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Important Nutrients If You Have Diabetes Type 1

Updated: Apr 26

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Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the body's pancreas to stop producing enough insulin to function healthily. This medical condition requires a GP and medical team to diagnose the condition, alongside ongoing medical treatment regimes. In individuals diagnosed with the condition, treatment typically involves a personalised insulin regime advised by a GP and a diabetes specialist team of professionals including a diabetes nurse and dietitian.

Blood glucose reading at home for type 1 diabetic

Insulin treatment for type 1 diabetes helps the body absorb and utilise blood glucose released from the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates eaten. This inability to utilise blood glucose without insulin causes severe side effects such as the breakdown of the body's muscle stores, which can lead to a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis and even death. Type 1 diabetics have a lifelong regime of having to medicate with insulin every day either via injecting or using an insulin pump as well as monitoring and tracking their glucose levels. However, taking insulin is not the only aspect of care that type one diabetics need to do. They also need to stay healthy by exercising and eating the right nutrition. We've outlined some starting principles of a healthy diet for type 1 diabetes below. 

Good quality proteins

A balanced diet that contains good-quality proteins can be helpful for those with type 1 diabetes. Consuming protein alongside carbohydrates can help reduce the blood sugar response. Protein is in every cell of our bodies so we need to consume good-quality proteins to help create new cells and repair cell damage. Aim to add a range of delicious healthy proteins to your diet, including: 

Tofu salad, good quality protein meal for type 1 diabetes

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Quorn mince or other vegetarian equivalents.

  • Lean meat

  • Lean poultry 

  • Eggs

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Lentils 

  • Fish 

  • Low-fat dairy 

It's best to vary the types of healthy proteins you eat, as this will ensure you get as many helpful nutrients as possible.


Wholegrains are a excellent healthy choice for type 1 diabetes. Ideally, aim for 3 portions a day. Your diabetes dietitian will have guided you on the importance of a regular steady release of blood sugar from your diet and wholegrain carbohydrates are an essential part of this. For type 1 diabetics, it is important to ensure blood sugar does not fall too low, and at the same time to not consume not too much carbohydrates in one sitting that can spike blood sugar. 

Porridge a great carbohydrate source for diabetes

Not all carbohydrates are created equal so to optimise your balanced diet aim to choose wholegrain carbohydrate options over refined grains. Refined grain examples can be found in white rice, sugar, and white bread and hidden in ultra-processed sugary foods.

Examples of wholegrain foods include: 

  • Buckwheat

  • Quinoa

  • Whole Wheat bread

  • Brown rice 

  • Whole grain pasta

  • Oats

Wholegrains contain much more fibre than refined grains which are beneficial for gut health. Fibre also helps reduce the resulting blood sugar response after eating a portion. Despite whole grains being a better option for type 1 diabetics, it is still important that they monitor their effects and portion sizes and adjust as needed. Speak to your diabetes dietitian.

1 serving of wholegrains equals:

  • 25g porridge oats

  • 1 bowl (34g) muesli

  • 1 bowl (30g) toasted wholegrain oat cereal

  • 1 bowl of wheat-based breakfast cereal

  • 1 bowl of breakfast cereal made from wholewheat

  • 1 large slice (40g) multi-grain bread

  • 23g (uncooked weight) brown rice

  • 23g (uncooked weight) wholewheat pasta

  • 3 Ryvitas

  • 3 oatcakes

  • 1 slice of rye bread

  • 1 wholemeal pitta bread

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables are great for those with type 1 diabetes. This is because they contain lots of fibre and so do not spike blood glucose in the same way that starchy vegetables do. A simple tip would be to fill 1/2 of their meal full of delicious options like: 

  • Lettuce

  • Kale

  • Cabbage

  • Pak choi

  • Spinach

  • Rocket

  • Bell peppers

  • Courgettes 

  • Aubergines

  • Mushrooms

  • Cauliflower

  • Broccoli

Starchy vegetables , including the ones listed below, have a higher content of carbohydrates which the body converts into sugar. Starchy vegetables are part of a healthy diet and a good source of fibre, minerals and vitamins such as vitamin C, B vitamins and potassium, however for type 1 diabetics they should be eaten in moderation and the portion size will need to be calculated according to your insulin regime, as always consult your dietitian if you are unsure how to calculate this. As a general rule of thumb aim for starchy vegetables to be less than 25% of your plate.

Starchy vegetables examples;

  • Potatoes 

  • Sweet potatoes 

  • Sweet corn 

  • Yams 

  • Green peas 

  • Turnips 

Nuts and Seeds

Seeds, nuts, beans, and legumes can also be a good choice for those with type 1 diabetes. This is because nuts and seeds contain beneficial levels of fibre, healthy fats, protein plus vitamin E, magnesium and more.

Aim for a portion of nuts and seeds  in your diet:

  • Chia seed

  • Brazil nut

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Hemp seeds

  • Hazelnut 

  • Almonds 

Beans and legumes

Another great source of fibre and vegetarian protein:

  • Kidney beans

  • Lentils

  • Black beans 

  • Cannellini beans 

Nutrients for Type 1 diabetes

A balanced diet helps achieve the right nutrients for type 1 diabetes in summary consists of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, plus three portions of wholegrain carbohydrates per day, a good source of quality protein at each meal and ideally a source of healthy fats from omega 3 rich sources. If you are keen to speak to a diabetes dietitian on what to include more of in your diet or you wish to improve the health quality of your diet please contact us for a free informal converstaion to see how we can help you.

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