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Type 1 & nutrition


Following a healthy diet is important for everyone – it is the key to maintaining a healthy weight, and minimising your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet for people with type 1 diabetes is the same as what is recommended for everyone. Our healthy eating video clip shows you how to build a healthy diet.


For people with type 1 diabetes, diet and nutrition also play an important role in managing blood glucose levels. 

The main nutrients in our diet that give us energy are: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Understanding how these nutrients and the foods they are in affect your blood glucose and your insulin needs will give you greater confidence when making food choices. 


Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is a vital source of energy for your body, especially the brain.  When your body digests carbohydrate, it breaks it down into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes your blood glucose levels to rise.
Carbohydrate is found in lots of different foods, and these foods also provide us with other important nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Which foods contain carbohydrate?
  • Breads, cereals and other grain foods like rice and pasta
  • Starchy vegetables like potato, legumes, and corn
  • Fruit
  • Dairy products like milk and yoghurt
  • Sugary foods and drinks 


Why are carbohydrates important?

The amount of carbohydrate that you eat in a meal has the biggest impact on your blood glucose level. Learning how to estimate how much carbohydrate there is in your meals is important to help you to decide how much insulin you need. Learn more about carbohydrate counting in the next tab.

Carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream at different rates. The Glycaemic Index ranks foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Read more about the Glycaemic Index in the tab above.


Protein

Protein is another source of energy in our diets and is the key nutrient that helps the body with growth and repair.  Protein is broken down into amino acids in the gut so that they can be absorbed. Protein does not break down into glucose, so does not directly raise blood glucose levels.

The main protein foods are:
  • Meats, chicken, fish, & tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Cheese
Milk and yoghurt are also protein foods. However because they also contain carbohydrate and will raise your blood glucose levels, we have listed them under the carbohydrate foods.


Fat

Fats provide the body with energy, and they breakdown into fatty acids. Fatty acids are an essential part of all cells in the body, they also help you to store energy, and provide insulation. Fats also allow the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Like protein, fat does not breakdown into glucose, so does not directly raise blood glucose levels. 

Fat is the most energy dense nutrient, so it is important not to eat more than you need. Eating a lot of fat may lead to weight gain, which can make your diabetes more difficult to manage.

The main fats in the diet are:
  • Oils, margarine, butter*
  • Cream*
  • Avocado
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Fried foods* and pastry*

*Indicates sources of saturated fat. Saturated fats can raise your blood cholesterol levels, so limit your intake of this type of fat.


The importance of a dietitian

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is a key part of your diabetes team. Seeing an APD who has good knowledge of type 1 diabetes on a regular basis can help you to check that what you are eating is meeting all of your individual nutrition needs, and help you to monitor the impact of your meals on your blood glucose levels. Go to the Dietitians Association of Australia website to find a dietitian near you or contact our Helpline on 1300 136 588.

Read more information about nutrition and type 1 diabetes by clicking on the tabs at the top of this page, including carbohydrate counting, glycaemic index, and coeliac disease.
Also read our factsheets for more information on:

Supermarket tours

Making healthy food choices, understanding food labels and carbohydrate counting can be a challenge. We organise supermarket tours for...

read more 

DAFNE Program

DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) is a five-day diabetes education program for adults with type 1 diabetes...

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​The Glycaemic Index (GI)


Not all carbohydrate foods will have the same impact on blood glucose levels (BGLs). Some carbohydrate foods are broken down and released into the blood stream very quickly and others are broken down much more slowly. The rate at which carbohydrate foods are released into the bloodstream is called the Glycaemic Index (GI). Carbohydrate foods can be classified as having either a low, medium or high GI. 

Low GI foods

Low GI carbohydrate foods are digested slowly, releasing glucose into the bloodstream more gradually compared to higher GI foods. They are also a lot more filling because they sit in your stomach for a longer amount of time, before they are digested. This can help with weight management, as you will be less likely to overeat. 

Examples of low GI foods include traditional rolled oats, dense wholegrain breads, lentils and legumes, sweet potato, milk, yoghurt, pasta and most types of fresh fruit.

Try to include at least 1 lower GI food at each of your meals. Remember that the portion size of carbohydrate is going to have the biggest impact on your BGLs. Just because a food has a lower GI doesn’t mean it can be eaten in large amounts.  


High GI foods

High GI foods are broken down and released into the blood stream quicker than other carbohydrate foods. They tend to cause a sharp rise in blood glucose levels and often don’t fill you up as much as lower GI foods, so you may feel hungry a short time after eating them. 

Examples of high GI foods include white bread, highly processed/low fibre breakfast cereals, shorter-grain rice (e.g. Jasmine rice), soft drinks and confectionary, as well as many processed and packaged snack foods.

Some high GI carbohydrates are still nutritious foods, such as potatoes and tropical fruits. Just because they are high GI doesn’t mean you need to cut them out – enjoy eating them in smaller portions occasionally. 
 
Lower GI foods   Higher GI foods
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Wholegrain cereals           
  • Rolled oats, muesli
  • Basmati rice
  • Quinoa, barley
  • Milk & yoghurt
  • Legumes
  • Sweet potato
  • White & wholemeal bread
  • Cornflakes, rice bubbles
  • Quick oats
  • Jasmine, medium grain rice
  • Couscous 
  • Rice & oat milk
  • Potato


The University of Sydney Glycaemic Index website has more information about the glycaemic index and the values of specific foods. You can also look for the Low GI symbol on packaging when shopping, however not all low GI foods will carry this symbol. To find out which products carry the low GI symbol, check out the website.



For more information about the GI, read the Glycaemic Index fact sheet

Supermarket tours

Making healthy food choices, understanding food labels and carbohydrate counting can be a challenge. We organise supermarket tours for...

read more 

DAFNE Program

DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) is a five-day diabetes education program for adults with type 1 diabetes...

read more 

​Coeliac disease and diabetes

 

Coeliac disease is an immune condition that affects the small intestine. When people with coeliac disease eat gluten their immune system is triggered, causing inflammation that damages the lining of the small intestine. Left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to nutrient deficiencies, problems with the bones, joints and other organs, as well as having an impact on fertility.

People with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of coeliac disease – it affects up to 10 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes. Having type 2 diabetes does not increase your risk of developing coeliac disease. However, about 1 in every 70 Australians have coeliac disease, so people with type 2 diabetes can still be affected.


Symptoms

Symptoms can vary widely. Some of the most common are:
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Stomach bloating or pain
  • Flatulence
  • Weight loss 
  • Tiredness
  • Anaemia 
  • In people with diabetes, unexplained fluctuations in blood glucose levels (BGLs)
Some people have severe symptoms whilst others may have none at all. It is important to realise that the level of symptoms does not indicate severity of the disease – bowel damage can still occur in people who don’t experience any of these symptoms. 


Treatment

The only treatment for coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten free diet. Following a gluten free diet allows the lining of the small intestine to recover, so it can properly absorb nutrients.

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale. Processed foods can also contain gluten. Look out for ingredients like wheaten cornflour and barley malt extract in the ingredients list.


It can be challenging to eat a balanced gluten free diet whilst managing your BGLs and diabetes. Below are some tips.


Getting enough fibre

Many gluten free grains are lower in fibre than those that contain gluten. Try these alternatives:  

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, legumes (e.g. baked beans, lentils, chick peas) and nuts – these foods are naturally gluten free and high in fibre.  
  • Use brown rice as it contains more fibre than white rice. Mix your rice with legumes or gluten free grains like quinoa to increase the fibre content.
  • Add extra fibre to your breakfast cereal or baked foods by adding psyllium husks or rice bran.


Low glycaemic index choices

Many gluten free grains have a higher glycaemic index (GI). 

Some lower GI gluten free foods are:
  • Basmati, Doongara (Clever) rice and other long grain rice varieties
  • Gluten free breads labelled as low GI
  • Grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth
  • Legumes 
  • Fruit
  • Corn, yams
  • Dairy products – milk, yoghurt, gluten-free custard and ice cream


Carbohydrate counting and gluten free foods

Getting diagnosed with coeliac disease can make carbohydrate counting more difficult, as it can mean a big change in the type of carbohydrate foods that you eat.

The amount of carbohydrate in gluten free foods is often different to their gluten-containing equivalent (e.g. rye bread and gluten free bread). Different brands of the same type of gluten free food may also contain varying amounts of carbohydrate.

Because of this, it is important not to rely on standard carbohydrate values. Check each food label to find out the amount of carbohydrate in the specific food type and brand you are eating. 

Remember that many carbohydrate foods are naturally gluten free – starchy vegetables, many dairy foods, fruit, legumes and rice. You can continue counting these as you have done before. Read more about carbohydrate counting on the tab above.


More information

Children with type 1 diabetes are routinely screened for coeliac disease, usually on an annual basis. There are no set guidelines on how often adults with type 1 diabetes should be screened. However, screening should take place at diagnosis and be repeated every few years. Talk to your doctor if you have not been screened for several years. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, experience the above symptoms and are concerned you may have coeliac disease, talk to your doctor about whether you may need to be screened. 


Coeliac Victoria & Tasmania  provides support and information on living with coeliac disease. Valuable resources include how to manage a gluten free diet, choosing gluten free ingredients, and advice on where to find shops and restaurants that cater for gluten free diets. 

All people with diabetes and coeliac disease should see an Accredited Practising Dietitian who specialises in these areas, to assist with balancing the nutrition needs of these two conditions. To find a dietitian contact the Dietitians Association of Australia or the Diabetes Victoria Helpline on 1300 136 588.

Diabetes Australia has produced a booklet on living with diabetes and coeliac disease. Visit our shop  to purchase this resource.

Supermarket tours

Making healthy food choices, understanding food labels and carbohydrate counting can be a challenge. We organise supermarket tours for...

read more 

DAFNE Program

DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) is a five-day diabetes education program for adults with type 1 diabetes...

read more