By: Issy Lovett
At present, approximately 210,000 Americans under the age of 20 are living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Whereas some children may be required to take insulin or other medication to help control their blood sugar levels, following a healthy diet can also make diabetes diagnosis easier to control. While your child’s diabetic care team will provide expert guidance with regards to a healthy diet, it is important that children are encouraged to get actively involved in their meal planning as well. This will not only encourage them to actively seek out healthier food options, but also aid in a greater overall understanding of their condition.
Explain the Importance of Healthy Eating
In order for a child to actively embrace a healthy eating plan, it is important that they understand why it is important. Eating healthy food helps control a child’s blood sugar, which, in turn, can reduce their risk of serious health concerns such as heart disease, kidney damage, and visual impairment. Keeping blood sugar levels stabilized is also one of the most effective ways to prevent diabetic neuropathy. Although neuropathy is not often present in children, subclinical diabetic neuropathy does affect nearly 50% of all children living with Type 1 diabetes. By eating food that helps regulate blood sugar levels, the onset of neuropathic pain and numbness can be averted.
Food is Not the Enemy
When empowering children to help take charge of their own eating plans, it is of vital importance that they understand that food is not their enemy. There are no foods that are completely off-limits to them. Instead, they just need to be mindful of what they eat. As heart disease is more common in people with diabetes, encourage your child to limit their consumption of foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Food high in salt and sugar should also be eaten in quantities that are in line with the dietary plan obtained from the diabetes care team.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of Healthy Snacks
As children inherently gravitate towards fun snacks that are often filled with empty carbs and unhealthy fats, it is very important to arm a child with diabetes with the knowledge needed to make healthy snack choices. It is important that snacks do not only make it easier to manage a child’s diabetes, but contribute towards their overall nutritional requirements as well. Good snack choices include hard-boiled eggs, beef or turkey jerky, tortilla chips with hummus, scrambled eggs, and lightly-salted popcorn. Urge your children to help prepare their own snacks, as this will further encourage them to start making healthy food choices.
Food Labels Provide Valuable Information
Children can be taught how to read and interpret food labels from a young age. These labels provide valuable information about ingredients, calories, and general nutritional information. All this information can make it easier for a child to keep their blood sugar levels stabilized. For children following a carb-counting eating plan, food labels can be a saving grace, as they typically indicate exactly how many carbohydrates a food item contains. Food labels will also make it easier for a child to determine whether a food item is classified as a protein, fat, or starch. While strict calorie counting is generally not encouraged for children, it is important to make sure that a child does not consume too many calories as this can lead to weight gain.
Encouraging a child to get actively involved in their eating plans can help them garner a greater understanding of their diagnosis. It will also help them to develop healthy eating habits that will benefit them well into adulthood.
Issy Lovett is a full time mom to two girls and a busy writer. She is trying to instill a love of gardening and growing your own produce into her children, and often has them in the kitchen with her to help prep meals and learn about the joys of cooking.