Type 1 Diabetic Diet for Kids

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A child with diabetes eating a healthy meal with her parents

Type 1 Diabetic Diet for Kids

For a long time, kids and adults with Type 1 diabetes were led to believe that there were certain foods that they couldn’t eat, but this has been proven not to be true.

While they aren’t required to follow a special diet for their condition, they might have to pay closer attention to their portion sizes and how often they eat. That said, the most important thing is to make sure they balance out the foods they eat with the right insulin dosage.

Insulin helps regulate their blood sugar levels alongside healthy food options; that’s why it’s essential to encourage them to make smarter food choices.

At Huetrition, we’re committed to helping families learn healthy habits together. Read the following guide about the importance of good nutrition, foods to eat, and foods to avoid.

Why is Good Nutrition Important?

To promote normal growth and development in all children, not just those with Type 1 diabetes, it’s essential to provide them with nutritious foods to get them healthy. A Type 1 diabetic diet for kids needs to have the right balance of nutrients, especially carbs, to satisfy their hunger and manage blood sugar levels. 

Here are a couple of rules to remember to make sure they grow up healthy: 

  • Make sure they get anywhere between 10-20% of their calories from protein. Think lean meats such as turkey, skinned chicken, etc. These meats have a lower fat content than steak and pork. 
  • 25-30% of the calories they consume should be from fat. That said, make sure to steer clear of foods drenched with saturated and trans fats as much as possible. Be sure to be exercise moderation and consume natural fats.
  • Approximately 50-60% of the calories they consume should be from carbohydrates. However, be sure to supplement that with a chock full of orange and green veggies such as collard greens, kale, mangoes, and pumpkin daily. 

Related: How to Tell If Fruits Are Fresh

Dealing with Carbohydrates

 Close up shot of bread as an example of carbs

Different foods have different effects on blood sugar levels. However, carbohydrates have a much more significant impact on blood glucose levels than any other macronutrient. 

Carbs are metabolized into glucose and are distributed much faster in the body compared to proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are metabolized and absorbed an hour after consumption. They are eliminated from the body about two hours later. 

That’s why it’s essential to track the type and amount of carbs that kids with Type 1 diabetes consume. You should regularly check your child’s blood glucose levels before and after meals. Knowing the number of carbs present in their snacks and meals helps determine the correct insulin dosage to avoid low or high blood sugar levels.

That said, there are no hard and fast rules regarding the number of carbs they should consume, and the recommended carb intake differs with each child and sometimes even with the same child daily. 

Constant Carb Plan

One way of dealing with carbs that provides a much higher level of control without using an overly stringent meal plan is using a constant, controlled, or consistent carb plan. It was developed for people with diabetes to help them maintain a steady carb intake with every snack or meal they consume. 

Consequently, it helps prevent falls or spikes in blood glucose levels. With the constant carb plan, children consume a predefined quantity of carbs with every snack or meal, before injecting insulin at a specified time interval to manage blood sugar levels. 

While it isn’t the most flexible approach to dealing with carbs, it has one main advantage over other methods. It’s easy to follow, especially for people who consume the same quantity of food and maintain a somewhat consistent level of physical activity daily. 

To be clear, a constant carb plan doesn’t require them to eat the same type of foods each day, but they do need to consume the specified amount of carbs for every snack or meal. 

All About Carb Counting

Pasta with meat and vegetables as an example of carb counting

Most families or parents maintain their children’s blood glucose levels through carb counting. It involves measuring the number of carbs they consume with each snack or meal and adjusting the insulin dosage accordingly to maintain blood sugar levels at an optimum level. 

For packaged foods, the amount of carbs present in each serving is tabulated on the label. To calculate carb intake, subtract the total amount of dietary fiber from the number of carbs per serving, since it’s indigestible. Then, multiply the result by the number of servings they consume. 

For home-cooked meals or when eating out, be sure to check portion sizes and carb counts online. This approach allows parents and their children to gain better control of their blood glucose levels when managing Type 1 diabetes. 

The approach also offers more flexibility because insulin can be administered after meals instead of at the same time every day. 

Foods to Avoid

Like we mentioned earlier, there are no “forbidden foods” in a Type 1 diabetic diet for kids. However, there are a variety of factors that need to be considered when going grocery shopping or meal planning.

People who’ve been diagnosed with diabetes have an increased susceptibility to heart diseases. Because of this, nutritionists and doctors recommend regulating the number of fatty foods in Type 1 diabetic diet for kids. Some of the foods to avoid include: 

  • Sodas, both regular and diet
  • Refined or processed sugars such as pastries, pasta, cookies, chips, and other simple carbs. 
  • Cholesterol, trans, and saturated fats. They should also avoid foods with “hydrogenated” listed on the food label as well as other fat-rich animal products. 
  • Salt-rich foods. Ingesting too much sodium has been shown to lead to hypertension, so no more potato chips.  

Related: Are Processed Foods All Harmful Foods? The Health Risks of Processed Foods

Foods to Add to Their Diet

Salmon and carrots on a cutting board

The glycemic load and index are scientific measurements used to determine the effect of a specific food on blood glucose levels. Consequently, people with Type 1 diabetes are advised to consume foods with a low glycemic index to increase blood sugar levels moderately. 

Meals or snacks with a low glycemic index consistently increase blood glucose levels, slowly providing enough time for the administered insulin or body to respond. Here are a couple of foods to include in Type 1 diabetic diet for kids according to the American Diabetes Association:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Salmon and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Skimmed or fat-free milk and yogurt
  • Whole grains
  • Lentils
  • Dark green vegetables (leafy veggies like kale)
  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Lentils
  • Fruits 
  • Tomatoes
  • Berries 

All of the above are rich in micronutrients, such as vitamins, magnesium, fibers, potassium, and calcium.

Keeping Snacks on Hand

Adding snacks to Type 1 diabetic diet for kids is just as important as providing them with healthy meal options because sometimes they can be the difference between having low or high glucose levels.

The total number of snacks to keep on hand depends on the child’s regular eating habits, their insulin dosage, as well their average level of physical activity. 

While some children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes prefer eating small quantities of snacks, others prefer eating slightly larger snacks just before bedtime. This is a preventative measure against night-time hypoglycemia. 

Natural snacks like celery and cucumber or sugar-free gelatin have meager quantities of carbs, so their effect on blood sugar levels is limited. Besides, carb-controlled snacks can come in handy in between meals, and some great options include hard-boiled eggs, sugar-free drinks, and low-fat string cheese.

But to be safe, be sure to pack their bags with a non-diet soft drink or glucose tablets.  

Related: 11 Healthy Snacks for Kids

Watch for Highs and Lows

No matter how well planned a Type 1 diabetic diet for kids is, they like to indulge themselves.

This means that at some point, whether it’s because of eating at a different time than usual or eating more than the specified portion sizes, they might become hyperglycemic and have elevated blood glucose levels. Should this happen, some adjustments can be made to lower it. 

That’s why it’s essential to talk to your child’s physician to learn how to go about adjusting their insulin dosage, meal plan, or any other medication they’re on. Hypoglycemia, i.e., low blood glucose, can cause serious complications that might need to be addressed immediately. 

A Type 1 diabetic child’s blood glucose levels could dive if they miss or skip a snack, meal, or don’t consume the specified quantities of carbs as instructed. 

This can also occur when insulin is administered at the wrong time, or they’re engaged in intense physical activity without snacking or adjusting their insulin dosage. 

Conclusion

A child reaches for strawberries on a blue cutting board

While it’s easy to exaggerate dietary restrictions for kids with Type 1 diabetes, it’s essential to consider their nutritional requirements and maintain the right balance of carbs, proteins, and fats. More specifically, incorporating fiber, protein, and fat helps slow down the uptake of carbs. 

Consequently, it provides enough time for insulin to take effect, which will gradually siphon glucose out of the circulatory system and into cell tissues. By slowing down digestions and subsequently absorption, parents of kids with Type 1 diabetes will be able to help their children maintain optimum blood glucose levels. Get in touch with our HueDietitian for more specific recommendations for your child’s eating habits. And don’t to check out HuePets, the digital educational program to make healthy eating fun for kids!

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here. 

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