In Treatment: Helping Your Child Adjust to Type 1 Diabetes
Discover the best solutions for helping children adjust to Type-1 diabetes with our panel of Canadian health experts – a dietician, a doctor, and a fitness instructor.
“My eight-year-old was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. How can I help him adjust to his new reality? ” – Marie Reynard, Toronto.
1. Facilitate the Move to a Healthier Diet
Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist: My No. 1 piece of advice is to help your son fall in love with healthy food. Fluctuations in glucose levels may cause him to crave the opposite-refined carbohydrates such as bread, cookies and candy-so you’ll need to explain to him that eating these can cause blood sugar to shoot up, leading to dry mouth, fatigue and stomach aches. Then get him excited about balanced eating by taking him shopping and teaching him to prepare nutritious meals.
For inspiration, buy a recipe book featuring low-glycemic-index foods and start adding new flavours to everyday cooking. Cinnamon can help to balance blood sugar, for example, and lemons and vinegar lower the glycemic index of carbohydrates.
To reduce carb intake, experiment with natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia, which are safe options for children, and learn how to make tasty treats using wheat alternatives, including coconut, almond or bean flour.
Finally, a diabetic requires regular meals plus snacks every two to three hours in between, so pack your son’s lunch with sweet yet low-sugar options, such as snap peas, red-pepper strips and berries.
Toronto-based certified nutritionist Julie Daniluk co-hosts the reality cooking show Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network and recently published her first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation.
Each medical situation is unique. Be sure to consult your physician about the specifics of your condition.
2. Help Regulate Blood Sugar with Multivitamins
Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD: Children often have difficulty understanding this disease and dealing with the need for frequent blood-sugar monitoring and daily insulin injections. Although regular insulin is the only recognized treatment for Type 1 diabetes, you can help minimize complications such as damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart by ensuring your son gets the nutrients and vitamins he needs through a healthy, low-glycemic diet and supplements.
While it’s not a replacement for insulin, a daily multivitamin containing chromium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, B complex, vitamins C, D and E, and omega-3 fatty acids can help to regulate your son’s blood sugar. Another way to lower insulin requirements is to add soluble fibre in the form of milled flax, psyllium or pectin, or one teaspoon (or three capsules) of Integra Nutrition’s Ultimate Fibre Plus to your son’s meals or beverages.
While it will require some lifestyle tweaks, diabetes is manageable. The more guidance and help you can get from doctors, nutritionists, counsellors and teachers, the easier it will be for you and your son to adjust.
Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD, practices complementary medicine in Toronto, edits The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and is the author of the bestseller Return to the Joy of Health.
3. Use Exercise to Reduce the Need for Insulin
Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor: Exercise is a cornerstone of diabetes management, so consider weaving regular light to moderate cardio and strength-training exercises into your son’s routine. Not only will this help control his weight, but it will also cause his body to use up the glucose stored for energy, keeping blood-sugar levels in check and reducing his need for insulin.
Also keep in mind that the disease could affect the type and amount of exercise your son needs. The Canadian Diabetes Association advises people with Type 1 diabetes to monitor glucose before and after a sweat session in order to identify how the body responds to various forms of fitness. And since physical activity causes blood-sugar levels to drop off, it could put someone with the disease at risk of hypoglycemia (low glucose levels). So it’s best to work out with a light, high-carbohydrate snack on hand.
To start your son off, first get his doctor’s approval. From there, plan physician-approved activities that your son will enjoy-anything from bike riding to a team sport, like soccer or basketball.
Have a question for our panel of experts? Email it to [email protected] and it could be answered in a future issue of Reader’s Digest Canada.
(Photo: Monkey Business/Thinkstock)
Amanda Vogel, MA human kinetics, is a Vancouver-based certified fitness instructor and author of numerous books, including Baby Boot Camp: The 9-Minute Fitness Solution.