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Nutrition for Type 1 Diabetes

Eating for optimal health: Myths and facts about type 1 diabetes

MYTH: Meeting with a nutritionist is only helpful when first diagnosed with diabetes.

FACT: A nutritionist can be helpful throughout a person’s life, no matter how long ago the person was diagnosed, and facilitate attainment of metabolic goals. Newly diagnosed people might work with a nutritionist to learn the basics of carb counting and matching insulin injections to food intake. Teens and young adults might learn how to boost their diet to enhance their growth and development. And people who have lived with the disease for many years might learn new and creative approaches to healthy eating. Over time, it’s easy to fall into a familiar rhythm and become less attentive to the foods you eat. Nutritionists can help people get back on track.

MYTH: Losing weight can reverse type 1 diabetes.

FACT: False. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. This form of diabetes is not caused by obesity. Unlike people with type 2 diabetes, who are often overweight or obese, many people with type 1 diabetes have an average body weight. Unless a person with type 1 diabetes is overweight, he or she should eat a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight. It is especially important for children and teens to eat a balanced diet that promotes strong, healthy development rather than dieting or limiting the amount of food.

MYTH: Low-carb diets are a necessity for people with type 1 diabetes.

FACT: Carb awareness is essential with this disease. Every person should learn how to count the number of carbohydrates, or sugars, in their meals to determine the proper dose of insulin. The key, however, is not to necessarily restrict carbs, but to make sure that the person injects the proper amount of insulin to cover the amount of carbs they consume. The ideal diet includes three meals a day and boasts a healthy balance of complex carbs, like vegetables or whole grains, healthy fats, like nuts and olive oil, and lean protein, such as fish, chicken or beans.

Nutritionists usually recommend between one to three snacks a day, depending on the individual’s age and calorie requirements.

MYTH: People with type 1 diabetes are limited to eating the same number of carbs at each meal.

FACT: Not necessarily. These days, people with type 1 diabetes are enjoying a more flexible lifestyle than ever before. People who can count carbs and calculate the correct dose of insulin often opt for a flexible insulin regiment that requires multiple shots of insulin a day based on the number of carbs consumed. People on this flexible regimen should talk with their doctor often to make sure that they’re using the correct insulin-to-carb ratio when they calculate how much fast-acting, or nutritional, insulin to inject. This ratio helps determine how much nutritional insulin you require based on the carbs in your diet.

Those who find it difficult to count carbs and calculate insulin injections may prefer to stick with a more fixed insulin regimen, which allows them to inject the same amount of insulin every meal as long as they eat the same number of carbs each time.

MYTH: Regular exercise will not help improve blood glucose control in people on insulin treatment.

FACT: Regular exercise will, in fact, help lower blood glucose in people who struggle to keep their levels down. But because of this, people who exercise must remember to adjust their insulin doses before and during exercise so that their blood glucose won’t dip too low. Always keep a snack on hand and monitor your blood glucose levels before, during and for several hours after exercising. A good rule of thumb is to eat 10 to 15 grams of carbohydrates for every hour that you exercise. This will help prevent your blood glucose from falling too much during exercise.

MYTH: People with type 1 diabetes are constantly at risk of dangerous high and low levels of blood glucose.

FACT: Though potentially serious complications can happen without proper treatments for diabetes, many people on insulin therapy are able to keep their blood glucose within a safe range. With help from their doctor and nutritionist, people with type 1 diabetes can become experts in measuring the proper amount of insulin for the foods they eat, monitoring their blood glucose, and recognizing and preventing the earliest signs of low — or high — blood glucose. No matter how well you manage your diabetes, you should keep a snack on hand at all times. Most doctors advise their patients to eat 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate whenever blood glucose levels fall below 70 mg/dl.

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