Eating well is one of life’s greatest pleasures and everyone needs to make healthy, balanced choices, not just people with T1D. Understanding what you are eating, how much you are eating and knowing how to match your insulin are good basics to come to the table with — whether eating at home or out on the town.
1. You Really Can Have it All!
There are no foods you can’t eat and just like everyone else, moderation is key to good healthy eating. Remember the USDA food pyramid? Well it is now MyPlate and the gold standard for making the best food choices-emphasizing vegetables and grains, then protein and fruits followed by dairy. Pay close attention to actual vs. perceived portion sizes, for example a medium apple counts as 2 servings of fruit and it is the carbohydrate count that is of most importance to people living with T1D.
For heavier reading: Food
2. Carbs-They Are What You Measure
Without a functioning pancreas you are left to make the decisions when it comes matching your insulin with the carbohydrates you or your child consume. You can’t count what you don’t know-so start with a scale and a measuring cup and a good carb counting system. (We like the “Daily Carb” and “Carb Master” apps for iPhone or CarbsControl for Android). When you look for values on labels, read the “total carbohydrate” line, which includes the three main types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber, and always check the serving size. You won’t always have to measure and weigh food; with practice you will quickly become an expert on estimating portions.
3. Glycemic Index (GI)
As a rule of thumb, measuring quantities and carb counting should be the first approach to eating-using the GI index is the next level, the “fine tune.” The GI measures how a food containing carbohydrates raises your blood sugar and ranks these foods against pure glucose, which is ranked 100.
Food with a low or medium GI index (such as pasta, oatmeal, beans and most fruits) impact blood sugar more moderately than higher GI foods (<70) like white bread/bagels, popcorn, and watermelon and baked potatoes. By comparison, fats and proteins have little effect on blood glucose, as they don’t have carbs, but watch the calories. When trying to treat a low blood sugar, aim for foods with higher numbers to raise your blood sugar more quickly.
4. Log It
For all the measuring and counting, not all foods affect all people in the same way. One great tool is to create a log or use an app to test similar foods and portions with insulin dosage and results several times and come up with your ideal dose. Stay tuned for the release of Nutshell, an app from Tidepool.org that will be an elegant solution.
Alcohol will affect your blood sugar and you should approach it the way you do your food-in moderation. Most alcohol tends to be low in carbs (beer has 12.5 ounces per serving, wine less than half that) but mixed drinks, especially those with fruit and sugar added can have a greater impact on your blood sugar. Knowing what you are drinking is as important as knowing your food. Speaking of food, always enjoy your adult beverage with food on board.
For heavier reading: Alcohol
Read How to Thrive in a Toxic Food Environment by Adam Brown.