Insulin Dependent Diabetic Nutrition Fact Sheet:

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Diabetes and Diets

Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or type 1 diabetes, is a chronic disease in which the beta cells of the pancreas produce little to no insulin. Insulin allows muscle cells to take up and use glucose, the basic source of energy for muscular activity. Type 1 diabetes often begins during childhood or adolescence, although the cause is unknown. For type 1 diabetics, treatment and management of their disease requires consistent monitoring of glucose levels, active lifestyles and healthy diets.

The nutritional diet for insulin dependent diabetics is similar to that of any other healthy diet. The important things to remember are consistency and proper food choice. When choosing foods, you should pick foods that are high in functional calories and separate your food choices into appropriate portions of the three nutritional components: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Consistency in healthy portions can help prevent elevated blood glucose levels, or hyperglycemia.


Carbohydrates supply your body with energy. Simple carbohydrates, like sugar, are quickly absorbed by the body, resulting in spikes in blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, take longer for the body to absorb, resulting in more stable blood sugar levels. For type 1 diabetics, it is important to eat healthy portions of carbohydrates, but also to pay attention to choosing the right type of carbohydrates. The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates based on their impact of blood sugar levels. Choose carbohydrates with a glycemic index of 55 or lower.

Your daily carbohydrate intake should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. In most people, this is roughly150 to 250 grams per day. If you participate in an active exercise plan, you may need to increase carbohydrate intake slightly prior to physical activity.


Fats are another important nutritional component to consider in the diet of a Type 1 diabetic. Fat can be a good source of energy as it provides the most calories per gram. Fats should make up about 25 to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake, but it is important to limit certain types of fats, while eating more of other types. There are proverbially “good” and “bad” fats, which should either be eaten or limited, respectively, particularly since diabetics are prone to heart disease.

“Bad” fats include saturated fats, hydrogenated fats and tropical oils. Saturated fats are generally from animal sources and include fat from meat, cream, butter and lard. Hydrogenated fats include items like margarine and shortening. Tropical oils include coconut oil and palm oil. This group of dietary fats should be limited, due to the increased susceptibility to vascular conditions in diabetics.

“Good” fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil and safflower oil. An example of a polyunsaturated fat is Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in different types of fish, walnuts and soybeans. “Good” fats can also be found in avocados and a variety of nuts.


Protein should make up about 10 to 35 percent of caloric intake. Patients with complications that have affected the kidneys should stay to the lower end of the scale, as excess protein can exacerbate kidney damage. It is important for type 1 diabetics to make proper choices for their protein calories. In order to limit saturated fats, they should choose lean cuts, remove the skin from poultry, eat low fat dairy options and try to receive portions of their protein from vegetable sources, like soybean and nuts.


Alcohol intake should remain limited and always taken in conjunction with a meal. Studies have shown that moderate intake of alcohol, especially red wines, can have positive effects on circulation and slow the progression of atherosclerosis. However, alcohol can have effects on blood glucose and can cause severe hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetics, so it is important to be careful when consuming alcohol within the parameters of a diabetic diet.


If you are a type 1 diabetic, check with your physician or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your diet. Be sure to visit your endocrinologist at least four times per year, and have your a1C levels checked.


Mayo Clinic: Type 1 diabetes

Johns Hopkins: Diabetes Guide:: Nutrition for Type 1 Diabetes

University of California, San Francisco: Understanding Food: Type 1 Diabetes

American Diabetes Association: What Can I Eat

American Heart Association: Red Wine and Your Heart