Nutrition and Managing Type 2 Diabetes

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When it comes to managing Type 2 diabetes, leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating nutritious food and maintaining a healthy weight, is extremely important.

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Type 2 diabetes is associated with insulin resistance, which can occur from having excess weight and making unhealthy lifestyle choices over a period of time. However, if your child eats a balanced diet and exercises regularly, their blood sugar levels can be easier to manage. Some children may even be able to go into diabetes remission if they stick to a healthy weight and lifestyle.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Type 2 diabetes is a result of when the pancreas either won’t make enough insulin or cannot process insulin well enough to properly regulate blood sugar levels in the body. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and converts it into the body’s energy. It is necessary for survival.

When the body is unable to process insulin effectively, this is known as insulin resistance, a hallmark risk factor of Type 2 diabetes. People who have excess weight are more likely to experience insulin resistance, which causes the pancreas to work harder to produce enough insulin to regulate high blood sugar. Eventually, the pancreas cannot keep up and blood sugar levels remain elevated, leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance, if left unmanaged, can lead to serious health complications. It can cause significant damage to many organs and can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and more.

Children with insulin resistance may:

  • Have excess weight
  • Have elevated blood sugar when fasting
  • Have darkened skin around the folds of the neck or armpits

Insulin resistance usually starts to happen long before a diabetes diagnosis, and it often does not occur with obvious symptoms. This is why establishing lifestyle habits is so important when kids are young; it can help prevent the onset of prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes later in childhood or adulthood.

The Role of Nutrition

Proper nutrition can help manage insulin resistance and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Healthy eating, including a nutrient-dense diet that is low in fat, can lead to weight loss, which can improve insulin resistance. Incorporating healthy eating habits, including a balanced diet, portion control and meal timing, can help with this.

Healthy eating, including balanced meals and counting carbohydrates, is a cornerstone in managing Type 2 diabetes. Patients and their families must aim to make healthy choices and plan meals that will balance carbohydrates, protein and fat to help manage the child’s blood sugar.

Too many carbs can increase blood sugar, so being aware of healthy carbs is key. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-fiber foods are best. Avoid processed foods, sweets and sugary drinks, such as soda and juice.

Focus on the following foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fiber (beans, lentils, chickpeas, oats, avocado)
  • Whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes)
  • Lean meats (skinless chicken, turkey, fish)
  • Healthy oils (olive, canola)
  • Skim or low-fat dairy products
  • Low-fat cooking methods (baking, grilling, steaming)

Portion control is another important part of managing Type 2 diabetes. Overeating can cause high blood sugar levels and can lead to weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

Parents should be aware of the amount of food on their child’s plate, but also how much room certain food groups take up on the plate itself. Your child’s diabetes care team will help personalize a plan to help you understand portion sizes for your child based on their age, condition and personal health care needs. 

Meal timing also can help manage Type 2 diabetes. Planning meals and snacks ahead of time and having a schedule for when they will be eaten can help regulate blood sugar levels. This also is important when it comes to timing when to take insulin and predicting when blood sugar levels rise and fall. The more you are prepared and the more you plan, the easier it will be to successfully manage your child’s Type 2 diabetes.

At Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, our diabetes educators will help guide you and your child with a personalized plan for diabetes management. You will have access to a tool kit of diabetes resources, including our nutrition program, plus a comprehensive diabetes manual for at-home guidance.

Weight Management and Lifestyle Recommendations

An important aspect of managing Type 2 diabetes involves exercise. Regular physical activity can help children who have insulin resistance. Exercise causes the body’s cells to become more sensitive to insulin, meaning they can better regulate blood sugar levels. Reducing stress and getting adequate sleep can help as well.

It is recommended that children get 60 minutes of exercise per day. This can help reduce obesity and keep Type 2 diabetes in check. Exercise should be moderate to strenuous – and it should be fun for your child! Engage your child in a variety of activities they enjoy. Parents and other family members can join in the fun as well.

To help your child reach the daily exercise goal, set limits on the child’s screen time, including the TV, computer, tablet, cellphone and video games. Using an activity log to track weekly progress can help motivate your family and ensure your child gets enough exercise to help manage their Type 2 diabetes.

Part of managing Type 2 diabetes involves regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and maintaining a daily log. Keep an accurate log that shows how your child’s blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. Regular tracking and reporting help ensure your child’s blood sugar levels are staying within healthy ranges. If they are too high or too low, it can alert you if any adjustments are needed. Regular monitoring throughout the day also can help avoid complications or lessen the risk of a health emergency. The log can help detect if a specific food or activity caused your child’s blood sugar levels to rise or fall outside of a normal range so that you can avoid or modify for the future.

Blood sugar should be logged at least four times per day: before each meal and before bedtime. Check with your child’s diabetes care team for the methods that work best for your child.

Additional Support

You don’t have to figure it all out alone. Additional support and resources are available. Managing your child’s Type 2 diabetes involves an entire care team who is here for you. At Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, you have access to a diabetes educator, dietitian, endocrinologist, nurse practitioner, social worker and psychologist.

Norton Children’s and Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute Help You and Your Child Manage Diabetes

USNWR best hospitals for diabetes & endocrinology and DNV certification for glycemic management are shown
  • Norton Children’s is recognized as a top pediatric diabetes and endocrinology program in the U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.
  • Once your child’s pediatrician makes a referral, you’ll have quick access to a team of board-certified endocrinologists and advanced practice providers offering comprehensive diabetes care.
  • Next-day, urgent appointments are available.
  • Diabetes educators, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, exercise physiologists and nurse practitioners help children and families manage diabetes.
  • Our nutrition program gives families hands-on experience planning and cooking diabetes-friendly meals and snacks.
  • Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program focuses on improving the health, safety and athletic performance of children and young adults with diabetes.
  • As your child grows and gains more independence, our providers help prepare them for managing diabetes while at college or living on their own. This program is available to teenagers and young adults from ages 16 to 26.
  • The Novak Center for Children’s Health is equipped to provide imaging, labs and appointments all in the same location.
  • Medicaid and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Keep up with your child’s lab results, communicate with your provider, schedule appointments and get alerted if an earlier appointment becomes available with Norton MyChart.

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