Diabetes Type 1 And Nutrition

What is diabetes type 1?

Diabetes type 1 is a chronic disease characterised by hormone deficiency. The human body requires a hormone called insulin to regulate its blood sugar levels. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make sufficient insulin, so blood sugar levels cannot be regulated.1 High blood sugar can lead to severe health complications, so a patient with this disease has to manage their own blood sugar levels. This can be achieved by daily insulin supplementation via injections or pumps, as well as via a patient's lifestyle and diet. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include an increase in thirst, urination, or hunger as well as fatigue and blurred vision.2 These symptoms tend to arise quickly and more commonly lead to a diagnosis in children, however, adults can also be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

There’s no specific diet for type 1 diabetes

The severity of type 1 diabetes is different in every patient. People also do not respond the same way to food, so there cannot be one diet that works for every diabetes patient. The most important thing for a type 1 diabetes patient is to monitor what they’re eating as well as get to know how they react to certain foods and create a diet that works for them. 

The key advice is to eat a balanced diet including protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Consumption of protein or fat does not lead to a spike in blood sugar levels after consumption. It is the consumption of carbohydrates, specifically simple carbohydrates, that lead to a spike in blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes patients are not told to avoid simple sugars, but there is a benefit from a lower intake as it would prevent large spikes in blood sugar, requiring less blood sugar level maintenance and insulin injections.3 

Protein and complex carbohydrates can help stabilise blood sugar 

Proteins and complex carbohydrates are essential macronutrients in every diet. Protein is essential for growth and development. Complex carbohydrates include fibre and starch which are nutrient-dense and digest more slowly, keeping you fuller for longer.4 For a type 1 diabetes person, proteins and complex carbohydrates are extra important as they help to stabilise blood sugar levels. Proteins can stabilise blood sugar levels because, since they take a longer time to digest than other macronutrients, this slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood.5 Complex carbohydrates also take longer to break down as they have a larger chain structure compared to simple carbohydrates, meaning glucose is absorbed into the blood more slowly. 

Pay attention to the glycaemic index

The glycaemic index is a scale that ranks food containing carbohydrates depending on how they affect blood sugar levels. The scale is from 0 to 100, where the foods with a rating of 55 or less are considered to be of a low glycaemic index, and those with a rating greater than 70 are considered to be of high glycaemic index.6 

Foods with a low glycaemic index are better for people with type 1 diabetes, as they are digested more slowly, meaning they do not lead to a large spike in blood sugar levels, but maintain a lower sugar level for a longer period of time compared to high glycaemic index foods. This makes a person fuller for longer and does not risk dangerous blood sugar levels. Examples of foods with a low glycaemic index include oats, wholegrain bread, and couscous. 

Foods with a high glycaemic index produce a large spike in blood sugar levels following consumption, which should be avoided for patients with type 1 diabetes as this can lead to dangerous side effects. This includes foods such as sugary cereal, white bread, and white rice. 

The glycaemic index can be misleading, as high glycaemic index foods are not always more unhealthy compared to low glycaemic index foods. It should be used as more of a guide for diabetic individuals to help monitor blood glucose levels. It is worth noting that the glycaemic index shows how each individual food product affects blood sugar levels, but in reality, these foods are eaten in combination with other foods that may be high in protein or fat, which also have an effect on blood sugar levels.7 Therefore foods with a high glycaemic index should not be completely avoided, but people with type 1 diabetes should be aware and remain mindful of the foods they are eating. 

Make sure to monitor your blood sugar

Type 1 diabetic individuals will know the importance of measuring their blood sugar levels. The two main ways in which a person can do this are with a continuous glucose monitor or with a standard blood sugar monitor. The continuous glucose monitor is a sensor that is implanted under the skin which measures blood glucose levels and can send this information to an app on a mobile device or to a portable monitor.8 Alternatively, one can manually extract a drop of their blood and insert it into a blood sugar monitor to read their blood sugar levels. Depending on a type 1 diabetes person’s treatment plan, blood sugar level monitoring may be done four to ten times a day, usually before meals, before and after exercise, as well as before bed. These measurements give the patient an indication of their blood sugar levels and therefore how much insulin they should take to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. 


This article has demonstrated the relationship between nutrition and type 1 diabetes. A well balanced diet is essential for every human being, including type 1 diabetes individuals. There isn’t any type of food that type 1 diabetes individuals should avoid completely, as long as they know how certain foods will affect their blood sugar levels. Foods rated with a low glycaemic index or simple carbohydrates will lead to a spike in blood sugar levels, but as long as the person knows how to manage this increase with insulin injections, or by eating these foods in combination with other proteins, fats or complex carbohydrates, the increase in blood sugar levels can be controlled and managed to avoid causing any dangerous symptoms to the person. 


  1. Type 1 diabetes - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011
  2. Type 1 diabetes – Symptoms and getting diagnosed [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-1-diabetes/about-type-1-diabetes/symptoms-and-getting-diagnosed/
  3. Watts M. Carbohydrates are sugars that come in 2 main forms - simple and complex. This is also referred to as simple sugars and starches. [Internet]. Diabetes. 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition/simple-carbs-vs-complex-carbs.html
  4. Simple carbohydrates vs. Complex carbohydrates [Internet]. Healthline. 2015 [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/simple-carbohydrates-complex-carbohydrates
  5. Protein and blood sugar: how protein affects blood glucose [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.nutrisense.io/blog/protein-and-blood-sugar
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Carbohydrates and blood sugar [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2013 [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  7. Glycaemic index (GI) [Internet]. Milton Keynes University Hospital. [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/glycaemic-index-gi
  8. Continuous glucose monitoring | niddk [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. [cited 2022 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/continuous-glucose-monitoring 

Paula Messa

BSc, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bristol, England

I am a recent graduate with a passion for healthcare. I am taking a year out to go travelling and get some experience in medical writing. I am hoping to do a Masters in Global Health next year, to allow me to work in humanitarian settings or in policy in the future.

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