Healthy Eating

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Healthy Eating

Diabetes Type 1
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Healthy Eating
Healthy Eating
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Eating regular, balanced meals can help people with diabetes avoid problems now and stay healthier for a lifetime.
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InteliHealth
2011-12-21
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InteliHealth Medical Content
2014-12-21

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Healthy Eating
 
In general, if you have type 1 diabetes you can eat all of your favorite foods. That includes occasional foods containing sugar. But you need to follow a well-balanced diet and you need to watch your total calorie intake to achieve a healthy weight. You also must make sure your body has enough insulin to handle the foods you eat. The key is to know how different foods will affect blood sugar.
 
With type 1 diabetes, you need to match your insulin doses to the kinds and amounts of food that you eat.
Carbohydrates are particularly important. That's because they produce the fastest sugar surge in your bloodstream.
 
Several systems can help you match your insulin to what you eat. Use whichever one works best for you. If possible, decide your strategy with the help of a certified diabetes educator, a registered dietician or both. A dietitian can evaluate current eating patterns and help you select the plan that fits best with your lifestyle:
  • "Carb counting" — Using published guides, you keep close track of carbohydrates. Then you estimate the carbohydrates that you plan to eat, using a point system. If you take insulin, you should take more insulin if your meal has a higher carbohydrate count. Carb counting is the best system for most people who use an insulin pump or very rapid-acting insulin before meals. Your nutrition specialist can teach you how to use carbohydrate counting guides.
  • Experience-based estimation — Some people don't use a formal point system. They estimate about how much insulin they need for a meal. They add extra insulin before meals that are large or loaded with carbohydrates. If you know your body's response to foods and insulin well enough to make accurate estimates, this may be a reasonable strategy.
  • The exchange system — Another option is to keep your insulin doses the same from day to day, but adjust your portion size. The aim is to eat roughly the same amount of carbohydrates in your meals each day. This helps to keep your glucose control steady. For this system, food-item "exchange" lists are helpful. Your nutrition specialist can teach you how to use them.
The following suggestions can help you to build an effective diet plan:
  • In general, follow a nutritionally balanced, heart-healthy diet. This includes some carbohydrates, which are important to a balanced diet. Experts don't require a low-carbohydrate diet for people with diabetes. But a diet that is heavy in simple carbohydrates or a diet that has a large amount of added sugar can make diabetes harder to control.
  • Remember that different types of fat can have different effects on health. Learn to replace "bad" fats with "good" fats.
  • Try to divide the calories up in this way:
      • 60% to 70% from carbohydrates and monounsaturated fats
        (Half or more of your carbohydrates should come from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk. Eating the right carbohydrates and fats can provide long-lasting health benefits.)
      • 15% to 20% from protein
        (Sources include lean meats and beans, as well as low-fat dairy products, which also contain carbohydrates.)
      • Less than 7% from saturated fats
        (Also avoid trans fats. They are found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in many processed foods.)
      • No more than 10% from polyunsaturated fats
  • Take a daily multivitamin.
  • Limit your cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams daily. This means limiting red meat, high-fat dairy products, eggs and fatty or fried foods.
  • Sweetened drinks, juices, and sugared foods can cause a quick jump in blood sugar. It is best to limit added sugar and juices in your diet.
If you are an overweight adult (with a body mass index of 25 or more), reducing your calorie intake is a good idea. Weight loss can help you to control blood sugar. If your sugar is well controlled on insulin but you are overweight, you still should try to lose weight. Get more exercise and decrease your calorie intake. In this case, you will need to closely monitor your blood sugar. You may need to reduce your total daily insulin slightly as you decrease your calories.
 
If you are concerned that your child with diabetes may be overweight, speak with your child's doctor. It is important that children get enough calories, including calories from fat, to grow and develop normally. Children should not try to lose weight unless directed to do so by a physician. Close monitoring is needed by your doctor if your doctor recommends a diet strategy that includes a "low-carb" diet.
 
If you drink alcohol, do not drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol without eating at the same time can lead to hypoglycemia.
 
The whole family of a person with diabetes will benefit from following these nutrition guidelines. Teaching your child to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals and snacks helps to build healthy lifelong eating habits. This can help prevent nutrition-related health problems such as high cholesterol and heart disease.

 

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Last updated July 12, 2014


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