Maintaining a healthy diet is important for type 1 diabetes management. A type 1 diabetes eating plan is designed to provide maximum nutrition, while also monitoring intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
There’s no single universal diabetes diet. It involves being mindful of how you eat and how your body will respond to certain foods.
People with type 1 diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar levels. Working to develop a healthy eating plan, participating in regular physical activity, and working with your diabetes team to adjust insulin therapy can help reduce the risk of health complications.
Complications associated with type 1 diabetes include:
- vision problems
- high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and poor circulation
- kidney damage
- nerve damage
- skin sores and infections, which can cause pain and may lead to tissue death
Following proper dietary guidelines can help mitigate the difficulties of type 1 diabetes and help you avoid health complications. It can also improve your overall quality of life.
There’s no standard diet for diabetes. A registered dietitian or nutritionist with expertise in diabetes can help individualize an healthy eating plan that fits your likes, dislikes and lifestyle.
It may sometimes be necessary to choose fast foods or convenience foods when you are short on time.
You can check the online nutritional information for most chain restaurants and choose those foods that fit your eating plan, such as a salad with grilled chicken or fajitas with lots of veggies along with a sugar free beverage.
Planning meals ahead of time, grocery shopping and preparing meals at home can save money and help meet your diabetes goals.
A well-stocked kitchen of healthy food can also cut down on unnecessary sugar, carbohydrates, sodium, and fat that can spike blood sugar.
An important aspect of any diabetes eating plan is consistency. To maintain blood sugar levels:
- don’t skip meals
- match your insulin to your eating schedule
- pay attention to food labels
Importance of insulin
It’s also important to work with your healthcare provider to calculate the correct dosage of insulin for your carbohydrate intake.
There are two types of insulin coverage:
- bolus, which is prescribed as an insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio and represents how many grams of carbohydrates are covered by 1 unit of insulin
- basal, which is a background insulin dose that replaces insulin overnight, when you are fasting, or in between meals
Finding your correct carbohydrate-to-insulin balance will be crucial for deterring high or low blood sugar. In addition, it will be important to monitor activity level and its impact on your blood sugar and medications as well.
Importance of exercise
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), regular physical activity is important for overall health and wellness regardless of the type of diabetes you have.
To learn how different types of activity will affect you, it’s important to check blood sugar before, during, and after exercise.
Recommended blood sugar level
It is important to work with your diabetes team to set individualized blood glucose goals. According to the
It’s important to include nutritious foods that are high in vitamins and minerals. For general health recommendations, choosing healthy fats, proteins, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates is optimal.
If you’re having trouble managing type 1 diabetes, work with your doctor or dietitian to help manage your medications and timing of eating. You should also discuss the portions of carbs per meal that would be appropriate based on your needs.
You’ll also need to take exercise into account and determine the carbohydrate need for your activity level.
Here are some basic recommendations:
There are three types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars, and fiber.
They can come in the form of beans, starchy vegetables, fruits, pasta, or breads. Carbohydrates turn into sugar in your digestive tract and are then absorbed into your bloodstream. This raises your glucose level.
It’s important to to match carbohydrate intake with insulin if you have type 1 diabetes. Some carbohydrates will act faster on blood sugar than others. Choosing carbohydrates that are less processed, contain minimal added sugars, are higher in fiber, and contain vital nutrients is preferred.
Keeping track of portion sizes is key to matching the correct dose of insulin with the amount of carbohydrate eaten. If you’re experiencing low blood sugar levels, choosing a fast-acting carb that’ll be easily digested and absorbed into the bloodstream is best.
Typically, starting with about 15 grams of carbs should be adequate. Then recheck your blood sugar, and have another 15 grams if your reading is still low.
Examples of fast-acting carbohydrates that have 15 grams of carbs include:
- 1/2 cup of fruit juice
- 1 small fresh fruit (4 ounces)
- 4 to 6 crackers
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 1 tablespoon of honey
Fruits are natural sources of sugar and should be counted as carbohydrate intake in your eating plan.
You can choose fresh, frozen or canned fruit. Choose fruit with minimal added sugar when possible. It’s important to understand how many carbohydrates are in certain portions of fruit. This will help you manage your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Examples of fruit portions that contain 15 grams of carbohydrates include:
- 1/2 cup of canned fruit
- 1/4 cup of dried fruit
- 1 small fresh fruit
- 3 ounces of grapes
- 1 cup of melon or berries
- 1/2 cup of fruit juice
Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to only 15 grams per meal or snack. But it’s important to know how many carbs are in certain servings based on your insulin needs and overall blood sugar management plan.
Starch is a form of sugar that naturally occurs in many common vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and peas. Starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates than other vegetables and should be eaten in moderation and accounted for when calculating your carbohydrate intake.
Non-starchy vegetables have a lower impact on your blood sugar and are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. You can eat up to three cups of these types of veggies per meal without having a major impact on your blood sugar.
Count more than three cups as about 15 grams of carbs, and anything below that would be considered “free.” These include:
- green leafy vegetables
Always choose fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables with minimal added salt when possible.
Portions of starchy vegetables that have 15 grams of carbs include:
- 3 ounces of a baked potato
- 1/2 cup of corn
- 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes or boiled potatoes
- 1/2 cup of peas
- 1 cup of winter squash
Whole grains are a nutritious and fibrous starch. It’s recommended that at least 50 percent of grains eaten should be whole. Brown rice, bran cereal, and whole-grain breads are great sources.
Read labels and be mindful of total intake in one sitting to ensure your blood sugar is regulated with your medication.
Proteins and fats
Proteins are extremely important in maintaining muscle and repairing wounds, while healthy fats are necessary for optimal brain and heart functioning.
Proteins are found in beans and eggs as well as meat. Examples of healthy fats include avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Although proteins and fats won’t directly raise your blood sugar, experts recommend that you limit your intake of processed or fatty meats, which contain higher levels of saturated fat and sodium.
While these substances have no direct effect on blood sugar, eating too much of them can have harmful health effects, especially heart disease.
Knowing when to eat is just as important as knowing what to eat.
Following a healthy eating plan which includes a variety of nutrient rich foods matched with insulin doses can help keep blood glucose in your target range.
Your doctor and a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator can help you calculate your exact insulin needs to support your carbohydrate intake and avoid blood sugar highs and lows.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other foods travel easily and are great to have on hand when you need them. A healthy breakfast can get your blood sugar back up after a night’s rest.
Exercise and physical activity lowers blood sugar. If you’re going to do intense exercise, you’ll want to measure your blood sugar before and after you exercise. This will let you know how much you’ll have to eat to maintain a healthy level.
Please see the American Diabetes Association’s guide to healthy eating including recipes and other resources.
Living with diabetes means you have to be more mindful of food choices to help keep blood glucose levels in your target range. Your doctor, dietician, and nutritionist can help you form a meal plan that works for you.