Being told that your child is diabetic is a daunting experience and one that takes time to adjust to and fully understand. One’s immediate reaction is how will they cope but in fact they often cope better than the parents initially. A clear understanding is the key to successful management in everyday life by learning the relationship between diet and insulin and their effects on blood sugar levels. Approximately 30 000 children are affected in the United Kingdom alone with a further 1 500 being diagnosed annually. Child diabetes is known as juvenile onset diabetes.
Diabetes is cause by the lack of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, a gland located just below the stomach. Insulin is essential in the process of using sugar for energy. Sugary and starchy foods are digested mostly to glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. It is then transformed to energy for body activities. Apart from exercise, energy is needed for digestion and brain functions, breathing and heartbeat. With the lack of insulin, the body is unable to acquire energy from glucose in the blood resulting in glucose levels rising and overflowing into the urine. The body attempts to compensate fluid lose by causing a thirst, drinking more and subsequently more toilet trips. These are typical signs of diabetes in children often resulting in bed wetting. If not treated, they may become seriously ill. Diagnosis is by testing the urine and blood levels of glucose.
Unfortunately at this stage, there is no cure for diabetes. It is controlled by one or more insulin injections per day. Diet plays the most important role by controlling the carbohydrates and sticking to a healthier diet of more fibre and less fat. A child’s weigh should also be controlled.
The number of carbohydrates that may be consumed daily depends on age, sex, height, weight etc. and must therefore be carefully assessed by a dietician. However obviously foods such as white and brown sugars, fizzy drinks, jams and syrups, sugar coated breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits and instant puddings must be avoided. Recommended is a high-fibre diet consisting of bran flakes, oats porridge, brown rice, wholemeal pastas and biscuits, fresh and dried fruits.
It is easier to control a child up to the age of 5 years but once they start school, they have to take some responsibility of caring for themselves. It is very important to promote education via explanations and encouragement from a very young age as once they reach school going age, they can be easily tempted. The consequences must be understood. It is also wise to brief the friend’s mother on suitable foods while your child is visiting.
At this age too, birthday parties are a popular event. They are normally held in the afternoon. A child can be allowed an extra 10 – 20g carbohydrates plus the normal afternoon snack. The addition will compensate for the extra activities. However do not give fewer carbohydrates at lunch time to save it for the afternoon allowance.
Giving parties is easier than going to parties. Encourage them to take their own sugar free drink with them and advise the host of their dietary needs.
Birthday cakes form the central feature of a party table. The recipes below are completely sugar-free.
Sugarless sponge cake
This cake will make 10 slices. Each slice contains 120 kcal/512 kJ, 10g carbohydrate, negligible fibre, 2g protein, 10g fat.
100g polyunsaturated margarine, melted
Sugar-free sweetener equivalent to 60g
5 drops vanilla essence
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon water
100g self-raising wholemeal flour
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Lightly oil and line with greaseproof paper two 15cm or 6” diameter sandwich tins. Melt the margarine and allow it to cool before adding the sweetener, vanilla essence, egg yolks and water. Whisk up the mixture with a fork to blend thoroughly. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Stir the flour into the margarine mixture, blending well. Then quickly fold in the egg whites taking care not to beat or stir too hard at this stage. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for 15-20 minutes until firm. Remove and cool on rack.
Soft cheese icing
This will cover and fill a 10 slice cake.
Each slice: 8kcal/37 kJ, 2g protein and negligible carbohydrates, fibre and fat.
100g skimmed milk soft cheese
2 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 tablespoon sugar-free sweetener
Stir all the ingredients together until blended. It is advisable not to ice the cake too far in advance as the icing will dry out and crack.
Red grape jelly
This is sufficient for 10 servings.
Each serving: 60 kcal/270 kJ, 10g carbohydrates, 2g protein, negligible fat and fibre.
1 litre box of red grape juice
Sugar-free sweeteners to taste (optional)
Pour 150ml juice in a saucepan and sprinkle in the gelatine. Leave it to soak for 4 minutes before gently heating, swirling the pan until the gelatine dissolves. Add remaining juice stirring and sweeten to taste. Stir very thoroughly and transfer to a mould or individual dishes. Set in refrigerator.
Frozen Banana pops
Makes 6. Each pop: 40 kcal/180 kJ, 10g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 2g fibre and negligible fat.
4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
Red and green food colouring
Cut each banana in half and push a cocktail stick into each half. Freeze them until firm. Mix half the yoghurt with a few drops of green food colouring. Take the bananas from the deep freeze and spoon over the coloured yoghurt to give a two-tone effect. The yoghurt will set on the cold banana. Return to the freezer and serve frozen.
These recipes will serve you well when you next host a party where diabetic children will be able to join in without concern.