Making decisions on behalf of our children is a tough job. A choice I recently had to make after my daughter’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis was regarding the details of our new lifestyle. This is where my husband and I have landed when it comes to how to feed our family from now on–choices informed both by my experience and the data we’ve found. Your experience and reasons for what you do may lead you elsewhere, of course. My biggest hope is for all kids with type 1 diabetes to have the best of health and happiness.
5 Reasons Why My Child With Diabetes Eats Low-Carb
1. Because safety is a priority. As a longtime type 1 myself, I know the danger of diabetes highs and lows. When eating low-carb, the degree of my daughter’s blood sugar fluctuations is minimized. So for example, instead of spiking after a meal to 200 mg/dL, she may spike to 120 mg/dL. This is a big difference because not only is it better for her body to experience the lower of those two glucose numbers, a 120 mg/dL is also much easier to correct with a tiny dose of insulin (diluted, in her case) versus a larger one that may overshoot her into low glucose territory.
Not only that but in the case of something like sickness or adrenaline spiking her, in addition to food, a 200 mg/dL can more quickly rise to dangerous levels, particularly if coupled with dehydration. Low blood sugar comes on much more slowly due to the small insulin doses covering small carb amounts. By comparison, many type 1s regularly endure those fast-moving lows from fast-acting insulin doses that are miserable to experience and sometimes dangerously challenging to manage. We avoid the likelihood of dangerous scenarios by dealing with small numbers which equal small errors.
2. To successfully target normal blood sugar levels. Ideally, human blood glucose is tightly regulated for optimal health. I want to get as close as possible to normal blood sugar levels for my daughter, and the only way to do this without risking dangerous low blood sugars is to cut back her carbs so that the insulin doses are smaller. By doing so, I can aim for blood sugar levels in the optimal physiological range.
I can manage blood sugar levels pretty well with a higher-carb diet because of my accumulated diabetes knowledge. However, in doing so, the risk for severe lows inevitably increases, and I experience a higher standard of deviation and more corrections, stress, and worry throughout the day, as well as subsequent weight gain. All of these factors negatively impact health and add up to a substantial degree of difference.
3. To support her emotional and mental health. I often hear people with type 2 diabetes say that they feel awful when their blood sugar swings up to 140 mg/dL. I’ve noticed my daughter’s mood changes from happy-go-lucky when around 80 mg/dL to sluggish and irritable when up at 120 mg/dL. I observed her when diagnosed up at 300 mg/dL: barely able to muster a smile, slumped over, sad-eyed–and this was before she knew she had diabetes (which otherwise would have explained her demeanor at the time).
I strive to keep her blood sugar level normal, just like I do for myself–to keep her moods steady and positive, which is a tremendous asset in life. My own depression and anxiety alleviated when I dramatically lowered my A1c many years ago. I consider the aim of normal blood sugar part of the prevention of poor emotional and mental health. Not to mention, she’ll have less fear and anxiety due to fewer extreme blood sugar scenarios, and that’s a heavy burden I’d like to remove.
4. For proper nutrition. Growing kids require adequate protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Her diet is supplying her with these nutrients. What seems crucial for humans is to get the right ratio of protein to energy (calories). For example: if you give a kid a meal with high fat (say from nuts and cheese) or high carbs (from something like bread and juice), they’re going to get their caloric fill and may not have much room for sufficient protein–it might be crowded out. However, the body is often going to request this basic protein requirement in the form of hunger, and a child will likely ask for a snack later and take in a surplus of calories over time, leading to weight gain in the long run.
It is my understanding that children need protein as the basis of the building blocks for their ongoing growth and they need it quite regularly, ideally at every single meal.
My daughter does not currently feel deprived, so that’s not a concern. Her favorite meals include scrambled eggs with parsley, ground beef with shirataki noodles and marinara sauce, mushrooms, and spinach, and chicken breasts with broccoli and parmesan cheese. Meals sometimes contain a small side of nuts. Dessert is an occasional low-carb treat. Her favorites are Carolyn Ketchum’s Almond Joy Brownies and Sour Cream Coffee Cake.
5. For a healthy weight. I touched upon this above with what happens when protein is crowded out, but that’s not all. When giving large amounts of insulin to cover carbs, you’re often going to over or undershoot when targeting a narrow range. This is why many target a wide range of something like 80 mg/dL to 180 mg/dL. I don’t want my daughter to endure high blood sugar if I can help it, so I don’t accept that wide range.
The overshoot of insulin leads to low blood sugar that requires additional calories to treat. The undershoot of insulin for a meal requires insulin to correct and when insulin is given as a correction and not for the purpose of covering a meal, you have the excess insulin effect observed in people with type 2 diabetes who have insulin resistance, but a great deal of otherwise circulating insulin in their system, which can cause them harm over time.
I developed metabolic dysfunction as a young person. As a teenager and young adult, I suffered from insulin resistance, high triglycerides, elevated liver enzymes, and clinical obesity. I corrected all of this by dropping my carbohydrate intake and improving blood sugar levels.
I can sympathize with others being tempted to try this yet, feeling intimidated. This way of life does initially take more time, money, and being “different”. We’re adjusting by prioritizing time and spending, being creative, and accepting/embracing being different. The joys of feeling good and having a healthy body and stable moods are priceless and while we can’t achieve perfection, we aim high, stay safe, and simply do our best with the tools and knowledge at our disposal. We endeavor to continually assess what we do, based on the results and information we get.
Our daughter is encouraged to give honest feedback at all times. So far she says, “I hate insulin shots and finger pricks, but I love our food!”
Editor’s note: For those who are interested/curious, we learned how to do this kind of diabetes management via Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution book.