, Gloucester, MA


March 26, 2007

Diabetes in children: A call for the whole family to eat better

Danny Plunkett used to be the picky eater in the family. He typically refused to eat what his parents and older sister were having for dinner, such as stir fry and rice, so his mother allowed him to make himself a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

"I believed that if you fight with your kids, you're going to create problems," Laura Plunkett said.

Then at age 7, Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It's the kind of diabetes caused by an immune system disorder, not the kind related to poor diet and lack of exercise, and Danny's nutritionist told his parents not to worry too much about changing his diet. The important thing was for him not to feel deprived of anything.

The nutritionist drew up a meal plan for Danny based on his favorite foods - pancakes with syrup, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese - and calculated doses of insulin to compensate for all that refined sugar and flour. They even sent him home with a flier that said, "Don't let diabetes slow you down - you can still eat fast food."

Laura Plunkett quickly had misgivings, though, when they got home and followed the plan. Danny's blood sugar numbers were all over the map, she said. He seemed to be eating even less nutritiously than before, and he had stomachaches and was gaining weight.

"We were shoveling the pancakes into him," she said. "His blood sugars, they were just crazy on the kinds of foods I was trying to feed him."

When a diabetes patient's blood sugar spikes too high or too low, the person can fall into a coma and die.

It took several months of trial and error for Plunkett to figure out that when Danny ate more nutritious foods, his blood sugar was much more stable. She hesitated at first, but over time her confidence grew. She became determined to do the exact opposite of what her medical team had told her: to completely change Danny's diet.

"Everyone has to find their own way," Plunkett said. "They don't have to eat the way we are. It's just what's working for us."

The approach may be outside the mainstream, but Plunkett is not the only local mother who has turned to nutritious food as the cornerstone of her child's diabetes management.

Julia Hart of West Newbury, co-founder of a type 1 diabetes family support group called Highlow Diabetes, said she too discovered through trial and error that her son Austin was much more stable when he ate whole grains rather than processed foods.

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