What Can You Eat When You Have Type 1 Diabetes?

If you have type 1 diabetes, it is important to follow a healthy diet. This means avoiding foods that are…(continue reading)

If you have type 1 diabetes, it is important to follow a healthy diet. This means avoiding foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates and choosing instead nutrient-rich options that will help you manage your blood sugar levels. There are many different types of food that you can eat when you have type 1 diabetes, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat proteins, and healthy fats. In this article, we will discuss what type of food you should eat when you have type 1 diabetes, what type of food you should avoid, and provide some examples of healthy meal options for different occasions.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease in which the body either cannot produce or properly use insulin which is a hormone that helps the body turn sugar, also called glucose, into energy. When you eat food, one of the components that your body breaks the food down into is glucose. If your cells can’t take in insulin, then your body can not use glucose for energy. The effects of this can be devastating, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, eye damage, and, if left untreated, eventually leading to coma or death.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when your body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Due to this, people with type 1 diabetes need to have a daily insulin dose through insulin injections or an insulin pump to stay alive. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, adolescents, or young adults although you can get it at any age. This form of diabetes is not preventable.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

The most common diabetes symptoms include feeling very thirsty, extreme hunger, and frequent urination. These are not the only symptoms though, other common symptoms for type 1 diabetes include the following:

  • Weight loss despite eating more
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Frequent infections including vaginal infections for women and yeast infections for both men and women
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet due to nerve damage called neuropathy

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms please see your doctor or health care professional immediately.

How do doctors treat type 1 diabetes?

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes; however, there are treatments that can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. The goal of treatment is to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible without causing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. The type of treatment will vary depending on the person and their individual health care plan. Some common treatments for type 1 diabetes include insulin therapy, diet and exercise, monitoring your blood glucose levels, and taking medication as prescribed by your doctor.

Why do I need to manage my diet with type 1 diabetes?

Managing your diet with type 1 diabetes is important because what you eat has a direct effect on your blood sugar levels. When you have type 1 diabetes, it is especially important to pay attention to the carbohydrate content of the foods you are eating by carb counting or counting every gram of carbohydrates you consume in a day. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the body and if not managed properly can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Eating healthy with correct portion sizes can keep your daily blood glucose level in the appropriate range so your body doesn’t make too much glucose. Exercising regularly can use the glucose already in your system while also maintaining a healthy weight. Also, make sure to read any food labels before consuming food to help manage your dietary intake. It is important to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian when possible to help you create a meal plan that fits your individual needs and lifestyle for the management of type 1 diabetes.

What foods should I avoid when I have type 1 diabetes?

There are some specific foods that people with type 1 diabetes need to avoid because they can cause blood sugar levels to spike. These foods include those with high sugar contents such as candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, fruit juices, soda, and other sugary drinks. This is not because the sugar in these foods directly enters your bloodstream, but it is due to the fact that sugar contains empty calories that eventually break down into glucose.

It is also important to avoid eating large amounts of carbohydrates at one time by carb counting. You don’t need to avoid carbs completely, but you can control how much you eat and how to monitor your insulin levels so you can learn to keep your blood sugar levels in the desired range.

Unhealthy fats, like trans fat and saturated fats, should also be avoided when you have type 1 diabetes because they can also raise blood sugar levels. Foods that contain unhealthy fats include processed foods, fast food, and junk food.

What foods can I eat with type 1 diabetes?

There are many healthy foods that people with type 1 diabetes can eat while still adhering to a diabetic diet. These include:

  • Lean protein sources such as grilled chicken or fish
  • Fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Beans and lentils

It is important to remember that everyone’s dietary needs are different so it is best to work with a registered dietitian to create a meal plan specifically for you.

What are some examples of healthy options for different meals with type 1 diabetes?

Now that we know what foods we can and can’t eat, let’s take a look at some healthy meal and snack options for people with type 1 diabetes.

Breakfast

Some examples of healthy options for breakfast include oatmeal with berries and nuts, eggs with veggies, or Greek yogurt with fruit.

Lunch

When having lunch with type 1 diabetes, you can try a salad with grilled chicken or fish, lentil soup, or a veggie wrap.

Dinner

For dinner, you could have salmon with roasted vegetables, tofu stir-fry, or spaghetti squash with lean ground beef.

Snacks

Some good snack ideas for type 1 diabetes include apples with peanut butter, whole-grain crackers with cheese, or unsalted trail mix.

Managing your type 1 diabetes diet can seem overwhelming at first, but by following these tips and working closely with your health care team you can create a meal plan that works best for you.

Summary

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where your blood sugar levels can become too high. This is because your autoimmune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, causing it to stop making insulin. If your body stops making insulin then you can have too much blood sugar which can lead to a number of problems. When this happens,  you will need to have daily insulin requirements.

There are some specific foods that people with type 1 diabetes need to avoid, including sugary foods and drinks, fatty foods, and large amounts of carbohydrates. However, there are many healthier food choices available for people with type 1 diabetes to help maintain a balanced diet including lean proteins, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, and eggs among many others. If possible, working with a registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan that fits your specific dietary needs for the best diabetes management and to improve your quality of life.

If you have any more questions about type 1 diabetes and how to eat healthy when you have it, please talk to your doctor, dietician, or health professional.

References and Sources:

Mayo Clinic 

NIH

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera

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