Type 1 Diabetes & Food

As T1D’s we have a very unique relationship with food. I think that it is a love/hate relationship which needs to be finely balanced in our lives to stay both healthy and sane. The biggest challenge is trying to match insulin with the food we want/need to consume as well as the responses from our bodies. Like all of our body’s organs the pancreas does an amazing job in a non-T1D’s but trying to replicate this continues to be a work-in-progress for T1D’s (for 100 years now).

As an endurance athlete food is critically important to my performance and I spend just about as much time planning my diet as I do planning my training. Needing to eat certain foods at certain times isn’t something that goes hand in hand with T1D, and trying to manage BGLs around these requirements is particularly challenging. I try to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel and recover from training effectively whilst also adapting my diet and training to utilise fats as much as possible. Balancing this with protein and also trying to not feel hungry all of the time means that my diet is very structured and aims to tick a lot of boxes.

Veg (1)

Make the most of fresh fruits and vegetable to fill up your meals and provide healthy snacks

I think of food as fuel and look to consume the highest quality food that I can within the constraints which I have learnt allow me to maintain stable BGLs. Low GI, avoid high sugar content, balanced meals, lower carb snacks, etc. is all part of the plan. Achieving this is by no means easy and puts me in stressful situations regularly as I try to make the best choices and battle cravings for foods which are generally not healthy or good for my BGLs. I have survived through 20 years though and I have developed strategies to be able to maintain a healthy diet and also stable BGLs. Here are some of the strategies which I try to implement:

  • Carbohydrates: low GI, know the carb content, read and understand the nutrition labels
    • wholegrains, oats, sweet potato, pumpkin, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, quinao, soba noodles, low GI rices, bananas, berries, peaches, reduced fat milk and yoghurt, low GI muesli bars, Sustagen
  • Proteins: lean protein including fish and red meats, eat a variety of protein sources, don’t eat too much (per meal/day)
    • fish, lean red meat cuts, turkey, chicken, yoghurts, eggs, beans and tofu
  • Fats: natural “good” fats, only small quantities and only one fat per meal
    • avocado, roasted nuts, nut butters and eggs
  • Sports Nutrition: use for higher intensity training, combination of Hi-GI & Low-GI carb sources, include some protein to slow BGL rise and consume regular small amounts rather than less frequent large amounts
    • Hammer Bars, Recoverite, Clif Gels & Shot Blocks, Winners Gels, Carmens Bars, banana’s and dried fruit bars
  • Hydration: water is great for lower intensity sessions, use low sugar hydration most frequently or 6% carb mix as energy source to maintain BGLs
    • Water, NUUN Hydration, Endura Low Carb Hydration and Endura Performance
Meal Plan Image

An old meal plan from Ironman training in 2014.

The above meal plan can be view in detail here – Example Meal Plan

When I make a meal I follow a pretty basic method which I have learnt works for me around my training and diabetes. Basic summary and a couple of examples provided below.

Breakfast – 40 to 50 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein and a little good fat

  • Rolled oats porridge, cinnamon, frozen berries, fat free yoghurt and crushed nuts
  • Poached eggs on toast with spinach, tomato and mushrooms

Lunch/Dinner – 25 grams of protein, 40 to 50 grams of carbs and fill the rest of my plate up with vegetables (low carb).

  • Tuna tin, four bean mix and salad
  • Chicken wrap with humus and salad
  • Steak, baked sweet potato and salad
  • Chicken fajitas with corn on the cob
  • Vietnamese salad with soba noodles and tofu

Snacks – <10 grams of carbs and 10-20 grams of protein

  • Fruits (apples, pears, kiwi fruit, bananas)
  • Carrots/Celery with humus/peanut butter/cottage cheese
  • Fat free yoghurt with berries/nuts
  • Almond/cashew/walnut mix
  • Low carb protein bar or shake
  • Boiled egg with dukkuh seasoning

A meal plan always sounds fantastic but the reality we all have our vices, I’ve actually got a real sweet tooth and am a chocolate lover. I try to follow my strategies for most of the time but do stray and when I do I just enjoy it for that moment and then get back on track (e.g. Easter).

*The author is not supported by any of the companies or products noted in this piece and has chosen these products based only on the authors own experience with these products.

**The author is not a dietician or nutritionist and the information provided is from the author’s experience only. See disclaimer.

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