Guest Blog Post: Paleo and Type 1 Diabetes

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Guest post by Lindsay Swanson.

This Guest Post includes information that does not conform to the Joslin nutritional guidelines. We have received a number of inquiries about the Paleo diet, and requests for examples of people who follow this diet, so we asked Lindsay to share her experiences.  Her opinions are her own and not those of the Joslin Clinic. 

Lindsay's diet includes plenty of grilled vegetables and meats.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 25 years old – a challenging and life changing experience. Looking back, I’m just thankful I survived the diagnosis. Now, I’m thriving with diabetes, and more so in recent years, as a result of transitioning to a paleo lifestyle.

In addition to the technology and medical devices I use to manage my diabetes, I’ve worked diligently over the last three years to overhaul my lifestyle. Through an introduction from a close friend, I decided to try the paleo lifestyle not because of type 1 diabetes, but because of years of undiagnosed chronic GI issues. I didn’t know a lot about it, so the journey began with a lot of reading and research, and the more I read, the more that I realized I firmly believed in the foundation of what paleo is; nourishing my body and mind by eating the foods and nutrients I was intended to.

Step-by-step, I started eliminating different groups of foods, a slow transition over time and I continued to feel increasingly better. I removed grains, then soy, then legumes, then corn, then rice, etc. I started trying different kinds of foods, experimenting in the kitchen, cooking with different methods, and became increasingly passionate about food.

I admit, when I first decided to make this transition living with type 1 diabetes, I was terrified. I had long believed that I had to take at least a minimum amount of insulin to survive and not become ill, via eating moderate amounts of carbohydrates.

I thought I’d be in a constant state of starvation ketones if my insulin intake was reduced. I thought I would be a horrible “paleo person” if I had to treat a low blood sugar with refined sugar. Much to my surprise, my blood sugars completely leveled out, so much so that I rarely need to treat a low blood sugar, and spikes are few and far between.

That said, one of the discoveries I made once I removed refined carbohydrates/grains, was how differently my body reacted to foods than before – meaning, low treatments for me have drastically changed. Bananas, apples, almond milk, kombucha, lara bars, caveman cookies, and other portable paleo foods I carry around are just as sufficient, while providing nutrients at the same time. It still comes down to being prepared and creating a new routine, so yes I carry food with me everywhere I go, it’s just a different kind of food and I have to use it less often.

Most believe when I say “paleo” that I live on meat, which is not at all the case. Probably 75 percent of my diet consists of vegetables and plant based food, some with more carbohydrates depending on my activity level. I eat a lot of fat/protein regularly, examples: avocados, coconut oil (in tea and cooking), grassfed meats, bacon (and the reserved fat), oils, nuts, etc. Dosing for these items is where I get my insulin, about 15 units/day. Depending on the amount and kind of protein I consume, I bolus differently, which much like diabetes is individual and has to be fine-tuned. I never calculate a bolus anymore using the bolus wizard function, I strictly bolus via the easy bolus option in .5 unit increments here or there.

A typical daily meal plan:

  • Breakfast: 1 banana, 2-3 over-easy eggs cooked in reserved bacon fat or coconut oil (alternated with some other source of high fat/high cholesterol protein)
  • Lunch: Vegetable and protein heavy – salad/leftover roasted/grilled vegetables, 1 avocado (almost daily), leftover grilled/baked/pan fried meats. Occasionally fruit
  • Dinner: large salads with tons of vegetables with seafood or meats or veggies/meats separate

On a daily basis, paleo has provided for me, much less thought and mental taxation that came with my diabetes pre-paleo. Diabetes is a very emotional and mental disease for me, and living paleo has lessened that relentless burden tremendously through consistency and stability.

Lindsay Swanson

I had no idea the effects food had on my brain and body until I revamped my lifestyle and conducted a complete overhaul. It is not a diet, it is not a fad, and is by no means temporary. It isn’t just about food, but about total overall health and wellness; hydration, sleep, activity, mental health, etc. It was a tough transition at first, but I’ve learned that preparation is essential.

14 Responses to Guest Blog Post: Paleo and Type 1 Diabetes

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lindsay.

    Stupid question if you don’t mind. Is your total daily insulin about 15 units, or is that 15 units of basal dosing plus extra meal-time dosing?

    -Steve

    • Hello–we forwarded your question to Lindsay, and here’s her response: “My total daily dose of insulin is between 15-18 units, including basal/bolus. Of course it varies with other factors, but that’s typically where I’m at.”

  2. If you are looking for the perfect snack for those with Diabetes, struggle with Celiac disease or are on the Paleo Diet, then you should check out Tiger Nuts.

    They can be found at http://www.tigernutsusa.com

  3. Ekaterina says:

    Dear Linsday,
    I am very happy to hear about your experiences with paleo diet. I have been managing my son’s type 1 diabetes with low carb, gluten and grain free diet for the last 4 years. He has been insulin independent for first 3 years and now he is using very little insulin, while his blood sugar remains stable.
    Here is a link to our recent interview http://asweetlife.org/feature/the-three-year-diabetes-honeymoon/
    Best regards.
    Eaketarina

  4. vic says:

    We’re continuously helping people with diabetes.
    We’re Changing Lives, Conquering Diabetes Naturally.
    http://www.kingsherbalonline.com

  5. Md Raju Mia says:

    Hello
    Please tell me, how many types of diabetes?
    Regards

    • There are two main types- type 1 which is an autoimmune disease where the body’s ability to make insulin is destroyed and Type 2 is a combination of the body becoming somewhat resistant to insulin and not able to make enough insulin to compensate. There are other genetic variations of diabetes known as MODY, and gestational diabetes can occur during some pregnancies. But the two most common types are type 1 and type 2.

  6. Rosina Lucibello says:

    Thanks for sharing your paleo/type 1 story. As a type 1, I find it tricky with exercising and low blood sugars. how do you deal with that? I know you mentioned the foods you eat when you do need a low rescue, but was wondering if you have a pre-workout snack that you find works well in keeping you sustained during exercise. thanks again for sharing your story–

  7. Carol Davison says:

    I’d like to know how much insulin you are taking per meal. I guess you would take a unit for each piece of fruit but I do not see many other carbs. in your meal.
    I have just been diagnosed with type 1 at 38 and I am afraid to eat little/no carbs with meals, so I am adding them in (usually its rice/fruit or yoghurt). I was Paleo before the DKA diagnosis but not anymore.
    I had a nurse recently tell me if I didn’t eat crabs I would lose weight and I had already lost enough by being in DKA.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks in advance,
    Carol

    • Sam says:

      I don’t think you have to worry about eating too little carbs as long as you’re adjusting the insulin accordingly. I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 11 years now, and just recently started paleo (vegetarian version; no meat or fish). In my experience, diabetes is a lot easier to handle when you’re low carb. No more drastic blood sugar swings that come with high carb foods. And I don’t think you’d lose weight if you’re eating enough and eating healthy and taking whatever amount of insulin you need, even if it’s a very small amount because of low carb. Your body will take care of the rest, in my opinion. Then again, I’m not a doctor. Just learned from personal experience.

  8. Holly says:

    Im also a type 1 diabetic and started the Paleo diet 3 weeks ago. I eat around 50 grams of carbs a day (Mostly from fruit) and in those three weeks I have lost 12 pounds. I have had to drastically lower my pump settings and rarely take a bolus with meals.

  9. Carrie Townes says:

    I’m a 15 year old girl that’s trying to figure out what to do to help my father. He is a vegetarian but he would sneak and eat but I think that’s why . and he doesn’t exercise that much. but I want to know what I could cook to help him make better choices,and to keep me and my sister from getting diabetes. please help!

  10. Rob Irwin says:

    Been somewhat paleo and extremely ketogenic / Atkins / low-carb high fat for a year now. Been diabetic for 35 years, and this past year is the first remotely healthy year I’ve had in living memory. Blood sugars stable, lost a lot of weight, insulin about a quarter of what it used to be. Eat no bread, rice, pasta, sugars, almost no fruit apart from a few berries very infrequently. Choosing to do the paleo aspect of no additives either, but probably not directly related to diabetes. I eat lots of fish, eggs, meat, green vegetables.

    If you read the Dr Bernstein Diabetes solution book he’ll basically recommend the same extremely low carb diet. The standard eat-sugar, counteract it with insulin thing simply does not work.Small inputs, small corrections works, large inputs and large corrections with insulin is simply a disaster. Also, many fats are healthy.

    Spent years being insulted by doctors accusing me of eating cake/cookies when I was doing my damnedest to follow the official diet to the letter. the problem is, the standard high carb diet does not work. Dump it or you’ll go blind and lose your feet people.

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