4 Facts You Should Know About Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are two very different conditions, with completely different causes and treatments. Nutrition Diva explains common misconceptions about Type 1 diabetics.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read

Kristy writes:

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 11 years old. I grew up hearing comments like "You're diabetic? Oh, I'm sorry you can't have sugar" or "You take insulin? Wow, your diabetes must be really bad." Can you PLEASE teach people that Type 1 diabetes isn't caused by poor lifestyle choices and cannot be reversed with diet and exercise?"

Kristy's right: Type 2 diabetes gets a lot more attention in the mainstream press. For one thing, it's a lot more common, accounting for about 90% of diabetes patients. The other reason nutritionists and other health experts talk so much about it is that an awful lot of Type 2 diabetes could be prevented (or even reversed) through diet and exercise.

See also: Can You Reverse Diabetes with Diet?

Those with Type 1 diabetes are suffering from a completely different disease, with completely different causes and treatments. I can certainly understand the frustration of Type 1 sufferers when people don't understand the difference and make what must feel like insensitive or unsupportive comments.  Here are a few things to know about Type 1 diabetes.

1. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar or being overweight. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that attacks the pancreas and destroys the body's ability to produce insulin. The condition cannot be prevented or treated with a healthy diet and lifestyle or by losing weight. In fact, dramatic unexplained weight loss can be a warning sign for undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes.

2. Type 1 diabetics do not just need insulin when they eat something sweet. They need to take insulin no matter what they eat. The amount of insulin they take is adjusted to reflect the carbohydrate content of their meals and their blood sugar levels. This, by the way, is exactly what happens naturally in those without diabetes: The amount of insulin that's released into the blood stream is dependent on the amount of carbohydrates we eat and our blood sugar levels.

3. Type 1 diabetics aren't "cheating" if they eat something sweet. Just like the rest of us, most Type 1 diabetics can safely enjoy sweets in moderation. And just like the rest of us, eating too much sugar can cause problems for Type 1 diabetics. The difference is that the problems can be much more immediate and potentially severe.

4. In a crisis, Type 1 diabetics may need sugar. Type 1 diabetics also have to be sure to keep their blood sugar from dropping too low, which can be equally dangerous. This is a delicate balancing act that most of us take for granted, because our bodies do it for us. For Type 1 diabetics, the job of monitoring and managing blood sugar is a 24/7 necessity. There are no "cheat days" or vacations for Type 1 diabetics.

Even though it's far more common, myths and misunderstandings about Type 2 diabetes abound as well. Here are some of the most common.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.