Words and Photos by Joanna Marie Nicholson
As individuals with Type 1 diabetes, our daily lives are already a balancing act—from numerous finger pricks to changing pump infusion sites to carb counting. On top of everything else, life can feel overwhelming at times. Add non-mandatory diet modifications into the mix, such as going gluten free, dairy free or Paleo, and it’s a whole other dimension that can seem intimidating if we’re not armed with the right information.
While I’ve always embraced a health-conscious way of living, I put my own health under the microscope even more over the past few years. I embarked on a major health journey that involved carefully monitoring my blood labs, punching up my fitness routine (hello, triathlons!) and being more mindful of what I put in my mouth.
I began seeing a naturopath to explore other ways I could improve my Type 1 diabetes management. Given my health history of autoimmunity, my first step was eliminating all gluten from my diet—cold turkey. Although I was a bit skeptical, I now couldn’t imagine life any other way. The numerous benefits of eating a clean diet, with no gluten or dairy and minimal processed foods, has given me sustained energy, improved my digestive health, stabilized blood sugar levels and allowed me to reduce my insulin.
If you’re thinking of giving your diet an overhaul or migrating to a cleaner regime, here are five tips to keep in mind.
Green Veggies are Nutritional Superheroes
From kale to broccoli, green veggies do wonders for our bodies. They’re not only low in carbohydrates (an added win for those with Type 1 diabetes), but also high in vitamins and minerals. Remember your parents telling you to finish your broccoli or spinach? Turns out, they knew what they were talking about. Green vegetables are excellent source of vitamin K, folate, magnesium, iron and vitamin C. For an easy way to incorporate these nutritional superheroes into your diet, throw some spinach or kale into a smoothie with some unsweetened almond milk and a low sugar fruit, such as strawberries.
Learn to Love Fibre
Foods rich in soluble fibre, such as legumes, oat bran and chia seeds, help us feel more satisfied after we eat because the food travels slowly from the stomach to the small intestine. And this is good news for people with Type 1 diabetes because it helps prevent spikes in blood sugar and better manage our Type 1 diabetes. Fibre in these foods can also help with the absorption of fats, thus reducing cholesterol, which is something people with Type 1 diabetes need to be mindful of. One of my favourite fibre-rich snacks is chia pudding, which is also rich in omega-3s and helps the body fight inflammation. Check out this tasty chia pudding recipe.
Good Fats are your Friends
The best sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and coconut oil. Extra-virgin olive oil, which comes from the first room temperature pressing of the olives, is high in a number of antioxidants and oleic acid, which decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. One of my favourite friendly fats is extra virgin coconut oil for its versatility in and out of the kitchen. When cooking, I use it to replace bad fats and hydrogenated oils, such as vegetable or canola oil. Good fats help us feel satiated and have even been shown to help reduce fasting glucose.
Pack the Punch with Protein
Did you know that protein generally makes up approximately a sixth of our body weight? Lean proteins, such as chicken and fish, are great for those with Type 1 diabetes because of their low carb content and ability to stabilize blood sugars over the long term. Proteins, whether animal-based or plant-based, also help the body grow new tissue, which is essential for building muscle and repairing any damage after an intense workout. If you’re feeling a mid-afternoon crash coming on, reach for a hardboiled egg for a quick and easy snack that keep you energized for the rest of the day. I’m also a huge fan of KIND bars, which are a convenient pick-me-up if you’re on the run.
Don’t be Fooled by the Packaging
In an episode of Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness podcast, he interviews chiropractor and nutritionist, Dr. Peter Osborne, about gluten and our health. According to Osborne, autoimmune conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes, hypothyroidism and arthritis, are often linked to gluten consumption. It’s not surprising that those with Type 1 diabetes often develop Celiac disease. The fact is that a lot of foods labeled gluten free, like crackers and cookies, are still heavily processed and contain grains (corn, rice, sorghum, etc.) that often have a similar effect as gluten. To maximize health benefits of going gluten free, it’s better to stick with whole foods that our ancestors ate, such as vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, nuts, seeds and healthy fats (also known as Paleo diet!).
While eating clean has dramatically changed my Type 1 diabetes management and how I generally feel, it’s important to listen to your body when making any change—something that we’re already pros at living with Type 1 diabetes. What works well for some will be different from others. Generally speaking, the more processed foods you can ditch from your diet, the better. Don’t be surprised if your endocrinologist asks you what you’ve been doing differently at your next check-up. Your body will thank you for years to come, too!