Meal Planning for People with Type 1 Diabetes

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When you have type 1 diabetes, eating a nutritious diet is crucial. Type 1 diabetes causes your body to stop making insulin. This is why you need to take insulin through a pump or shots every day. A combination of exercise and diet play a critical role in the management of your blood sugar level. Healthier food choices can lower your chances of developing diabetes-related problems such as nerve damage, kidney and heart disease.

What Should a Diabetes Type 1 Menu Look Like?

The most important piece in the diabetes type 1 puzzle is nutrition. Understanding how different types of food affect your glucose levels can help you control your condition. It is the key to reducing the risk of developing chronic illnesses and maintaining a healthy weight. The main nutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.


Protein is a source of energy in your diet and helps your body with repair and growth. In the gut, protein is broken down into amino acids prior to absorption. Because it does not break down into glucose, it does not raise your blood sugars directly. With type 1 diabetes, here is a list of protein sources you can eat in moderation:

  • Eggs
  • Fish, tofu, and chicken
  • Cheese
  • Seeds and nuts

Dairy products, ultra-pasteurized, cheese, and non-organic milk are also classed in protein foods. However, they contain carbohydrates and can raise the levels of glucose in type 1 diabetes.


Your body needs fat for energy and the breakdown of fatty acids. Fatty acids give insulation to your body and help in the storage of energy. They assist your body in the absorption of soluble vitamins. Because fats also do not breakdown into glucose, they do not cause a direct spike in the glucose level.

These are most energy dense nutrients in your diet, so eat in moderation if you have type 1 diabetes.

Too much of it can result in weight gain making it harder to manage diabetes. Some of the fats a person living with diabetes type 1 can eat include:

  • Cream
  • Margarine and butter
  • Avocado
  • Pastries and fried food
  • Seeds and nuts

With type 1 diabetes, avoid saturated fats. These are known to escalate the levels of blood sugars almost immediately after consumption.


Carbs are the leading sources of energy. They are broken down into glucose and then absorbed into the bloodstream causing a spike in the blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates, while in their whole form contain additional nutrients such as minerals, fiber, and vitamins.

These additional nutrients contribute to a slower absorption rate of glucose preventing a spike in blood sugars.  Some of the complex carbs diabetes type 1 patients should consume include:

  • Starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes
  • Grain foods such as whole wheat and brown rice
  • Cereals
  • Quinoa
  • Steel cut oatmeal
  • Fruits and vegetables

Some diabetes patients choose to follow a vegetarian diet where meats and other proteins are not included in the menu. The most common types of vegetarian diets include:

  1. Lacto-vegetarian: This diet accommodates dairy products eliminating eggs and meat
  2. Vegan: This group eliminates eggs, dairy products, and meats
  3. Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: In the Lacto-Ovo list, eggs and dairy products are accommodated while all types of meats are eliminated

There are also simple carbohydrates. These are known as white foods and can cause a dangerous rise in blood sugars immediately after consuming them. These include:

  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • White bread
  • Cookies
  • Sugar
  • White potatoes
  • pastries

The amount of carbodydrates consumed by a type 1 diabetes patient determines how the levels of blood sugar will rise. Fruits, starch, and milk fall under the highest carb concentrate foods in the pyramid. The vegetable group has little amounts, while the meat group has little to no carbs.

Before engaging in a carbohydrate diet, find out the glycemic index of each and how it could interfere with your blood glucose.

Carb Counting in Type 1 Diabetes

Before the 1921 discovery of insulin, diabetes patients were advised to eat low carb diets. Carbs were found to raise blood sugar levels more than fats or proteins. Although it was not a sufficient method of controlling diabetes, it prevented the extreme spike of blood glucose related to carbs. Understand that controlling blood sugar in type 1 diabetes can be a big challenge even with the injectable insulin. For this reason, the recommendation for type 1 diabetics is to match their carb intake with their insulin. This also helps facilitate weight loss.

Carbohydrate restriction in diabetes has been mainly emphasized in people with type 2 diabetes. However, the few studies done in those living with type 1 diabetes suggest that it can be a highly effective means of controlling the rise of glucose.

A 2016 randomized control trial survey (RCT) showed that type 1 diabetics who followed the limited carb intake guidelines, by American Diabetes Associataion, of 75-100 grams/day for about 12 weeks experienced a significant reduction in their HbA1c as opposed to those who did not practice carb counting. Obese type 1 diabetics in the survey were reported to have lost about 5kg.

Type 1 Diabetes Diet Restrictions

Type 1 diabetes patients are advised to avoid the same foods healthy people are asked to limit. It means processed and high glycemic index foods. These include:

  • Trans fat (Look for the word hydrogenated in the foods you buy)
  • High-fat animal products
  • Sodas including the diet ones
  • Refined/processed sugars (including chips, pasta, white bread, and pastries)

Avoiding these restricted foods can help you manage your diabetic condition. Although your condition did not stem from diet, what you eat just like in type 2 diabetes can contribute to a rise in blood sugars. Because you are at risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, it is essential to plan your menu appropriately.

If you have type 1 diabetes and need to eat out with family and friends, check your glucose levels before your meal, and at least 2 hours later. This will ensure that post-prandial insulin adjustments are met as needed.