My 12-year-old son has been living with Type 1 Diabetes for almost five years. It's a challenging disease to manage and I have come to respect it as an adversary. We monitor him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We prick his fingers up to 12 times day to check the level of glucose (sugar) in his blood. Some days we don't get it right.
Yet when I put myself into a strictly scientific frame of mind, I marvel at this rare opportunity to see physiology at work. Diabetes offers a glimpse of how most human bodies seamlessly manage whatever we put into them without us having to give it a thought.
Here are some tips about healthy lifestyles that have been reinforced since diabetes joined our family.
Eat fruit, not the juice. Juice is a great rescue food when a person with diabetes needs to get their blood sugar to rise quickly into the normal zone. But that's not the effect you and I are looking for. Thanks to fiber, whole fruit is absorbed more slowly, making us feel full longer.
To help your blood sugar stay stable when eating fruit, add some protein to your snack. Apple slices and nut butters or fruit with cheese help maintain energy over the long haul. You want to avoid a quick burst of energy followed by an energy crash.
Fiber counts. Not only is fiber important to the health of your digestive system, it helps stabilize blood sugar. When we calculate the number of carbohydrates my son is eating, we subtract the grams of fiber because they reduce the amount of insulin he requires. The fiber is digested more slowly, helping to keep blood sugar level.
When buying cereal, look for brands that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Consider sneaking extra fiber into foods. I have made chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with cooked lentils and my son ate them happily, unaware of the added fiber. The result? No blood sugar spike after eating cookies.
Eat at home, it's healthier. Restaurant food is higher in fat and sodium and should be a rare treat. When you cook at home you can control the ingredients. When our son eats restaurant food, his body requires extra insulin for up to eight hours after eating. Not so when we eat at home.
Adjust your pizza. The toughest food we have found to adjust for is pizza. Eating restaurant or delivery pizza strains his body for hours. When we make pizza at home using either a homemade, pita or naan bread crust and low fat cheese, we do not need to make any special adjustments to his insulin.
Candy's sweet side. People with diabetes can still eat candy or sugary treats but they need to compensate with insulin. Candy makes a great rescue food bringing blood sugar levels up quickly when they drop below normal (a dangerous thing for people taking insulin). When might non-diabetic people benefit from a sugar boost? Candy can help compensate for the impact of exercise during an athletic event such as a long run or bike race when there is no time to stop and eat a piece of fruit.
Keep moving. When my son sits in front of his game console for any length of time I need to give him extra insulin as his blood sugar begins to rise from lack of activity. Exercise helps keep him closer to his normal range. This simply reinforces that our bodies are made to move. Exercise helps our heart and lungs and evens out blood sugar levels.
When you hear that someone is following a diabetic diet, it should mean they are eating healthy and exercising, behaviors that can benefit us all.
— Sue LeBreton is a parenting health and fitness journalist.