Healthy Eating For Children With Diabetes

Healthy Eating For Children With Diabetes

Healthy meal planning is an important part of diabetes management. There is no need for your child or young person to eat special foods or follow a restrictive diet.

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Key points to remember about healthy eating for children with diabetes

  • healthy meal planning is an important part of diabetes management
  • healthy eating for people with diabetes is the same as healthy eating for everyone
  • there is no need for your child or young person to eat special foods or follow a restrictive diet
  • regular physical activity is also important and benefits people of all ages

What kind of meal planning does my child with diabetes need?

It is important for children and young people with diabetes to eat a variety of foods as part of a routine eating plan. Most children can enjoy foods from each of the 4 food groups every day, including:

  • vegetables and fruits
  • breads and cereals
  • milk and milk products
  • lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds

Children and young people need to eat enough food, and drink enough fluids, so they can grow and keep active. Having a routine eating plan and teaching your children to make healthy food choices is an important part of diabetes management. This will help your child to keep their blood glucose levels steady and within the target range most of the time.

A dietitian who specialises in diabetes will work out a routine eating plan that suits you and your child. Each child is an individual and the eating plan that might work best for your family will depend on things like:

  • nutritional needs for growth and development
  • daily routine
  • food preferences
  • physical activity levels
  • your child's insulin regimen

Most children and young people living with diabetes do not need to follow a ‘special diet’ or restrictive eating plan.

Why is carbohydrate important for my child with diabetes?

Carbohydrate is the best source of energy for the body. It is broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. The body, including the brain and the muscles, uses glucose as a fuel. 

Carbohydrate has the biggest impact on blood glucose levels. It is important to include some good quality carbohydrate foods at each main meal (and snacks) to keep blood glucose levels steady. Your dietitian can give you advice about the right amount and type of carbohydrate for your child or young person.

Carbohydrates are found in a range of foods.

Breads and cereals

Breakfast cereals, oats, breads, crackers, rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa.

Starchy vegetables and fruits

Potato, kumara, corn, yam, parsnips, taro, green banana, cassava, a variety of fruits.

Milk and milk products

Milk, yoghurt, ice cream.

Legumes and lentils

Baked beans, chickpeas, split peas, kidney beans, soya beans.

Foods with addeed sugars

Jam, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, cordials, soft drinks, fruits drinks.

What is the glycaemic index?

The glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate foods based on how quickly they are digested and their impact on blood glucose levels.

Low GI foods 

Some carbohydrate foods are digested slowly, producing a gradual rise in blood glucose levels. These slow release carbohydrates (low GI or low glycaemic index) help to keep blood glucose levels steady. They help to provide continuing energy across the day. This can be especially important when your child or young person is active or playnig sports.

Low GI foods include:

  • wholegrain breads, pasta and unrefined cereals that are high in fibre (such as Burgen®, Holsom's® 9 grain, rolled oats, All Bran®, Special K®, Weetbix®
  • rice (such as basmati, Doongara, Uncle Ben's®, parboiled)
  • legumes and lentils (such as baked beans, chickpeas, split peas, kidney beans, haricot beans)
  • dairy with protein (such as milk, yoghurt, low fat ice cream)
  • fruits (such as oranges, apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, apples, pears, dried apricots, prunes)
  • vegetables (such as corn, kumara, yams, taro, green banana)

High GI foods

Some carbohydrate foods are digested quickly and produce a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. They are called quick release or high GI foods. They can be helpful when blood glucose levels are dropping or during exercise. 

Your dietitian will be able to recommend the use of different types of carbohydrates to fit in your child or young person's routine meal plan and activities.

General guidelines on dietary management for children with diabetes

Why is specific dietary advice important for my child with diabetes?

It is important that your child or young person sees a dietitian regularly, as part of the specialist diabetes team. Your dietitian can provide more education and information on the dietary management of diabetes. They can review your child or young person's routine eating plan to support their growth and development.

Acknowledgements

The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the National Clinical Network Children and Young People's Diabetes Services.

This page last reviewed 04 March 2021.

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