Dietary Lessons from Diabetes for All of Us

Dietary Lessons from Diabetes for All of Us

My 12-year-old son has been living with Type 1 diabetes for many years. Diabetes is a challenging disease to manage, and I have come to respect it as an adversary. We monitor him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We prick his fingers up to 12 times day to check the level of glucose (sugar) in his blood. We accept that no matter how diligent we are, some days we do not get it right.

Yet when I put myself into a scientific frame of mind and place my mommy concerns aside, I marvel at this rare opportunity to see physiology at work. Diabetes offers a glimpse of how normal bodies seamlessly manage whatever we put into them without us even having to give it a thought.

Here are some tips about healthy lifestyle that have been reinforced since diabetes joined our family.

Eat fruit not the juice

Juice is a great rescue food when a person with diabetes needs to get their blood sugar to rise quickly back into the normal zone. But that is not the effect you and I are looking for. Thanks to the fiber, whole fruit is absorbed more slowly making us feel full longer. To help your blood sugar stay stable when eating fruit, add some protein to your snack. Apple slices and nut butters or fruit with cheese help maintain energy over the long haul. You want to avoid that quick burst of energy followed by an energy crash.

Fiber Counts

Not only is fiber important to the health of your digestive system, it helps stabilize your blood sugar. When we calculate the number of carbohydrates my son is eating we subtract the grams of fiber because these grams reduce the amount insulin he requires. The fiber is digested more slowly, helping to keep blood sugar level. When you are buying cereal look for brands that have at least 3 g of fiber per serving. Consider sneaking extra fiber into foods. I have made chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with cooked lentils and my son ate them, happily unaware of the added fiber. The result? No blood sugar spike after eating cookies.

Eating at home is healthier

Restaurant food is higher in fat and sodium and should be a rare treat. When you cook at home you can control the ingredients. When our son eats restaurant food his body requires extra insulin for up to eight hours after eating. Not so when we eat at home.

The Pizza factor

The toughest food we have found to adjust for is pizza. Eating restaurant or delivery pizza strains his body for hours. When we make pizza at home using either a homemade, pita or naan bread crust and low fat cheese, we do not need to make any special adjustments to his insulin. After watching how hard it is for his body to cope with pizza we know the rest of our bodies are working overtime as well.

Candy can be dandy

People with diabetes can still eat candy or sugary treats but they need to compensate for them with insulin. Candy makes a great rescue food bringing blood sugar levels up quickly when they drop below normal (a dangerous thing for people taking insulin).  When might non-diabetic people benefit from a sugar boost? Candy can help during an athletic event to compensate for the impact of exercise, say on a long run or bike race when there is no time to stop and eat a piece of fruit. And of course, candy and sweets have a place in celebrating special occasions.

Move your body

When my son sits in front of his game console for any length of time I need to give him extra insulin as his blood sugar begins to rise from lack of activity. Exercise helps keep him closer to his normal range. This simply reinforces that our bodies are made to move. Exercise helps our heart and lungs and our evens out blood sugar levels.

When you hear that someone is following a diabetic diet it should mean that they are eating healthy and exercising–behaviors that can benefit us all.

Sue LeBreton is a health and wellness journalist. She has been caring for a child with diabetes for over eight years and programming an insulin pump, often in the middle of the night, for seven years. When chatting with well meaning strangers she seizes the opportunity to educate them about diabetes.

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