Right after diagnosis, many start looking for a good type 1 diabetes diet to follow. This makes a lot of sense, as your diet will play a huge role in your life when you have diabetes.
Unfortunately, creating your own diet – especially a type 1 diabetes diet – is never easy. There is a lot you need to consider, and little time to do it in. Between the testing, injections, treating, monitoring, and eating a balanced diet – things can seem to be overwhelming quite quickly, and they often really are a lot to handle.
Thankfully, you don’t need to do it all alone. We’re going to go over what is a type 1 diabetes diet, what you can eat, and discuss everything else you need to know in order to eat healthy quite easily.
First, let’s take a quick look at the type 1 diabetes diet.
A Simple Guide to Type 1 Diabetes Diet
The first thing you need to know before we get into the type 1 diabetes diet is how your body works when you have type 1 diabetes. When you have type 1 diabetes, it means your pancreas can no longer produce insulin.
This is not good because Insulin is important. Your body needs insulin to move the sugar (glucose) out of your bloodstream and get it where it needs to go such as to your muscles, brain, and all other cells that need sugar for energy.
This also means that the sugar stays in your blood, and this can result in a number of complications such as damage to the kidney, nerves, and eyes. IT may even lead to heart disease.
This means that people with type 1 diabetes need to get their own insulin elsewhere, and this typically means they must inject insulin doses into their own bodies to keep blood sugar reasonably steady.
This is where the diet comes in as the insulin dose you take must be matched to your carbohydrate intake to prevent complications – both short and long-term.
Unfortunately, there is no cure to type 1 diabetes, you can only manage it. This means that you must stick to your type 1 diabetes diet for a long time (hopefully). To be able to stick to a diet for a long time, it should be:
- Easy to follow
- Complete (meaning it is not missing any essential nutrients)
What can you eat on on a type 1 diabetes diet?
You can eat basically anything on a type 1 diabetes diet, with a caveat, of course. This may be surprising to you, especially after this introduction that may have made you think that you are about to get introduced to a super strict diet.
In reality, almost all foods are fine for people with type 1 diabetes to eat. This was not the reality a few decades ago. People who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes used to follow a very restrictive diet plan, but this is no longer the case.
Why? Because we can produce much more insulin now – globally – than we ever could before. Insulin treatments have developed so much and our understanding of food, diets, and diabetes are now exponentially better than they were before.
What this boils to at the end is that you can basically find any well-balanced diet you like and follow it, then build your insulin treatment and dosages around this diet. As long as your diet is well-balanced, has lots of fruits and vegetables, and limits your intake of added sugars and artificial sweeteners to the recommended amounts, you should be fine with it.
However, to not oversimplify things, let’s go breakdown all food groups into what foods are recommended and if there are any foods you should stay away from. Let’s start by What carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are recommended for type 1 diabetes.
Recommended Carbohydrates for Type 1 Diabetes diet
Carbohydrates are always the most problematic food category because they are your body’s main source of sugar – and they are the main food category responsible for raising your blood sugar.
There are two classifications for carbohydrates;
- Simple Carbohydrates
- Complex Carbohydrates
But what do you think about when you think of carbs? You probably think only about bread, pasta, baked goods, and probably even sweets. However, carbs are in most foods, including fruits and vegetables.
There are two things to know about carbs: The carbohydrate content and type in food. Because while fruits and vegetables contain carbs, they also contain high amounts of fiber and other nutrients that make them better than complex carbs for your health.
Complex carbs are the carbs in their whole food form, and they include additional nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and smaller amounts of proteins and fats. All of these additional nutrients will slow down the absorption of glucose and keep your blood glucose levels more stable.
Here are some examples of complex carbohydrates:
- Brown Rice
- Whole Wheat
- Steel-cut oatmeal
The carbs in fruits and vegetables are also complex carbohydrates.
As for simple carbohydrates, you can easily recognize them as “white foods”.
Examples of Simple Carbohydrates:
- White Bread
- White Potatoes
Unlike complex carbs, simple carbs have few other nutrients that can slow down sugar absorption which is why these foods raise blood sugar fast – which is bad for anyone and especially dangerous on people with diabetes.
This is why a type 1 diabetes diet plan should restrict simple carbohydrates as much as possible and replace them with healthier alternatives. Focusing only on the amount of carbohydrates in the foods you eat is not as helpful as focusing on both the amount and type.
If you want to learn more about how you can limit or completely eliminate carbs from your diet, you should consider the keto diet.
As a matter of fact, the topic of the keto diet for diabetics is such an important one that we have dedicated an entire post just to it. Check out the ketogenic diet for diabetes here to find out if it’s the answer for you.
Now that we have covered carbs, let’s discuss the food groups that get the most hate even though it doesn’t deserve to. Yes, I’m talking about fats. Let’s talk about fats!
Fats do not have much of a direct effect on blood sugar, however, as part of your meals, they are quite useful in another way; slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates.
Contrary to popular belief, fats are not bad for you, and are actually necessary for your bodily functions. However, keeping your fats consumption to a moderate account is advisable because they can still affect your health in other ways that are not directly related to blood sugar.
For example, many studies have shown that animal-meat fats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, plant-disease fats are known to be healthier than their meat-based counterparts, and were associated with lower disease risk.
Fats can also contribute to the feelings of satiety and can make managing overeating and carbohydrate-cravings easier on you.
Some recommended fats for type-1 diabetes include:
- Fatty Fish
- This includes Salmon, Trout, Sardines, Mackerel, Tuna, and Sardines.
- Olive Oil
- Natural Peanut Butter
- Almond Milk
The key takeaway should be that you can (and should, in reasonable amounts) eat and drink monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids) on a regular basis, and you can safely add them to your type-1 diabetes diet.
Proteins are important in every diet. Proteins can give your body slow steady energy, help curb food cravings, and are essential for the body to heal and repair. Proteins also have an insignificant effect on the body’s blood sugar levels, making it quite important in a type 1 diabetes diet.
Proteins and fats are both important food groups that can help curb your carbs cravings and make managing it easier by making you feel fuller and energized for longer, and they don’t cause the spikes in energy that carbs do.
However, when it comes to proteins, plant proteins are the healthiest options for your diet. These plant proteins can include:
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Peas and Soy Foods
You can add the occasional Lean animal protein sources in a few meals every week as animal protein is still allowed on your type 1 diabetes diet, but your meal plans should still focus more on plant proteins than animal proteins.
Animal Proteins can include:
You can also get your proteins from eggs, organic dairy products, and tofu and soy foods.
Proteins should be constant in all your meals and snacks. They can keep your blood sugar levels stable, help with the sugar cravings, and make you feel satisfied for longer. Remember that while you can get proteins from animal and plant sources, plant proteins are healthier than animal alternatives because the latter are often sources of unhealthy saturated fats.
Whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal, are good sources for nutrients and fiber. They also have a low glycemic load, meaning they can give you a slow but steady flow of energy throughout your day. That’s why they make good choices for those with type 1 diabetes.
However, if you buy your whole grains in packaged, processed forms, then it’s not going to be easy. The food labels on them make it quite hard to understand what you’re getting, and it’s almost by design.
Just because something is labeled “Whole” doesn’t mean it’s actually healthy. For example, “whole wheat bread” can still have a high glycemic index which makes it not suitable for a type 1 diabetes diet. The same thing can be said about whole grain pasta, for example.
To be able to make the right choice, you need to actually read the nutrition label. You will want to find the grams of dietary fiber and subtract that from the total carbs. If that number is 25 per serving or less, then you can have it. If not, you should avoid it.
As in all diets, green leafy vegetables are your most trusted allies and your dearest friends. You can eat them in abundance without worrying about anything. They have an insignificant impact on blood sugar and they come with a plethora of health benefits.
I can guarantee you that you need to eat more vegetables. In fact, the average person needs 5 servings of vegetables per day, and you are definitely not getting that.
Your best option is, of course, fresh veggies. However, frozen veggies still have most of the benefits of fresh ones because they’re often frozen not hours after they’re harvested.
If you’re getting your veggies frozen, you will still need to read the food labels to make sure nothing is added to them, such as sweeteners or added fats to the sauces that are sometimes on frozen vegetables.
There are literally thousands if not millions of recipes you can find online for how to make tasty vegetarian meals, but here are some pointers to help you eat healthier and make your food tastier:
- More Colors = More Nutrients
- Adding olive oil, dried herbs, or fresh ones can make them taste better
- You can add a small amount of butter for your veggies
- Steamed veggies are great for your stomach
- Try to avoid veggie smoothies to not miss out on the fibers
- Veggies should be on every meal. Every one of them.
If you’re interested in a completely vegan diet, consult your doctor and if you get the green light, you can check the Vegan Diet for weight loss here.
Starchy vegetables are vegetables that still have lots of nutrients but they also have more starch than other vegetables. This means that they have higher carbohydrates than leafy vegetables but less than refined grains, so they belong to this middle ground between the two.
However, since they are still rich in nutrients such as Vitamin C, you can add them to your eating plan, but you should consume them in smaller portions.
If you consume 1 cup of starchy vegetables per day, you will need to compensate it with an additional dose of insulin that can cover 1 serving of carbs.
Examples of starchy vegetables:
- Winter Squash (Butternut)
- Slow-cooked beans such as lima, pinto, and black beans
Foods to avoid on A type 1 Diabetes Diet
People with type 1 diabetes should avoid or eliminate the following foods, especially if they are following a type 1 diabetes diet to lose weight.
- Processed Foods
- Foods with refined sugars
- White Bread
- Transfats and all foods with “hydrogenated” labels
- Animal products high in fat
This list should give you a general idea of what foods you should avoid, but if you are going to get serious about this diet, let’s break them down to give you a better idea.
Carbohydrates to avoid
If you have type 1 diabetes, even if you are not on a specific diet to lose weight, you will want to avoid simple carbohydrates and eliminate them from your meal – to the best of your abilities.
As explained before, you can easily recognize simple carbs as “white foods”. Here are some examples of simple carbs that you will want to avoid:
- Sugar (Raw – White )
- White Potatoes
- White Bread
- Corn Syrup
- Fruit Juice Concentrate
- Glucose, Fructose, and Sucrose (check food labels for them)
You can find simple carbs in:
- Baled Treats
- Packaged Cookies
- Breakfast cereals
Fats to limit or Avoid
You should limit the saturated fats you eat and drink. Saturated fats can include the following:
- Whole Milk
- Cream Cheese
- Fatty Beef and Pork
- Skin on Chicken and Turkey
And while you can still the fats on the previous list, there are some fats you should completely eliminate from your diet. These are the transfats. Transfats are mainly found in processed foods, and you should avoid them as much as possible.
You can find transfats in:
- Fried Fast Foods like:
- French Fries
- Fried Chicken
- Fried Fish
- Baked goods like:
- Pie Crusts
- Frozen Pizza
- Buttered Crackers, chips, and popcorn
- Stick margarine, shortening, and other spreads
Look at the ingredients list of any food you buy and look for the words “Partially Hydrogenated Oils” in it. If the item has it on its ingredient list, you should definitely add them to the list of diet foods to avoid if you have type 1 diabetes.
In fact, these foods do not belong to any healthy diet. Why? Because saturated fats and trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke and they can make your bad (LDL) cholesterol go up and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol in your body.
By the way, you can get our ultimate low cholesterol diet guide here if you are serious about lowering your cholesterol levels.
Proteins to limit or avoid
There are basically two protein sources you should avoid or limit to very small amounts. These are:
- Red Meats
- Ultra-pasteurized, non-organic milk, cheese, and dairy products in general
Avoid these two proteins as much as possible as they can increase inflammation and your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Type 1 Diabetes Diet Plan Restrictions
As with any diet, there are some restrictions on the type 1 diabetes diet. However, if you really take a look at your type 1 diabetes food list, you will see that they are all the same foods in any healthy diet.
A Type 1 Diabetes Diet is about making healthier choices and not about restrictions. Meal timing and calorie counting can bring in results, of course, but they are not as important or as effective as the simple health guidelines that are underlined and repeated in every healthy diet.
The only rule you must add in your type 1 diabetes diet that is unique to this one is that your meals much match your insulin doses.
Here are some general restrictions and guidelines:
Don’t Skip Meals
Some people who follow the type 1 diabetes diet to lose weight think that it’s good to skip meals, but it’s not. Here is why; most people with type 1 diabetes use basal insulin (NPH) which is a long-acting insulin that continues to lower their blood sugar over 24 hours.
This means that whether or not you give your body glucose, the insulin will keep lowering your blood sugar for 24 hours. When you skip meals while taking NPH, you are risking your blood sugar getting too low and you going into hypoglycemia.
If your doctor allows you to indeed skip meals, you should check out our Intermittent Fasting Ultimate Guide here.
Eating large meals is as bad as skipping meals, but in the other direction. Eating larger meals or meals that are quite high in carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar more than the basal insulin can get rid of.
In this case, you will need to get short-acting insulin, aka regular insulin, in an appropriate dose to match the carbohydrate content of your meal and the level of blood glucose, but you must take this dose before eating.
It’s best to just keep everything moderate and and keep your meals as balanced as you can.
Stick to low-glycemic meals
When creating your type 1 diabetes diet plan, you should keep your meals low in glycemic load, which has the added benefit of making meal timing easier.
Meals that are low in glycemic load will release your blood sugar slowly and raise it steadily, which gives your body (and your insulin dose) the needed time to respond.
As for people with type 1 diabetes that use continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps instead of finger sticks and insulin injections will have more flexibility when it comes to their meal timing as they’ll have real-time feedback to help them match their carb intake with their insulin.
However, they still need to be aware of their dietary intake and keep their meals with appropriate insulin doses, and they should stay still keep their meals consistently low in glycemic loads.
Keep Nutritional Balance in Mind
Some people are too excited for their diets that they tend to go overboard. This is a common mistake, and you should not fall into it. Instead, you should try to stay moderate and keep the nutritional balance of your meals in mind.
Meals should have a balance of different nutrients such as fats, proteins, fiber and yes, carbohydrates. Fiber is especially important to help your body slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and thus allows time for the insulin to work better.
This allows your body to slowly move the glucose out of the blood and get it to the target tissues. This slower absorption of carbohydrates also maintains more stable blood sugar and prevents countless complications that can arise from any up or down spikes in your blood sugar.
Snacks for Type 1 Diabetes Diet
People on a type 1 Diabetes diet can still enjoy snacks. Although you should not do it much, and snacking in general is not good for your health, you can enjoy a healthy snack ever once in a while when needed.
Here are 7 ideas for 10 gm carbohydrates snacks
- 1 slice of low carbohydrate bread toasted + 1 hard-boiled egg
- 4 animal crackers and 1 string of cheese stick
- 4 sliced strawberries + 3/4 cup cottage cheese
- 2 ounces of hummus with celery
- 2/3 cup of shelled edamame
- 1 rice cake with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 3 turkey rollups
Exercise and type 1 diabetes
Should you exercise with a type 1 diabetes? absolutely! Exercise can make it easier for you to control your blood glucose levels and increase your insulin sensitivity.
What this means is that, when you exercise, and especially in the hours after your sessions, your body won’t need as much insulin to process the carbohydrates.
According to the American Diabetes Association, you should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercises per week – meaning you should do some cardio for at least 30 minutes per day 5 days per week.
As for weight lifting, it can be quite beneficial for you. Weight lifting for people with type 1 diabetes was found to reduce the risk of exercise-induced low blood sugar. Try to combine some lifting exercises with your cardio for the best balance.
Is Diet Soda Safe for Diabetes?
No, Diet Soda is NOT safe for Diabetes and it can cause serious harm for them. Research shows both regular soda and diet soda have almost the same risks for both. Diet Soda is also not sugar free despite the advertising, and it has all the harmful additives the regular soda has.
Diet Soda can also contribute to weight gain and is not really suitable for any healthy diet, so please don’t be fooled by the advertising. They have no useful nutrients for your body and they have no fiber.
What foods can diabetics eat freely?
Diabetics can enjoy lots of foods freely without having harmful effects. Your best choice would be leafy vegetables thanks to their low calories, low carbohydrates, and rich fibers and nutrients. You can also enjoy the following in moderation:
- Roasted Chickpeas
- Yogurt with berries
Are Bananas Good for Diabetes?
Bananas are good for diabetes as they have a low glycemic index and are rich in fiber. However, they are still contain sugar and carbs, so you can eat bananas, but it’s recommended you do so in moderation.
If you are type-1 diabetes, don’t forget to account for bananas (and other fruits) in your insulin doses.