Why is it important to manage my childâ€™s diet when he has diabetes?
Having diabetes means that there is too much sugar (glucose) in your blood. The body breaks down some of the foods your child eats into sugar. Your childâ€™s blood carries the sugar to the cells of the body. Your child needs the sugar in the cells for energy, but too much sugar in your blood is not good for your childâ€™s health. The body uses insulin to help move sugar from the blood into the cells.
Diabetes is a problem with the way the body makes or uses insulin. Insulin is made by the pancreas, which is an organ in the upper belly. Type 1 diabetes happens when your childâ€™s pancreas stops making insulin. Type 2 diabetes happens when your childâ€™s pancreas doesnâ€™t make enough insulin or the body becomes unable to use the insulin. When your childâ€™s body does not have enough insulin or has trouble using insulin, sugar builds up in the blood and cannot get into the cells.
Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin, but food choices and exercise are still very important parts of managing blood sugar and preventing complications. The goal of food choices is to try to keep your childâ€™s blood sugar at a normal level throughout the day. This is done by matching your childâ€™s insulin doses with the types and amounts of food he eats. Meal plans can be designed to fit your childâ€™s lifestyle.
With type 2, sometimes your child can control his blood sugar with just diet and exercise. Or he may also need to take oral medicine or insulin shots.
In all cases, understanding how the food your child eats affects blood sugar is an important part of taking good care of your child.
What are the types of meal plans?
There are several ways to plan meals to help manage diabetes. Your diabetes care provider will help you find a meal plan that works for your child. Most plans are based on counting carbohydrates (carbs) in food because carbs have the biggest effect on your childâ€™s blood sugar level. Carbohydrates are a source of energy for the body. There are three basic types of carbs: starches, sugars, and dietary fiber.
- Sugars such as glucose and fructose raise blood sugar very quickly. Sugar is found in foods such as fruit, milk, soft drinks, baked goods, and candy.
- Starches are found in plant-based foods such as pasta, bread, cereals, rice, potatoes, beans, and corn. Some starches are converted to energy very quickly, but others, such as whole grains, are converted more slowly.
- Dietary fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested. Fiber is found in whole-grain bread and pasta, beans, peas, leafy vegetables, raisins, prunes, apples, and berries. Fiber can help control blood sugar by slowing how quickly your childâ€™s body absorbs sugar from foods.
The most common types of meal plans are:
- The Plate method: This is an easy way to make healthy food choices and control portions, carbs, and calories. Fill half of a 9-inch plate with nonstarchy vegetables. One fourth of the plate should have starches such as whole grains and vegetables like potatoes. The last quarter of the plate is for proteins such as lean meat. You can have a portion of low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit on the side. You can also add small amounts of healthy fat. This way of planning your childâ€™s meals is focused on getting more vegetables and less starchy foods. This helps to control blood sugar.
- Carbohydrate counting meal plan. This plan helps you figure out the amount of carbs in the foods your child eats at each meal or snack and match your childâ€™s insulin dosage to that carb amount. This plan works best if your child takes insulin with each meal.
- Constant carbohydrate meal plan. With the constant carbohydrate meal plan, your child eats a set amount of carbohydrates at each meal and snack. Your child takes insulin or other diabetes medicines at the same times and in the same amounts each day.
- Exchange meal plan. This plan divides foods into starch, fruit, milk, fat, vegetable, and meat groups. The plan gives you serving sizes for foods in each group that have about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories. This lets you exchange, or swap, choices from a food list.
It is important to meet with a dietitian to develop a meal plan that fits your childâ€™s taste and lifestyle, and your familyâ€™s budget.
What is a healthy way for my child to eat?
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