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Diabetes, You And Food

Written and created by Aetna InteliHealth, with medical review by Aetna pediatrician Richard Rosen, M.D.

You are probably eating away from home and making your own food choices more often these days.

You might be tempted to bend the rules because you want to fit in or have fun with your friends. But your food choices really can make a difference in your health. When you act responsibly, your parents may trust you to be more independent.

Here are some helpful tips, adapted from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Every Day
  • Choose good nutrition – Make sure that most of your food choices are healthy ones. It helps to learn more about nutrition, especially the calorie, carbohydrate and fat counts of foods you eat. Using a guide can help.
  • Shopping and cooking – Ask if you can help to plan, shop for or cook family meals. This can be fun, and help you to learn more about food choices. Be sure to check out the nutritional labels on packaged foods.
  • School lunches – If you can, bring your own from home. If you're buying, steer away from the chocolate milk, fried foods, soda and desserts. Visit the salad bar, but choose the low-calorie dressing.
At the Mall

Maybe you're shopping with friends, seeing a movie, or just hanging out. Suddenly, you're "starving." Time to hit the food court. But don't order the first thing you see. Follow these tips, adapted from the JDRF, to help you make healthy choices:

  • Have a plan – Check out your options before you order.
  • Buy less than you want – You won't overeat, and you can always go back for more.
  • Ask questions – Make sure you know what's on your sandwich, right down to the mayo.
  • Warning words – If it's "crispy," "piled high," "extra cheesy" or "deep-fried," it's probably also high-fat and high-calorie.
  • Keep fat and calories low – For example, avoid regular salad dressing if your meal includes cheese or sour cream.
  • Don't super-size – You can order more if you're still hungry after a small, single or regular serving.
  • Split an order – Try sharing those fries or nachos with a friend or two.
  • Skimp on sweets – Drink diet soda or water. If you want dessert, consider a blended fruit drink, frozen yogurt or light ice cream.
  • Mix it up – Choose from different food stands to balance your meal.
  • Do some homework – With your parents, learn more about healthy food choices. A restaurant nutrition guide may help with your next trip to the mall.
Special Occasions

Your daily life is under control. But special occasions can cause problems for someone with type 1 diabetes. You don't want to miss the fun or special foods, but you need to plan carefully.

Here are some tips for celebrating without a sugar spike, adapted from the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

If you're going to a party:

  • Find out what kind of food will be served, when you'll eat and what activities are planned.
  • Encourage the party host to offer some non-sugary treats. Or offer to bring some yourself.
  • With your parents, make a party plan for what you'll eat and how much insulin you'll take. As you know, exercise affects blood sugar. Your plan should account for party activities such as roller-skating or swimming.
  • Make sure you know how to reach your parents in an emergency.
  • Check your blood sugar before you leave. Adjust your plan as needed.
  • Don't get upset if your parents seem nervous. They trust you. They just don't trust diabetes.

If it's a candy holiday (such as Halloween):

  • Prepare for any parties using the tips above.
  • Spread out your candy eating. You could try eating one piece a day instead of your normal snack.
  • If your parents are willing, trade your candy for something you'd rather have – maybe a dime or quarter for each piece.

If it's a feasting holiday (such as Thanksgiving):

  • Adjust your insulin and eating schedule based on big holiday mealtimes.
  • Special foods are holiday traditions. Juggle your food intake so you can eat at least some of them.
  • Reduce the carbs in favorite recipes by using artificial sweeteners and cookbook tricks.
Last updated January 25, 2010