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“Healthy eating for children with diabetes is the same as healthy eating for all children,” said Mary Ann Clever, a registered and licensed dietitian and a certified diabetes educator with The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
Healthy eating habits are as important as ever since the prevalence of children with diabetes increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009, according to a recent study.
The amount of Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, climbed 21 percent from 2000 to 2009, to 1.93 per 1,000 children. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes — which is associated with obesity — jumped more than 30 percent in the same period, to a rate of 0.46 per 1,000 kids, according to a study presented recently at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ meeting in Vancouver, Canada, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Nationwide, nearly 167,000 children and teens younger than 20 have Type 1 diabetes, while more than 20,000 have Type 2, said study author Dana Dabelea, of the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, Colo.
They included 3 million children and adolescents in different regions of the USA. Researchers acknowledge the study doesn’t include information from the past five years.
“These increases are serious,” Dabelea said. “Every new case means a lifetime burden of difficult and costly treatment and higher risk of early, serious complications.”
In Type 2 diabetes, once known as “adult-onset” diabetes, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Children who develop Type 2 diabetes face serious risks, which are compounded by the fact that most are already obese. Together, obesity and diabetes increase their lifetime risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and amputations.
Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin, a hormone that the body needs to let sugar enter cells and produce energy.
Diabetes affects 25.8 million people of all ages in the United States, or about 8.3 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Clever said while young people may feel “different” from their peers after being diagnosed it’s still possible to carry on eating their favorite foods as long as it is in moderation.
The American Diabetes Association website, www.diabetes.org, offers recipes for quick and easy or gourmet meals.
Even kid-favorite foods such as chicken tenders can be made healthier by coating them in whole-grain cornmeal and baking instead of frying.
“There is almost no food they can’t eat,” Clever said. “But it’s all about how much they’re going to eat, how often they’re going to eat and what they’re going to eat it with. It’s very important to monitor their carbohydrates. And if they’re eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich food at one time, it’s going to be something that will affect their blood sugar more. They can eat very normal, but they have to watch how much, how often and what they’re eating it with.”
Another key to maintaining blood sugar levels is eating smaller portion sizes and nutrient dense snacks.
Clever said teenagers and children sometimes develop denial about having diabetes and make the condition worse by continuing to eat carbohydrate-rich foods. Family support is key to encouraging young people to monitor their diets and blood sugar levels and prevent future health problems.
“The diet for someone dealing with diabetes is a very healthy diet,” Clever said. “The whole family can be on it and follow it and encourage the variety of foods and carbohydrate-controlling areas.”
USA Today contributed to this report.