Type 1 Diabetes Diet: Foods To Eat and Avoid

Your diet plays a big role in managing type 1 diabetes. 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about “what a type 1 diabetic should eat” or “is allowed to eat,” which can cause added stress and stigma to those living with this chronic disease.

We’ll clear up some of those myths in this article and offer guidance as to which foods can help you manage your type 1 diabetes, as well as those that are more likely to cause blood sugar spikes.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistakenly attack the beta cells of your pancreas. 

Beta cells are responsible for producing insulin, a hormone that helps lower your blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is less common, impacting around 8.4 million people worldwide compared to an estimated 462 million people with type 2. 

Also, unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood through adolescence, which is why it’s also referred to as juvenile diabetes.

If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas will lose most, if not all, of its ability to produce insulin. Once your immune system destroys the beta cells, they can’t be regenerated. 

For this reason, you’ll need to inject insulin every day to try to mimic the patterns of a non-diabetic pancreas.

Insulin injections help lower your blood sugar after you eat, as well as help to keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy range throughout the day, including while you sleep.

Considerations for your diet

The most important thing to know about a diet for type 1 diabetes is that you don’t have to follow any specific strict diet, nor do you need to “cut out all sugar” or eat special “diabetic foods.” 

The more important thing is to adopt a diet that helps you manage your blood sugar levels without negatively impacting your quality of life or causing additional stress. 

Carbohydrates are the nutrients that have the greatest impact on your blood sugar levels because they are broken down into glucose during digestion. 

Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber (but your body doesn’t absorb the fiber, so it doesn’t raise blood sugar).

Many people with type 1 diabetes try to keep their intake of carbohydrates consistent so they can keep their blood sugar levels stable. 

Once you know how much a specific amount of carbs impacts your blood sugar, you can better adjust your insulin injections to “cover” the rise in blood sugar.

For example, if you use an insulin pump, you can set the pump to deliver a specific amount of insulin based on how many carbs you ate at that meal. 

Your healthcare provider and/or diabetes educator can help you set up that type of system.

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Types of type 1 diabetes diets

A diet recommended for type 1 diabetes is similar to those recommended for type 2 diabetes. 

Your blood sugar will likely be more unpredictable and variable at times with type 1, so you’ll likely have days when your blood sugar is high even though you’re doing the same things you normally do to control them.

While it’s not necessary to adopt a specific diet for type 1 diabetes, some people prefer the guidance and structure of specific diets. Some examples of these types of diets include:

Carbohydrate counting

Carbohydrate counting used to be a very popular method of managing blood sugar levels for those with type 1 diabetes. While it’s less common now, some people still utilize this strategy. 

With carbohydrate counting, you set a specific goal range for the number of carbohydrates eaten at meals and snacks. 

Low-carb diets

If you’re having a hard time controlling your blood sugar levels, you might opt to try a low-carb diet

While this isn’t necessary, some people prefer to adopt diets such as the Atkins diet or ketogenic (keto) diet, which are very low in carbs. 

However, these diets might have potential risks, such as increasing cholesterol from eating a higher-fat diet instead of carbs.

Other versions of lower-carb diets aren’t as strict as the keto-type diets and might just involve avoiding foods high in sugar (such as “no concentrated sweets”) or avoiding refined grains.

Foods for type 1 diabetics to eat

If you’re looking to include foods that will help you manage your blood sugar levels with type 1 diabetes, consider the following.

Low-starch vegetables

Most vegetables are low in carbohydrates, and they’re also rich in beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

Some examples of non-starchy vegetables include:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Beans (green, wax, Italian)
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (green, bok choy, Chinese)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Green leafy vegetables (collard, kale, mustard, turnip)
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peapods
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Salad greens (chicory, endive, escarole, lettuce, romaine, spinach, arugula, radicchio, watercress)
  • Sprouts
  • Squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti, zucchini)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

Fruit without added sugar

Contrary to the common myth, you don’t have to avoid fruit if you have diabetes, including type 1. 

Fruit does contain carbs and natural sugar, but it’s also a great source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. 

You’ll want to work on portion control of fruit (or adjust your insulin when you plan to eat fruit) to make sure it doesn’t raise your blood sugar too much. 

Fruit is a much healthier option than many packaged snack foods, so it’s important not to view it as “bad” for you!

Opt for fresh fruit with the skin and seeds to retain their fiber content, which can help reduce the spike in your blood sugar. 

Frozen fruit and canned fruit without added sugar (draining the juice also helps lower the sugar content) are also great choices. 

Dried fruit is more concentrated in sugar and often has sugar added to it, so it’s less ideal than fresh and frozen fruit.


Protein doesn’t raise your blood sugar like carbs do, and it also helps slow the release of carbs into blood glucose. For that reason, try to include a good source of protein for all meals and snacks.

You can get protein in your diet from foods like:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans/lentils (also a source of carbs/starch)
  • Dairy products like cheese and unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Soybeans/soy products (tofu, tempeh, etc.)

Healthy fats

Like protein, fat doesn’t raise your blood sugar as carbs do. Eating fat with your meal can prolong the rise in blood sugar because fat takes a while to digest, so keep that in mind when you’re monitoring your blood sugar levels.

The best fats to include in your diet (whether you have diabetes or not!) are unsaturated fats, which are known to have beneficial impacts on your heart and overall health.

Unsaturated fats are primarily from plant foods but are also found in seafood. Some sources of healthy fats include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetable oils
  • Avocadoes
  • Marine oils (fish oil, algae oil, cod liver oil, etc.)

Foods to avoid

Concentrated sweets

Foods and drinks with sugar added can spike your blood sugars. If you plan to eat these types of foods, you might need to inject additional insulin to help offset the potential blood sugar spike.

Avoiding these types of foods in your typical diet might help you better control your blood sugars:

  • Sugary drinks (regular soda, sweetened tea, flavored coffee drinks, energy drinks, etc.)
  • Sugary drink mixers
  • Fruit juices and fruit-flavored drinks
  • Sweetened grain-based desserts (cookies, muffins, pies, etc.)
  • Sweetened dairy products (ice cream, flavored yogurt, etc.)
  • Foods with added sugar – check the nutrition facts label and aim to keep your added sugar intake below 25-35 grams per day if you can!

Refined carbs

Refined carbs are those that have been stripped of some of their fiber and nutrients. They are more likely to spike your blood sugar compared to whole grains, which include more fiber and protein.

You may want to avoid or limit your portions of refined carbs, such as:

  • White bread or bread made with enriched flour
  • Enriched pasta
  • White rice
  • White flour tortillas
  • Anything made with enriched flour, white flour, etc.

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Lifestyle changes 

Monitoring blood sugar levels

Checking your blood sugar several times per day should become a new lifestyle habit if you have type 1 diabetes. 

Checking your blood sugar in the morning before you eat (fasting), before and/or after meals, and at bedtime is important to help you identify trends and make adjustments to your medication and/or lifestyle habits, including your diet.

Monitoring your blood sugar levels is also important to help avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is more common in people with type 1 diabetes due to frequent insulin injections.

Physical activity

Like type 2 diabetes, physical activity is a great way to naturally lower blood sugar levels. You might need to check your blood sugar levels before you exercise (exercise raises your blood sugar in the beginning phase before it lowers it, so going into it with high blood sugar can be problematic), as well as during or after to prevent high or low blood sugar.


A diet for type 1 diabetes doesn’t need to be overly restrictive, nor does it need to be a specific/structured diet. 

Ideally, a type 1 diabetes diet will help promote healthy blood sugar levels without being overly strict, which can cause mental health issues and added stress.

Foods that can help you meet your blood sugar goals include low-starch vegetables, fruit in moderation, protein sources, and healthy fats.

To avoid blood sugar spikes with type 1 diabetes, you may want to limit or avoid eating concentrated sweets on a regular basis, such as sugary drinks, desserts, and other foods with sugar added.

Explore More


Living with Type 1 Diabetes.


  1. Barnett R. Type 1 diabetes. Lancet. 2018 Jan.
  2. Turton JL, Raab R, Rooney KB. Low-carbohydrate diets for type 1 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2018.
  3. Bolla AM, Caretto A, Laurenzi A, Scavini M, Piemonti L. Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Nutrients. 2019.

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