Millions of parents and their children with diabetes can use simple portion plates to easily visualize healthy meals and manage their blood sugar, says a leading expert at a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14.
Jennifer Hyland R.D., a pediatric dietitian, said: “With tens of thousands of children every year developing diabetes, portion plates are a quick and easy way to empower families to visualize a balanced diet that can help children count carbohydrates and help regulate their blood sugar. Children still need carbohydrates to grow. That said, portion plates can help them to moderate their carbohydrates. It can also help to emphasize their need for healthier fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
Portion plates are divided into quadrants that can make it easier for children to visualize their carbohydrate intake. Hyland recommends a plate with half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter lean protein, and one-quarter grains or carbohydrates. She added that the role of dietitians has changed from providing meal plans to letting children eat foods that they like – but in moderation.
While portion control is vital, parents are also advised to limit their children’s intake of simple carbohydrates that can break down quickly into sugar; including candy, concentrated sweets, and sugary drinks such as soda, fruit juices, and lemonade. Potato chips, processed snacks, and fast food can also cause blood sugar levels to skyrocket.
Type I vs Type II
Many children have diabetes Type 1, an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. However, increasingly, children are developing diabetes Type 2, where the body does not produce enough insulin or no longer reacts properly to insulin, is increasingly evident.
Hyland added: “Children with Type 1 diabetes do require more than just a portion plate to manage their diabetes. Dietitians teach families to ‘count carbohydrates’. This will empower them to be able to eat what they’d like but manage their diabetes with insulin. Children with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every time they eat. So, it is important to learn to count carbohydrates to be exact in their measurements.”
Worldwide, 1.1 million children and adolescents under the age of 20 live with Type 1 diabetes. A further 79,000 children are at risk of developing it every year. There is also evidence that Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in children and adolescents is increasing significantly in some countries. Unhealthy diets, being overweight or obese, and inactivity are among the major contributing lifestyle factors.
Hyland concluded: “Behavioral changes can be challenging for children, with dietitians working alongside endocrinologists, psychologists, and physicians to help children maintain healthy lifestyles. Children with diabetes will be managing their blood sugar for the rest of their lives. It is important for parents to instill in children a healthy diet, daily exercise, and managing weight.”