For Kids with Type 1 Diabetes, Eating Right Can Break the Bank

Last Update: October 6, 2023

Every day millions of kids in the United States wake up, prick their fingers, test their blood sugar levels, inject themselves with insulin and then eat a bowl of sugar. Er, cereal.

But why are kids who should be eating whole-grain granola slurping up Cap’n Crunch instead? Because in order to save money, many families with kids who have type 1 diabetes are following the USDA’s recommended food plan, which recommends buying sugar-filled, processed foods to cut costs.

A study released on July 8 by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reveals that feeding kids with type 1 diabetes the recommended diet of full of low glycemic foods like non-starchy vegetables and whole grains is, well, expensive.

Also known as juvenile diabetes, children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can’t produce insulin, the hormone that allows your body to convert sugar into energy. The study found that trying to follow a ‘healthy’ diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—one that’s far better for kids with type 1—can cost 18 percent more than the regular food plan the USDA recommends to those trying to save money.

The treatment for type 1 diabetes includes insulin therapy and daily exercise, in addition to a diet rich in whole grains and veggies. And not only are parents facing higher prices for healthier food, the JNEB study also reveals how difficult it can be for parents to find healthier choices in their local stores in the first place.

Researchers examined the costs of 164 foods in the USDA’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan’ (R-TFP) as well as its more nutritionally dense counterpart ‘Thrifty Food Plan – Healthy’ (H-TFP), and the data was clear: The healthier version of the plan costs more. A lot more. Where’s the extra money being spent? On proteins and grains that are diabetes-friendly and score low on the glycemic index.

The recent news recalls the criticism that’s faced the USDA’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan’ in the past, as the recommended eating plan for those trying to save money on their monthly grocery bill doesn’t take into consideration many dietary needs like those of pregnant or nursing moms, low-sodium diets, and most clearly those struggling with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

In reality, choosing the healthier option while shopping can actually save you money. Not only are low glycemic foods like quinoa, barley, whole wheat products, and brown rice often more nutritious, but they’re also more filling due to a higher fiber content. Staying fuller for longer plus getting more nutrients means that you’re going to eat (and buy!) less of the junky stuff that’s loaded with calories and weighing your grocery bill down.

And maybe we should be seriously re-thinking a government agency that recommends our families chow down on doughnuts.

Photo credit: Stocksy

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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