Type 1 diabetes: what’s on the menu?

Posted on 11 November 2014

If your child has Type 1 diabetes, it can often feel like every kind of food is off the menu. Fortunately, dietician Ilsabé Spoelstra has some ideas.

Being diabetic is bad enough. Being diabetic when you’re a young child? That’s even worse. Most youngsters have Type 1 diabetes. That’s the born-with-it variety, which doctors used to call ‘Juvenile Diabetes’ and which (just to make them feel like they’re even more in the minority) makes up just between five and 10% of all diabetics.

One of the biggest frustrations for young Type 1 diabetics (apart from the regular pin-pricks and the obsession with numbers) comes at children’s parties. While your buddies are digging into the party packs, you know that, for you at least, sweets are off the menu. So what’s a kid to do? And, as the parent of a Type 1 diabetic, what is your child allowed to eat?

Ilsabé Spoelstra, a dietitian at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, doesn’t believe in treating diabetic kids like freaks. ‘Every child should healthily,’ she says. ‘So, if anything, a diabetic child’s parents should influence their friends to change their children’s diets!’ Ilsabé says that Type 1 kids should avoid trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fatty acids: ‘That’s the really bad stuff,’ she says. ‘Transfats are found in processed foods, like biscuits, rusks, pies and pastries, so you have to read the labels when you buy your groceries.’

Sugar, of course, is the big baddy. But, as Ilsabé points out, ‘sugar is not good for diabetics, but too much sugar is not really good for anyone.’ She advises parents of Type 1 diabetics to try low-GI options. ‘There are loads of nice low-GI recipes – including birthday cakes. With these you don’t have to avoid the sugar, because it’s there in moderation and in combination with the other ingredients, like flour, eggs and milk.’

Some Type 1 kids are advised to eat biltong instead of sweets – but even here, Ilsabé recommends moderation. ‘Bilton has a lot of salt, so make sure that it’s just a snack and not a meal on its own,’ she warns. ‘And while lean biltong is better for a diabetic than sweets, you need to eat a proper meal so that you’re not so hungry.’

Whether you or your child are diabetic or not, it all comes down to eating properly. ‘Children need a proper meal, with protein and low-GI carbs, and a lot of veggies,’ Ilsabé says. ‘If you eat a combination of those foods, then usually you’ll feel satisfied, and won’t want to snack.’

Finally, whether your child is Type 1, Type 2 or not diabetic at all, Ilsabé has a secret fill-their-tummy ingredient for their eating plan. ‘Eggs for breakfast,’ she says. ‘It’s very satiating, if you combine eggs with a muesli or a low-GI porridge, that’ll really help to fill them up.’ And it doesn’t matter if those eggs are scrambled, fried or boiled, she adds, as long as you used High Oleic (HO) oil. ‘I usually recommend Vergezocht HO oil,’ she says. ‘It has a high smoking point of 238 degrees Celsius, so when you heat it, it doesn’t break up.’

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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