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.
Even though these are higher fiber healthy foods to add to the diet, the carbohydrate content is very high. This leads to greater amounts of insulin, and therefore, a sugar roller coaster ride! Keep it healthy with nuts, seeds and protein and lots of low carb veggies and the world is open for your son.
My son was was diagnosed less than four years ago.
Read Dr. Richard Bernstein, The Diabetes Solution for starters. Your world will change.
Thank you, Kathleen! We try to stick to what I would call a moderate-carb diet (30-45 carbs per meal) because not only are you so right about the potential roller coaster, but we’ve found that Jake can be super sensitive to insulin (he’ll be 7 years old next month). But he needs some carbs for growth and loves fruit and other “kid” foods which is where the protein comes in to keep his blood sugars steady. And thankfully, almond flour in pancakes, garbanzo bean pasta, and making brownies out of black beans have helped him still eat all his favorites without the roller coaster.
The Diabetes Solution is a fantastic book and I just finished Sugar Surfing by Dr. Stephen Ponder which encourages leaning heavily on CGM’s for dosing insulin, prebolusing, and other modern methods for management. So much great info out there! xo
Hi Jen, can you please share the make and model of you sons’ insulin pump and CGM? I too have a son with type 1 diabetes and he is an adult now but the tubing from the pump is quite a hassel and I wanted to research the version your son is using. Thanks!
She is referring to the Omnipod, paired with a Dexcom CGM. I also use these and enjoy being tubeless.
Yes, you got it Nikki! Especially for a kid who is constantly wrestling with his siblings, we’ve found the Omnipod/Dexcom combo to be the “dream team” as far as devices go. xo
Dear Jen and Kris thank you for this article. A question for Jen: do you test Jake for food intolerances (through IGg blood test)?
Hi Fio, Jake’s endocrinologist tested for Celiac in his annual bloodwork for the first 2 years after he was diagnosed. But now they’ll only run food intolerance tests if he starts complaining of stomach aches or if there’s a change in his digestion, bowel movements, growth, or if other signs of intolerance show up.
Thanks so much for covering type 1! Agreed, life’s easier with a pump and CGM for sure.
As a type 1, I’ve tried a load of different tricks and diets over the years. The only thing that’s really worked for me and has let me reach my lowest HbA1c ever is eating low-carb. Gets rid of the highs and a lot of the lows too, since taking less insulin means less risk of error. Definitely my top tip!
Hi Kendy, Thanks so much for your comment. It’s so important to figure out what works best for you! We also found that moving to a moderate-carb diet with plenty of protein was helpful for managing Jake’s blood sugars especially since he’s so sensitive to insulin. Low-carb can be tricky for pretzel and pasta-loving kids (plus the fact that whole grains are so rich in nutrients), but we make use of as many of the higher-protein, carb-like foods as possible (almond flour, bean pastas, etc.). Not only does that help blood sugars, but it helps keep all my kids fuller longer too. xo
Thank you for your article and information. I have a couple questions for you…
1.) Can you tell me what the name of your son’s pump is? I would like a new smaller one and that sounds amazing. I am a T1, but diagnosed at 28. I then had a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer…Radical Hysterectomy, Chemo & Radiation, etc. My doctors believe it was all related. I am still adjusting almost 8 years later.
2.) What is the best way to really shed pounds. My body is extremely comfortable where I am, but it isn’t my best! I want to be at my best. But since my diagnosis I have always struggled losing weight and keeping it off.
I would love your input and advice! Thank you! Happy Thanksgiving ?????
The pump is the Omnipod. I also wear it!
Thank you Nikki!
Hi Kandee! Nikki is right on with the Omnipod. Right now, it’s the only tubeless pump out there and we’ve found it to be wonderful for our roughhousing type 1 kid.
As for weight loss, our bodies can fight change pretty hard. For my nutrition patients with weight that won’t budge, I recommend 20 minutes of daily morning exercise (a brisk walk outside, for example), loading up on lots of veggies as they can boost your metabolism, staying well hydrated, getting enough rest, and trying to make dinner your lightest meal of the day. Kris’ metabolism-boosting blog may be helpful as well: https://kriscarr.com/blog/boost-metabolism-weight-loss/
I have to agree with those who have commented that low carb is a much better way to manage blood sugar. I was a vegan when diagnosed 6 years ago with type 1 diabetes. No matter how healthy I ate, my blood sugars would swing from high to low. I had to switch my diet to incorporate grass fed, humanely raised, animal products and cut out grains, cereals, pastas, high glycemic fruits, etc. i now eat farm fresh eggs for breakfast, from happy chickens my friend raises, with lots of veggies on the side. Lunch is a salad with a protein on top, usually chicken. And supper is some form
of meat with a large side of veggies. My A1c is now 5.2 and I have very, very few lows or highs. Check out Type One Grit on facebook for more food ideas. They have really inspired me.
I wish I could have stuck to a vegan diet, but after my type 1 diagnosis, I realized it doesnt work well for diabetics and health is my #1 priority.
Thank you so much for your comment, Nikki! You absolutely need to do what works for you! And that is a fantastic A1C!!
We’ve found that moderate-carb (30-45 grams of carbs per meal) with plenty of fiber and protein works well for us, and we are thankful that almond flour in pancakes and baked goods, bean pastas, and using beans in desserts can help Jake still eat “high-carb” kid favorites and maintain great blood sugars. And luckily, we’ve been able to keep whole grains, fruit, and beans in there too. As long as we prebolus 10-15 minutes, we rarely see a spike or crash. Jake’s last A1C was 6.2. But as you know, it takes planning, things can change, and it’s important to find a healthy balance for you and your family.
Best of health to you and thanks again for your note!
Hi Jen, that is really interesting and good to know! Thanks for sharing. And kudos to you for being a t1 mama; it is no small task to manage a child’s blood sugar.
Hi Nikki! I live w/Type 1 and Celiacs & I totally agree with you. I went from vegan back to an animal -based diet/nutrition and my blood sugars and health are SO MUCH better. Not to mention that I feel 1,000x better. It’s interesting how everyone advocates for a plant -based diet, but most plant foods (especially nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables) contain protective compounds that can leach minerals and vitamins from your body and make them very difficult to digest. This is a no-no for those with autoimmune disorders as your body is already prone to attacking itself and overworking. I’ve talked with countless naturopathic doctors and they all agree that going back to pasture-raised meats, organs, and lowering or eliminating grains is incredibly important. I’m so glad that you brought this up!
Hi Jen! So sorry your son has T1 diabetes. I am adult diagnosed 4 years ago with T1. It is hard to find support in plant based nutrition for T1 people. Physicians and diabetes educators/ dieticians, struggle to guide us in treating this disease. It’s hard to find the right balance of carbs ( beans, legumes, sweet potatoes) and keeping blood gucose in line. I too like nuts or nut butter and fruit a good snack. But even eating good plant based food, people and myself ask if I’m getting enough protein. Again, finding support and groups that are plant based T1 is hard. I wish your son all the best. Thanks again for sharing.
Hi Jen, thank you so much for sharing your experience with managing Jake’s T1D. Like previous commenters, I was diagnosed with T1D as an adult 5 years ago. I’m also vegan. I’ve found that a moderate carb diet very similar to the one you describe (30-45 carbs per meal) is perfect for me. I’m super active (run half marathons, play soccer etc), so I also need the carbs for fuel. I don’t have huge spikes due to including more plant based proteins.
One thing not mentioned in your article are the psychological aspects of T1D. It’s tough to have a disease so focused on food consumption. It wouldn’t be psychologically healthy for me to be super restrictive with my diet, so moderate carb is the sweet spot.
Thanks so much for sharing and all my best to you and to Jake!
I’ve been doing some looing into the Dexcom and read the reviews and it appears the most recent update had made the reviews VERY low – what are your thoughts on this? I don’t want to get it and be frustrated with it?
What else can you pair to the Dexcom – I am very new to this so thank you for the answers
My husband is has type 1 diabetes for the last 35 years.
He is in great health and thanks to the new technology of constant glucose monitoring his baseline levels are at the lowest they’ve ever been. Happy days.
One area which we still struggle with is finding a fast acting food / drink to consume to allow him to exercise or to take if his blood sugar is coming down too quickly.
We’ve three young kids so sitting down for 30 minutes to allow his blood sugar to come up isn’t always an option unfortunately.
The only thing which works is a bottle of cola.
We’ve tried gloucodin tablets, bananas, nut butter, etc but not of these work well enough. They are too slow releasing.
I would really love to find a healthier option than cola as it’s the only time he drinks this.
We are plant based vegans.
I have found your article very helpful to me. My mother-in-law is living with type 1 diabetes. I always surf for tips online apart from the doctor’s advice.
For healthy life you have mentioned about low carb. I also agree that low carbohydrate manages blood sugar effectively. Previously I have read an article on this; there are some diet plans for Type 1. I am happy to share the link here-http://www.quickhomeremedy.com/7-days-meal-plan-diabetics-type-1-diabetes-meal-plan/
Thanks for your article.
Hi Kate! I didn’t mean to allude to the fact that a low-carb diet works for my son… just that when we couple protein with carbs, we see better blood sugars. In fact, Jake’s breakfast typically has 75 carbs! But, because we include soymilk, whole grains and have learned how to pre-bolus insulin, we don’t see a spike. However, thank you for sharing the link! I will definitely check it out. All the best to you and your mom-in-law! xo
Stop smoking type-1 diabetes. If you keep it under tight control then you will be able to be healthy. Diabetes attacks various parts of the body. This creates poisoning with contaminated substances and stress. Not only for this disease, but to avoid many problems, quit smoking. Avocado has been ranked on the list of ‘Super Food’. Evidence proves that Avocados resuscitate pancreatic psychedelic cells in some research. These cells produce insulin hormones. Keep restrictions on ban on eating food carbohydrate foods. Especially boycott sugar. After the breakdown of sugar in the body of sugar, glucose levels in the blood suddenly increase. Regular checkup type 1 diabetes can be fully controlled by your health information, in regular intervals. There are long-term side effects of this disease. Losing sight or loss of hearing after a long time is not diverse if it is not in control. Start life changing exercise. Those who have already done more time, if necessary. Changes in lifestyle should help prevent obesity, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure with diabetes. Actually keeping the body’s metabolism fair and hard work can be possible. Nigella Santiva This herbal dish is not famous but well-known and well-known in many places around the world. It is almost always called ‘Black Sid’. Helpful in the formation of betacail in the pancreas Nigella Saciva can choose to keep the effects of diabetes away. Stress minimizing stress and emotional stress are responsible for many body damage. Yoga, meditation, massage, breathing therapy and exercise are available through stress.
As a T1D, I was very surprised to read some of the claims and methods here and it stressed me out a bit. There’s a lot of ‘diabetes clinic’ kind of advice in here. If your kid’s A1C is abnormally high (over 5.7%), you have proof these methods aren’t working well.
“Free” foods that are free of carbohydrates and won’t require insulin”: Insulin is required to metabolize carbohydrates for sure (100% of net carbs) but protein and fat also have important relationships with insulin and protein metabolism requires insulin. We use Regular or extended pump boluses to cover for the slow contribution of protein. You can get away with not covering for fat but some T1Ds cover it at 10% of a carb equivalent.
You’re reducing the glycemic index of the meal (which obviously contains carbs that are too high GI for your son’s insulin to handle) by adding protein to slow it down. The only way to get this to work, and not ultimately go high from the protein, is on a basal overdose, which requires regular meals to prevent lows (if the basal is set correctly, you don’t need to do that). Not a good solution.
Please please please Dr. Richard Bernstein’s book. He is a diabetes doctor who actually has T1D and spent his career studying it. Intensively controlled T1Ds with normal blood sugars use his methods.
Hi Tanya! I’m Mindy, a nutritionist here at Team Crazy Sexy. Thanks so much for the feedback! Dr. Bernstein’s book titled, Diabetes Solution, is a great book on this topic. And he also does a monthly live call that is full of great info as well! I agree, he is a wonderful resource in the diabetes spectrum, thanks for sharing!