One of my biggest priorities is to help readers with chronic health issues thrive. And, a challenge that many of my readers (or the people they love) face is diabetes. So, last week we focused on type 2 diabetes and this week we’re shining a light on type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is something my team and I often talk about behind-the-scenes. That’s because our Crazy Sexy Dietitian, Jen Reilly, is mom to a very special young man with this health challenge. Her son, Jake, was diagnosed at age two.
Whereas type 2 diabetes is often the result of insulin resistance and can sometimes be reversed with weight loss, exercise and a healthy diet, type 1 diabetes is the result of an autoimmune response where the body attacks and kills the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Unfortunately, it can’t be reversed.
Even though there’s nothing that can prevent type 1 diabetes, Jen has made use of the amazing technology available and found some incredible plant-powered tricks to help her son thrive. And in honor of November being Diabetes Awareness Month, she’s here to share her nutrition and mama bear expertise with all of you. Although, these tips apply to adults, as well.
Take it away, Jen!
Thanks, Kris. While finding out that you or your child has a chronic health issue like diabetes is scary at first, it quickly becomes part of your daily routine. We’ve found a way to make sure Jake has a normal, healthy and happy life regardless of his diagnosis. And, the same goes for anyone with type 1. But before we get to the tips that’ll help you manage this health challenge, let’s cover some basics.
The symptoms of type 1 are very subtle at first and get missed by doctors in about half the cases since they are so similar to other illnesses, like strep throat, the flu, stomach bugs and UTI’s. Things to look out for include: frequent urination, irritability, excessive thirst, weight loss, fruity breath, dark under-eye circles, blurred vision or rapid deep breathing. As well as a change in appetite, sleep habits or energy levels. Early detection can save lives, so don’t be shy about seeing your doctor if you notice these symptoms!
Although insulin is critical for managing blood sugars when you have type 1 (your body no longer makes it), there are many other factors that are important to understand and balance. Activity, hormones, carbs, protein, fat, stress and adrenaline, viruses, hydration and even the outside temperature (no joke!) can have an effect. Luckily, the technology used to manage blood sugars and insulin dosing has progressed significantly over the past 15 years, making it so much easier to keep blood sugars in a healthy range. By using these tools, healthy plant foods and staying positive, type 1 diabetes doesn’t need to hold you back from anything.
3 Ways to Make Life Easier and Healthier With Type 1 Diabetes
1. Take advantage of the technology available: insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors and smartwatches.
The first insulin pump that came out in the 1970’s was the size of a microwave oven. Today, Jake’s insulin pump has no tubing, is a small pod that adheres to his skin, is operated with a small remote control and gives him micro doses of insulin to keep blood sugars in check. It’s so small that when it’s time to change it (every 3 days), we often have to do a “pod pat down” to figure out where it is!
Next up is the incredible advancement of Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems (CGM’s). CGM’s are small devices that have a horsehair-sized sensor under the skin that can sense trends in blood sugars and transmit them to a receiver every 5 minutes. This means fewer finger pricks throughout the day and the ability to catch low and high blood sugars long before they’re felt. Plus, with Bluetooth and cloud technology, this data can be transmitted to smartphones. This means that I can see Jake’s blood sugars on my phone while he’s at school. Amazing!
And to make it even better, smartwatches, like the Pebble and Apple watches, can display CGM graphs by “talking” to your phone. So, I can glance at my Pebble watch to see Jake’s blood sugars without even touching my phone, and it will vibrate if he’s going low or high. These tools make it much easier to catch low and high blood sugars and make adjustments immediately.
2. Get familiar with high-protein plant foods and use them to keep blood sugars steady.
When someone is first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they’re typically given a list of “free” foods that are free of carbohydrates and won’t require insulin. The list mainly includes meats, cheeses, eggs and artificially sweetened, sugar-free foods. Knowing the potential health risks of animal products and saturated fats, and not wanting to load my child up with artificial sweeteners, we found healthy plant-powered alternatives to keep Jake’s blood sugars steady and also keep the rest of his body healthy, too. These are all great for adults, as well.
We found that an extra serving of protein was an essential part of every meal and helped prevent blood sugar crashes that happened with carb-heavy meals, like breakfast cereal, pancakes, oatmeal and pasta. Including the ones from Field Roast, alongside whole grain toast, cereal or oats topped with an ounce of cashews, walnuts or hemp seeds, peanut butter on waffles, hummus or sunflower seed butter on bagels and red lentils in pasta sauce.
For snacks, we found that fruit, crackers or pretzels also worked better when combined with a handful of protein-rich pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Not only do the proteins and fiber in these plant foods help lessen the severity of the blood sugar rise and fall, but they increase the staying power of the snack. We also started baking with almond flour, which has 12 grams of fiber and 24 grams of protein per cup compared to the 1 gram of fiber and 12 grams of protein in wheat or rice flours. Raw sunflower seeds can be ground in a coffee bean grinder or food processor and can be used in baked goods, as well, for folks with nut allergies.
As for “free” foods, tofu, edamame or other beans (which have so much fiber they tend to require very little insulin), nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, hummus and veggies are all nutrient-rich and have little effect on blood sugars. Making a list of these and posting them on our fridge has been helpful for babysitters, too!
3. Know that life can be just as rich and fun.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and protective when your child or loved one is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. But, it doesn’t have to stand in your way. Yes, careful planning and preparation may be necessary sometimes, but there shouldn’t be anything that a child or adult can’t do (or eat!) because of diabetes. As Jake says, having diabetes makes him and our family more awesome because not only does it make him special, but diabetes is the reason he met his best friend.