Updated 28 February 2013

Easy carb counting for kids with diabetes

Keeping tabs on children of any age can be a challenge on its own, keeping tabs on a child living with diabetes can add on to the challenge.

Keeping tabs on children of any age can be a challenge on its own, keeping tabs on a child living with diabetes can add on to the challenge.

One of the top priorities for parents of children with diabetes is to manage the disease from an early age, so that their children can lead normal, healthy lives. The treatment regime includes making sure they have a healthy diet based on foods with a low GI (Glycaemic Index); foods that digest slowly and therefore don’t play havoc with the body’s blood glucose levels. This can be enough of a challenge at home, but what about the times when children are out of the home - at school, parties or sports events?

The trick is to make carb counting for lunchboxes and snacks easy, so that it becomes a simple routine rather than a complicated chore. But counting carbs, as anyone who’s been on a carbohydrate-restricted diet will know, can be difficult - and frustrating. And who has time in the mornings to figure out whether the lunchbox they’re preparing is ‘carb-safe’ for their child?

Carb counting tips

Luckily, there are some easy techniques to use for counting carbs, and these can be really useful for busy moms and dads. 

"The first thing is to make a list of the foods that are high in carbohydrates and to paste this onto the door of the fridge as an easy go-to reminder," says Shelley Harris, public relations manager of the local division of leading diabetes healthcare company Novo Nordisk. These include fruits and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn; foods made from refined grains like bread, crackers and pasta; and sugar or foods sweetened with sugar.

"Do this with a column next to each item to record the carbohydrate count, so that you don’t have to do it from scratch every day," says Harris.

"If you’re packing in something like low-fat sweetened yoghurt, for instance, it’s easy to check the total carbohydrate content on the label, which includes the measure of both sugars and starches. Do that and then write it down on your checklist for easy reference."

Another technique is to allocate average carbohydrate counts to common foods like bread and apples.

"An apple, a slice of bread, a cup of skim milk or a 30g portion of cheese all contain around 15g of carbohydrates, so it’s easy to do quick calculations based on what the American Dietetic Association refers to as ‘food exchange groups’. The term means that foods with a standardised carb count are interchangeable, and that the total carb content of a lunchbox can be quickly calculated in this way."

Insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio

For children on insulin, this methodology makes it easy for parents to calculate the insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio that determines the amount of insulin they need to take before each meal, making allowances for variables like levels of activity and individual responses to certain foods.  

With over 6.5 million South Africans living with diabetes, and with approximately 45% of all new cases of type 2 diabetes being diagnosed in children, as stated by the IDF, the Diabetes Atlas and the American Diabetes Association, easy-to-use, time-saving methods like these can be invaluable to parents.

The other side of the coin, of course, is to make lunches and snacks interesting by varying the contents from day to day, and by focusing on foods that kids enjoy. A nutritious and satisfying lunch could, for instance, include a sandwich made from whole grain bread, a homemade treat like a low-fat choc chip cookie, a portion of fresh fruit, a few veggie sticks and some low-fat milk or bottled water.

"Carb counting for children with diabetes needn’t be difficult," concludes Harris, "and lunches don’t have to be boring. All it takes to put together a healthy, appetising lunchbox every day is a bit of forward planning and a good dose of imagination. And voila!  A healthy, happy child - every day."

For further information on diabetes and treatment options for diabetics, visit www.novonordisk.com  or visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/ChangingDiabetesZA

 - (Novo Nordisk SA press release)

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