Type 1 Diabetes Diet – The Healthiest Foods to Eat

Mehak Shah

November 18, 2022

Diabetes can strike anyone from any phase of life. There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational. Around 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

If you’re diagnosed with it, one of your first questions is likely to be, “what can I eat and drink?” Unfortunately, there are many myths about what you can and can’t eat. However, you don’t have to give up all your favourite foods.

Even though a type 1 diabetes diet is not that complicated, it is possible that some may get unsure about the food choices that they should make.

Food has a direct effect on blood glucose. Therefore, an essential part of managing type 1 diabetes is knowing what and how much to eat. As a result, you need to make smarter choices regarding carbohydrates (carbs), proteins and fats to balance your meals. There’s a lot to learn about type 1 diabetes. However, knowing about diabetes-friendly foods can make things easier in the long run.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks beta cells that produce insulin. As a result, the body produces very little or no insulin.

It primarily impacts the pancreas and no longer releases the insulin your body needs. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults. 

Living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging, but you can manage it with a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle. 

How Does Food Affect Type 1 Diabetes?

Different foods affect your blood glucose levels differently. Some foods raise blood glucose more than others. However, there is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet’ for type 1 diabetes. It all depends on understanding how food affects your blood sugar. There are three primary nutrients found in foods: carbohydrates (carbs), proteins and fats.


Carbohydrates or carbs refer to the starches and sugar present in grains, fruits, vegetables, milk products and sweets. They are the main energy source in our body, but consumption of extra carbohydrates also has a negative effect on your blood sugar. In the case of diabetes refined sugars are the main culprit for the sudden increase in sugar. Choosing complex carbs from vegetables, fruits and whole grains is preferred. 


A healthy dose of protein can keep you from feeling hungry. In addition, proteins do not directly raise your glucose like carbs. However, moderation is the key when it comes to protein. Your protein needs depend on age, gender, health, and physical activity. When you eat carbohydrates in combination with protein, it can take longer for your body to convert the carbs into glucose. So, it does not affect blood glucose levels significantly. 


Healthy fats are necessary for a balanced diet as they do not raise blood glucose. But fats are high in calories, and you need to check the portions. People with diabetes should focus on polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. And limit the intake of saturated fat, trans fats, and hydrogenated fats. 

The Best Foods for Type 1 Diabetes

Whole Grains

Wheat, corn, barley, oats, and quinoa are examples of whole grains. These foods have a lower glycaemic index, which helps control blood glucose levels. The Glycemic index is a measure of the carbohydrates in foods. It tells you how much a specific food item will raise your blood sugar levels. Refined grains don’t fit into a healthy diabetes diet, but whole grains are crucial for any diabetes-friendly diet.

Include more whole grains in your diet:

  • Substitute white rice with brown rice
  • Use whole wheat flour rather than refined flour for baking.
  • Have porridge oats and wholegrain cereals
  • Substitute white bread with wholegrain bread

Beans and Lentils

Beans can make you feel full for more extended periods. It can even aid with blood sugar problems. Beans are a diabetes superfood. They are low on the glycemic index and can help manage blood sugar levels better than other carbohydrate-containing foods. Therefore, people with diabetes can often eat beans as they don’t cause big spikes in their glucose levels, especially if the portions are not too big. 

Lentils are a type of legume low in fat, high in protein, and high in fibre, which can help lower your risk of heart disease. In addition, you can add them to salads and soups. The soluble fibre in lentils helps stabilise blood sugar levels. It can also improve glycemic control.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables may sound unappealing. However, it helps lower diabetes complications and risks due to the antioxidants and high magnesium content. For example, spinach is a water-soluble vegetable with a minimal effect on blood sugar, making it an excellent food to choose if you’re on a diabetic diet. In addition, you can enjoy them in soups, salads, and curries and gain those benefits without compromising on taste.

People with diabetes should eat at least three to five servings of vegetables per day. However, because green leafy vegetables are so low in both carbohydrates and calories, you can consume even more than this minimum. You can include spinach, kale, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and collard greens. 

High-Fibre Foods

Dietary fibre offers countless benefits for people with diabetes. For example, a study shows that higher intakes of dietary fibre improve glycaemic control and other risk factors seen in diabetes. According to the results, those with type 1 diabetes should increase their dietary fibre intake by 20 to 35 g per day. One practical way to increase fibre intake is to replace refined grain products with whole-grain foods.

High-fibre foods tend to be filling, and most have a low glycemic index (GI), which means they can keep you satiated and will have less of an effect on your blood glucose levels. Regardless of whether or not you have diabetes, everyone can benefit from a diet that includes adequate fibre content. Therefore, you can add buckwheat, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, and berries to your diet. 

Sweet Potatoes

If you have diabetes, sweet potatoes are a safe option to add to your diet in moderation. According to research, sweet potatoes contain adiponectin which improves metabolism and insulin regulation. As a result, the glycemic index of sweet potatoes is lower than that of white potatoes. Due to low GI and better insulin regulation, sweet potatoes are an anti-diabetic food. Prepare it by roasting or mashing them. You can eat half of a medium-sized sweet potato.

Citrus Fruits

Fruits like oranges, lemon, grapefruit, amla and sweet lime are rich in vitamin C and fibre. They contain a moderate amount of sugar. However, the fibres balance the high effects that sugar can cause. Moreover, fibre improves metabolism, which is essential to ensure the management and control of diabetes. These fruits have a low glycemic index implying they are safe for diabetic consumption. Additionally, they are low-calorie hydrating fruits rich in vitamin B6 and antioxidants. Having one fruit a day is suitable.

Dairy Products

You can include dairy products such as unsweetened milk, greek yoghurt, and cheese in the diet. However, these sources should be low-fat. Alternatively, you can go for nut-based milk like almond or cashew milk. It will help you maintain your weight. Additionally, it will substitute regular cow milk for those that are lactose-intolerant. If you’re avoiding lactose, you can try dairy products made from rice, almond, soy, flax, coconut, hemp, and cashew. Fermented dairy products like yoghurt are always great choices due to their natural source of probiotics. In addition, with minimal carbohydrates, most cheese won’t spike blood glucose readings. 


Cinnamon is a fragrant spice which you can add to smoothies, yoghurt, oatmeal or even your coffee. It can help prevent blood sugar spikes after meals, possibly blocking digestive enzymes. Other studies suggest that cinnamon may lower blood sugar by slowing down stomach emptying. The results say that taking 6 g cinnamon reduces postprandial or post-meal blood glucose and delays gastric emptying without affecting satiety.

Foods You Should Avoid

Highly Processed Foods

When anything is processed, loss of nutrients occurs, making it harder to meet your nutritional needs. In addition, processed foods contain various additives that can complicate diabetes and increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Refined Carbs

Refined carbohydrates lack most vitamins, minerals and fibres. They also have a high glycemic index and are quickly digested. High GI causes blood sugar and insulin levels to rise rapidly after meals. Additionally, it significantly increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Refined carbohydrates are white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, sweets, breakfast cereals, and added sugars. 

Full-Fat Dairy Products

Dairy products are beneficial to your diet due to their excellent calcium content. However, it may contain high fats and carbohydrates, making it dangerous for people with diabetes. In addition, drinking milk with carb-containing foods, such as cereal or cookies can raise blood sugar readings. Therefore, extra attention is required while adding chocolate milk, ice cream, and yoghurts with added sugar into a diabetes meal plan. 

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats have harmful effects on insulin activity. They may also kill pancreatic beta cells, preventing insulin secretion entirely. Hence, you should cut your intake if you want to lower your risk of diabetes. These are found primarily in animal-based foods, such as beef, pork, bacon and processed meats. Research suggests saturated fats are metabolically more harmful to the human liver. 

Sodas and Other Sweetened Beverages

Sugary drinks and sodas make it more difficult to control blood sugar in people with existing diabetes conditions. Your body quickly digests soda sugar, causing blood sugar spikes and contributing to insulin resistance. Therefore, regular intake of soda and sugary beverages is associated with significantly more risks of diabetes.

Ideal Meal Timings

Meal timings are crucial for those with type 1 diabetes because insulin doses should match with meals. On having low-glycemic foods, the slow rise in blood sugar gradually gives your body plenty of time to respond. However, unhealthy blood sugar can be caused by skipping meals or eating late. For example, skipping breakfast was linked to higher blood glucose levels. 

A study supports breakfast consumption and many smaller meals as a regular meal pattern for optimal glycemic control. However, increasing the number of meals eaten may also increase blood sugar fluctuation. Therefore, research suggests taking the insulin dose 20 minutes before eating for better and sustainable glucose control.


A person with type 1 diabetes may genetically develop the condition, which may pass on further. Type 1 diabetes symptoms include rapid weight loss, extreme exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration. In addition, low blood pressure, bacterial infections of the skin, fungal infections, renal failure, blindness, and various other illnesses are all complications of this condition. Hence, it becomes essential to take precautionary measures for your benefit. 

It would be best to get a diet plan considering all factors and conditions, such as age, gender, lifestyle, medical conditions, allergies, body weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure, etc. To be on the safer side, one must follow a healthy regime. Adapt to healthy food choices which will stabilise your blood sugar levels. Two of the most helpful strategies involve following a regular eating schedule and recording what you eat. Therefore, Type 1 Diabetes could be managed and prevented by eating a healthy diet and leading a healthy lifestyle. However, talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes in your eating pattern. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What should a person with type 1 diabetes not eat?

A. Type 1 Diabetics should avoid foods like pasta, bread, cookies and refined wheat flour. Canned sodas and sweetened beverages do no good either. Meat with high saturated fats can cause your levels to rise severely. Furthermore, low fat and no sugar labelled processed foods are not considered to be good. Hence avoid those and stick to fresh, home-cooked meals.

Q. What should a diabetic type 1 eat?

A. Type 1 Diabetic must follow a few guidelines to maintain a healthy diet. Foods rich in protein like fish, tofu, whole grains, nuts and seeds can help in balancing blood sugar. Additionally, green leafy vegetables and other fibre-rich vegetables like mushrooms and beans are beneficial. Ensure your diet meets your nutritional needs.

Q. Can Type 1 diabetic eat sugar?

A. They can have the same healthy diet as others. However, limit your intake of refined sugar. For example, granulated/ powdered cane sugar, syrups and sweeteners. Natural sugars present in dairy and fruits are not harmful.

Q. What should a type 1 diabetic eat for breakfast?

A. There are multiple breakfast options for type 1 diabetes. You can eat a bowl of wholegrain cereal with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk. If you prefer a dairy alternative like soy or almond milk, choose an unsweetened and calcium-fortified. On other days, switch to egg and whole-grain toast with unsaturated spread. Greek yoghurt and a handful of nuts and berries are also good options. Avoid muffins, toast, refined boxed cereals, pancakes and sugary smoothies. 

Q. What snacks can I eat as a diabetic?

A. You can eat several foods as a part of your mid-meal snack. The healthiest snack choices are unsweetened yoghurts, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables instead of crisps, chips, biscuits and chocolates. 

Q. What is the best way to control type 1 diabetes?

A. Type 1 diabetes can not be cured, but a lifestyle management approach can really help one to have a healthy life with this. It requires careful management. Dietary adjustments, glucose monitoring, and insulin medication are all necessary. Get yourself checked once in a while. Try to bring elevated blood glucose levels into an acceptable range by adopting a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.

Q. Is Chicken Good for type 1 diabetes?

A. Chicken is advantageous to people with diabetes due to its reduced fat content and a good source of protein. However, it would be best if you ate within a limit. Your cooking method also makes a difference; opt for baked chicken rather than fried. You could also eat it in soup or curry.

Q. How many times a day should a type 1 diabetic eat?

A. Try to avoid going without food for long periods during the day. 5 to 6 hours without meals is the absolute maximum most diabetics should go. Then, every day, eat about the same size meals and snacks around the same time to lower the risk of your sugar levels rising quickly. Most people with type 1 diabetes have breakfast within an hour and a half of waking up. Eat a meal every 4 to 5 hours after that.

Q. Can people with diabetes eat bananas?

A. While bananas do not cause an increase in blood sugar, they still contain a lot of sugar. Therefore, please do not eat them in large quantities. However, bananas’ vitamin, mineral, and fibre content can provide nutritional benefits to people with diabetes. Therefore, one banana a day is not a problem. Furthermore, the less ripe the banana is, the lower its glycemic index is.

Q. Can people with diabetes eat fruit?

A. Higher fresh fruit consumption can decrease the risk of diabetes and lower the risk of severe problems among people with diabetes. Eat an apple, avocado, cherries, grapefruit, pear and strawberries. They have a low glycemic index and will help you feel full for more extended periods.

Q. Are potatoes good for people with diabetes?

A. Although potatoes are a starchy vegetable, a person with diabetes can eat them as part of their diet. However, consider the method of cooking. Deep- or shallow-frying potatoes can increase the saturated and trans fat content. Boiling or steaming potatoes is the most acceptable way to prepare them. Steaming and baking are also considered healthier. Sweet potatoes are the most beneficial form of potato for people with diabetes. It contains more fibre than white potatoes. In addition to that, they are also a good source of calcium and vitamin A.

About the Author

Mehak holds masters in foods and nutrition from Amity university, Noida. She has a keen interest in public health and nutrition and has been in charge of various projects with milestone NGO. She has worked with people over the globe to bring out the changes in their lives and has always been working towards lifestyle modifications via good dietary practices. According to her a healthy lifestyle is not about the destination but all about the journey.

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