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Do Type 1s Eat Differently than Type 2s?

Q: Please explain how the eating plan for people with type 1 diabetes differs from the eating plan for people with type 2 diabetes.

A: The meal plans for type 1 and type 2 diabetes are not that different. Both should emphasize choosing good, healthful foods from all the food groups. In fact, if everyone ate the way people with diabetes are encouraged to eat, we would all be healthier.

People who have type 1 diabetes must take insulin. Usually they take rapid- or short-acting insulin before meals to cover the amount of carbohydrates they plan to eat. This allows them to eat the amount of food they want based on their appetites, food preferences, and activity schedule. Controlling calories may be less of a concern. However they should choose more healthful fats like oils and soft margarines because they are more at risk for heart disease and stroke later in life.

People with type 2 diabetes may or may not need insulin. They usually have to focus more on controlling calories along with controlling carbohydrates. Weight loss and regular exercise, along with a well-balanced meal plan that may need to be low in sodium, are keys to controlling blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Again, choosing more healthful oils and soft margarines in smaller amounts is important for heart health.

No matter which type of diabetes you have, a registered dietitian can help you establish a personalized meal plan. Every plan should address personal preferences, foods from all food groups, variety, and moderation.

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, is the American Dietetic Association's national spokesperson for African-American nutrition issues and oversees nutrition education at the Medical University of South Carolina.