Dr Jane Read

Travelling can be lots of fun and having diabetes shouldn’t stop you. With sensible planning, people with diabetes can start their journey with confidence and be equipped with the knowledge and skills to keep their diabetes in check.

Glucose is the main source of energy in our diet. It comes from foods containing carbohydrate such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit, some vegetables, milk and yoghurt. When we eat carbohydrate foods, they are broken down into glucose. The pancreas is an organ in the body that produces a hormone called insulin, which helps to take the glucose from the blood into our body cells.

For people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin. They require life-long insulin injections. For people with type 2 diabetes the pancreas produces some insulin, but not sufficient amounts.

market vegetables

Whether you control your diabetes using diet alone, or you take additional medication, eating foods throughout the day, which are low in fat and have a low ‘glycaemic index’ (GI) will help to control blood sugars. Foods with a low GI are absorbed slowly into the body, helping to maintain your blood sugar at a steady level.

Tips for travelling with diabetes:

  • See your health care provider before you leave to discuss your trip, your medication and dietary requirements. Some medications can cause hypoglycaemia or low blood sugars, so be aware of what you are taking. Continue to take your regular medication whilst away and make sure you have more than enough for your trip. Your blood sugars should be well controlled before you leave.
  • Exercise is an excellent way to help improve your diabetes control however can cause your blood sugars to go down. If you are sightseeing or hiking be sure to have low GI meals and snacks regularly through the day. Have healthy low GI snacks available in your day-pack to help maintain blood sugars. Also carry some fast acting snacks such as jelly beans if your sugars go too low.

running along brooklyn bridge

  • For the flight, ring the airline in advance to arrange an appropriate ‘diabetic/low fat’ meal. Also take some healthy low GI snacks in your carry-on luggage in case your meal is delayed, or the carbohydrate portion is small. Healthy snacks include wholegrain sandwiches, muesli bars, plain crackers or dried fruit/nut mix. It is also important to have some quick acting carbohydrate snacks on hand (jelly beans, glucose gels, fruit juice) in case of unexpected hypoglycaemia.
  • Research your destination and the foods available. Most places will have basic carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta and rice. Ensure you have a regular intake of low GI foods at each meal. Some countries will have foods that may affect your blood sugar unpredictably, so it’s a good idea to regularly monitor using a glucose meter.
  • In the event of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) have some fast-acting low GI carbohydrate immediately. Make sure you follow this with a low GI meal/snack to ensure your blood sugar is maintained at an appropriate level.
  • When you are unwell with a virus or infection, your blood sugars usually rise. You should monitor your blood sugars more regularly. Try to eat your regular meals and snacks. If you are finding it difficult to eat, then you should try and have small snacks and carbohydrate containing drinks like lemonade or cordial every 2 hours.
  • As always, seek medical attention if required. Know where your nearest medical centre is in case of emergency.

It’s possible to manage your diabetes while travelling and still have a great time exploring the world. As long as you’re prepared, you can travel confidently with the knowledge of how to keep you condition in check.

travel picture collage

Dr Jane Read is a Sydney-based GP Registrar who also holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Deakin University in Melbourne. In addition to working in general practice, Jane works as a freelance nutrition and medical writer, and has been a nutrition consultant to various corporate clients.

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