuts are good options.
  • If you find it particularly difficult to eat regular meals and snacks, you could have supplement drinks in the short term. These are nourishing and help to meet your energy needs. Your dietitian can give you more advice about this.
  • If your appetite is poor, it is OK to have food and drinks that are higher in fat, carbohydrate and sugar. Talk to your dietitian if you have any concerns. When your appetite has improved and you have put on weight, you can return to a healthy, balanced diet.

More information and support

Diabetes UK

Diabetes UK is a charity for people living with diabetes in the UK. It gives information and support to help people with diabetes manage their condition effectively.

Phone: 0345 123 2399 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Email: [email protected]

Resource number: 3967/VER3
Last reviewed: May 2023
Next review due: May 2026

A list of sources is available on request.

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Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the diabetes dietitians.


Appointments and admin: 020 7188 1916 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Medical advice: 020 7188 1993

We answer this number from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. If we cannot answer your call, please leave a voicemail. We will call you back within 1 working day.

Southwark community diabetes team: 020 3049 8863


Guy's and St Thomas' diabetes team: [email protected]

Southwark community diabetes team: [email protected]

We respond to emails within 1 working day.

Pharmacy medicines helpline

If you have any questions or concerns about your diabetes medicines, please speak to the staff caring for you. You can also contact our pharmacy medicines helpline.

Phone: 020 7188 8748 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Email: [email protected]

We aim to reply to emails within 2 working days.


Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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