Managing Type 1 Diabetes with a carb-loving vegetarian can be arduous. But, managing Type 1 Diabetes with a carb-loving vegetarian in the throes of puberty? It’s like navigating through a land-mine! When our daughter was first diagnosed 3 years ago, we thought she’d have to change her eating habits drastically. I dreaded the thought of having to convert our little animal-loving sensory avoider into a low-carb meat eater. Thankfully, it turned out that this was not necessary. Though we did have to adjust some things like putting limits on desserts and eliminating full-sugar juices, we have been able to adapt to life with diabetes without removing all of her food preferences.
Over the years, we have discovered several brands and snacks that suit our daughter’s tastebuds while also offering blood-sugar friendly options. The following includes a list of our top brands and snacks we use to balance flavor with steady glucose control.
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Low-Carb Dairy Products
Our daughter may not eat meat, but she is definitely a dairy lover. There are several brands that we use that are lower carb/higher protein and even boast other benefits, as well.
Fairlife milk is definitely the top staple in our household. We rarely ever use any other milk besides this brand. Choose from fat-free, full-fat, 1%, 2% and chocolate flavors. My kids have tried any and all varieties. There are only 6 grams of carbs in the fat-free version and 8 grams in the full-fat. Protein content is also higher in this brand than most standard gallons of milk. Apparently, they also offer protein shakes and oatmeal snack packs. But, we have never tried them personally.
Halo Top Products
When the sweet tooth overtakes us, it’s Halo Top ice cream to the rescue. Halo Top offers several delicious flavors to choose from, all with very low sugar content (5 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup) and reasonable carb counts (usually 5-6 grams per 1/2 cup). The fiber content (around 3 grams per 1/2 cup) helps with slower digestion, and therefore better glucose control.
When opting for yogurt, we usually try to select Greek yogurt, since it is higher in protein. However, some Greek yogurt is just as sugary as regular yogurt. Our daughter likes a couple of flavors in the Chobani line. They make a key lime flavor with 18 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein. Their vanilla flavor is delicious, too, with 15 grams of carbs and 12 grams of protein.
Baby Bell Cheese
Cheese is also a staple at our house. But, it can be hard to tote around and keep fresh while on-the-go. Baby Bell cheese is easy and portable for cheese lovers like our family. It has zero carbs, so these are snacks our daughter likes to load up on without having to bolus or take a shot. We also do cheesesticks for on-the-go, as well.
Protein Bars and Shakes
Protein bars and shakes are a godsend for our family’s lifestyle. Our daughter is a very selective eater, so it can be nerve-wracking to send her to friends’ sleepovers or social events, not knowing if there is anything there that she will eat. It is one thing to send a picky teenager as a guest in someone’s home if they do not have any medical concerns. But, a teen with diabetes must not skip meals. Therefore, I always send her with protein bars or drinks that she can use as a meal replacement or to supplement the junk food and carbs that I know she will probably consume. Since she doesn’t eat meat, it is challenging to find protein sources. Protein bars/shakes offer her protein as well as a full list of complete vitamins and nutrients. Included below are our favorite brands.
Our daughter’s favorite brand of protein, by far, are the Atkins products line. The cookies n’ cream flavor reminds her of Oreo cookies, so she eats them almost every day and begs for seconds. They are great for breakfast when you’re in a hurry or as a snack. We also use the shakes quite often, as well. The chocolate flavors are our daughter’s favorite, but the strawberrry flavor only contains 2 grams of carbs, so I like to stock up on them a lot. There are other low-carb brands out there that we like, but the Atkins products carry the least amount of sugar and are very tasty. So, they continue to be our top pick.
Other Protein Bars
Luna Bars are another brand we really like, though they aren’t as high in protein and as low in sugar as the Atkins products. Our family loves our peanut butter and chocolate, so we find that the Luna bars provide such a good variety of all our favorite palette-pleasing options and are also gluten-free (a great option for those dealing with Celiac Disease, another condition that can accompany diabetes at times). Also, Larabars are gluten-free and grain-free options, loaded with fiber and and a decent amount of protein. Though they do contain a good deal of sugar, the extra fiber sometimes helps counteract the effects on our daughter’s blood sugar.
Diet and Sugar-Free Drinks
When our daughter was first diagnosed, our diabetes educator informed us that the only thing we would really have to give up was juice and soda. I was very nervous about this elimination, since our daughter was a big apple juice fan. But, once she tried a couple of drinks with sugar-substitutes, she was agreeable. Occasionally, however, she does enjoy a little juice to treat a low blood-sugar. But, overall, she has adjusted to less sugar in her drinks. Did you know that you can purchase special test strips to double-check that your drinks are diet? I think we’ve all had the occasional restaurant or fast-food service worker that accidentally mixed up regular soda with diet. These test strips give the ability to test it first to be sure. You can find a link to these strips on Amazon below. Following that, you can find a description of our favorite diet and sugar-free options.
Crystal Light products are probably our most common go-to drink. They make it so convenient with the small squirt bottles you can take with you wherever you go. I even keep one in my purse that our daughter can use to squirt in her water while traveling or at restaurants or parties. I personally find that the squirt versions have a “diet” taste to them and don’t like them as much as the powder mix form. However, the powder version is delicious and I actually purchase it for myself, as well (I’m always on a diet). The fruit punch flavor is my personal favorite.
I am grateful that our daughter can tolerate the taste of diet better than I can. She generally doesn’t care as much for most diet sodas or even Coke Zero. She will tolerate it if that is her only choice over water. But, a few diet drinks we keep as a staple include Diet Orange Sunkist, Diet Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice and Lite Minute Maid Lemonade.
When our daughter is sick, we turn to sports drinks to restore electrolytes and hydration. Obviously, regular Gatorade or Powerade are full of straight sugar, so we opt for the “diet” versions, which include Powerade Zero and Gatorade Zero. Our daughter loves these even when she is not sick, but they are definitely a staple for sick days. The G2 version of Gatorade is a good “in the middle option,” with half the sugar and carbs as regular Gatorade. We also rely heavily on sugar-free popsicles on sick days, though that technically doesn’t fit in the “sports drink” category.
There are a few portable snacks and brands we purchase frequently that are pre-packaged or light/lower-carb. When snacks are pre-packaged, it makes things much easier for carb-counting and for just the convenience of transporting them. Below you will find our favorites.
Jiff To-Go Cups
If there was ever a food that we couldn’t live without in our household, it is peanut butter! Our daughter (and most everyone else in the family) eats it straight off the spoon. But, it is a huge part of her nutrition, as well. She eats it with absolutely everything: her cereal in the morning, on her crackers and sandwiches, and spread over her Sunchips at night for a bedtime snack. It really is the ingredient we rely on to provide extra protein and fat to balance out all the carbs she likes to consume. Because peanut butter is so essential for our family (especially the Jiff brand), it is so handy to buy the on-the-go Jiff cups that come pre-packaged for travel. We use these a lot for in the car or to send with our daughter to sleepovers and parties. In addition to protein shakes/bars, it’s a way to know that she will have a protein source with her if she needs it. If you’ve never tried them, I’ve provided a link to them on Amazon below.
Low-Carb Mission Tortillas
Though this can work as a meal or snack, we like to buy tortillas for a variety of uses. Whether we are making quesadillas or just a wrap or some kind of snack roll-up, they are a favorite in our house. One brand in particular (Mission) has a low-carb option I purchase frequently. The smaller serving size helps keep us all mindful of our portions and also offers only 2 net grams of carbs per serving.
Almost any snack that is pre-packaged is especially helpful for managing diabetes (unless it is straight sugar). It helps with portion control as well as carb counting. It can be hard to find a lot of “snack” type foods our daughter will eat that are not carb heavy. I try to at least opt for higher fiber or whole grain carbs in her snacks so that the digestion processes slower than starchy white or sugary carbs. For this reason, popcorn is usually a decent option, but it can be hard for on-the-go. I tend to buy the “Skinny Pop” individual bags, since the popcorn is already cooked and packaged. I also like Sunchips as a healthier, whole grain option for chips. Our daughter loves their brand and eats them with peanut butter almost every night for a bedtime snack.
After her initial diagnosis, she hovered in the honeymoon phase for a little while. We didn’t need as much insulin and she was even instructed to have snacks in between meals without covering them with insulin. The recommended carb amount for her snack were about 15 grams or so. We had a few regular staples we sent to school with her that were pre-packaged and therefore, easy to meet the 15 grams. A few of these favorites included rainbow goldfish, ritz crackers, cheese it’s and gogurt (though the gogurt was only 9 grams).
Our daughter certainly never gave up her sweeth tooth with her diagnosis. Thank goodness for some sugar-free options that don’t sacrifice taste. Sugar-free jello is a portable snack if you buy the jello cups. Also, though I already discussed the Atkins products above, it is worth mentioning here that they have a special line you can buy geared towards desserts. These options are pretty tasty and make you feel like you are eating chocolate candy or bars. But, they are still lower sugar than most desserts and a better option for glucose control. I also stock up on dark chocolate often. This helps satisfy our daughter’s chocolate cravings (and who am I kidding…I get them too). However, it has a better glycemic index and is healthier in general than regular milk chocolate.
I hope that helps you come up with some ideas for low-carb or diabetes-friendly options. Be on the lookout soon for my post on low-carb recipes and meal planning. For more like this in the future, subscribe to the blog for email updates or follow me on Facebook here or Instagram here.