What is Juvenile Diabetes?
Childhood diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes affects thousands of kids around the world. This condition is an insulin-dependent type of diabetes, where the key to management is maintaining normal blood sugar levels by lifelong insulin injections. Also classified as type I diabetes, it is more of an autoimmune disorder probably triggered by a viral infection or genetic disorder that results in the failure of the pancreatic cells to produce the hormone insulin. Without insulin the body cannot absorb and utilize sugar from the diet which is an important source of energy for all cells.
The goals of management of juvenile diabetes are to maintain normal blood sugar levels, decrease the risks for hypoglycemia and to prevent complications that can affect the heart, kidneys, nerves, limbs and eyes.
Juvenile Diabetes Diet: Things to Consider
There are many important considerations in planning the meals of children with type I diabetes such as:
- Growing kids need to balance their intake for proteins, fats and carbohydrates to support proper brain, bone and muscle development.
- In general, the diet should contain enough calories to maintain a healthy weight according the age and height.
- To help decrease the risks for hypoglycemia (blood sugar levels below normal) during insulin treatment one must balance food intake and exercise levels that can increase glucose utilization and deplete it from the blood.
- Kids who are suffering from other illnesses like the flu or other childhood diseases are experiencing stress, which may affect blood glucose levels.
- Environmental and emotional factors like school pressure, holidays and traveling can affect the kind of foods and activities kids have. Halloween and birthday parties are especially important to consider when planning for the kid’s meals and level of activities.
- The ability parents, teachers, caregivers and of older children to monitor or to recognize symptoms that indicate dangerous blood sugar levels is important in the prevention of complications.
Recommendations for Diet Planning for Kids with Diabetes
Consultation with a doctor and a dietitian in meal planning for diabetic kids is important to learn how to balance their diet with carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Using the Diabetes Food Pyramid as a guide, parents may give children more foods belonging to the base of the pyramid, such as grains, bread, beans, rice, pasta and starchy vegetables. It is important to choose whole-grain foods, whole-wheat or other whole-grain flours and low-fat breads. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy carbohydrates, and they can be given in six or more servings per day.
Green and yellow vegetables must be given in three to five servings, without added sauces, fats or salt.
Two to four servings of whole fruits, rather than juices are desirable for their fiber and vitamin content. Citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruit are ideal.
For protein sources, low fat milk, yogurt, fish, poultry and lean meat (pork, beef or veal) may be given in two to three servings per day. These are best broiled, boiled, baked or roasted, instead of fried.
Foods with high content of saturated fats like butter, hamburgers, bacon and cheese are best avoided. Keep desserts in small servings, preferably sugar-free.
Meals should be consistent as to the type and amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins taken per day.
Parents and caregivers must learn how to read food labels to make proper decisions in choosing foods and planning meals.
Meals should be eaten consistently at regular times, avoiding skipping of any meal or snack. This is the same principle for insulin injections, which should be given at regular hours.
Meal planning goes hand-in-hand with insulin therapy. Parents, caregivers and older children (above 14 years recommended) should learn how to monitor sugar levels, time insulin injections and detect signs of hypoglycemia which is the most common complication of insulin therapy.
Planning meals for type I diabetic diet is challenging especially for kids who are exposed to other members of the family and school children not having to deal with food restrictions. As a lifestyle modification planning a diabetic diet, a range of physical activities, a strategy for monitoring blood sugar levels and implementing insulin therapy are important to maintain a healthy, active child.
WebMD, “Type 1 Diabetes”, https://diabetes.webmd.com/guide/type-1-diabetes
Medline Plus, “Diabetes Diet – Type 1”, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002440.htm