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The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your body cannot produce, or effectively use insulin, a hormone created by the pancreas. Insulin controls the amount of glucose (or sugar) in our blood by telling certain body cells to take in glucose from the blood and use it as a source of energy. That is, when an individual’s body cannot produce or use insulin effectively, their blood glucose levels can spiral out of control. This can cause damage to various organs throughout the body and – without treatment – can even lead to coma and death. In this article, we take a look at some of the major differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and offer some tips that can help you better manage your diabetes diagnosis.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes makes up about 10% of people with diabetes and typically develops in childhood and adolescence, although it occurs in adults as well. People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin; This prevents cells from taking in glucose from the blood and using it as energy, causing blood glucose levels to spiral out of control. As individuals with type 1 cannot produce insulin, they must rely on insulin injections or an insulin pump to manage their blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes is neither curable nor preventable, however, through proper diet, exercise, and insulin injections, it can be effectively managed.

Ella Olsson, Unsplash

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, making up 90% of people with this condition. Type 2 occurs when the insulin released from the pancreas is in too small a quantity, preventing muscle cells from grabbing glucose from the bloodstream to send to other body cells. The cells may also be unable to respond to the insulin your pancreas makes, and this is known as insulin resistance. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 usually occurs later in life, and while we do not know the cause, many lifestyle factors including stress, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical exercise can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing type 2 also increases in:
  • Anyone over the age of 40
  • Anyone with a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being a person of colour
  • Women who have had a history of gestational diabetes, or who have given birth to a baby over 9lbs

While there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, progression of the disease can be slowed through healthy diet and exercise. Most people with type 2 will eventually need more medicine and/or insulin, so the aim is to slow down the progression of the disease as much as possible.

Healthy Tips for People with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes can use the carb counting method and choose low glycemic index foods to help control spikes in blood glucose levels. Examples of low glycemic index foods include:
  • Whole-grain breads and pastas
  • Dried beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • Fruits such as apples, strawberries, and peaches

It is also important to try to:
  • Include whole-grains whenever possible
  • Avoid overly processed or ‘convenience’ foods
  • Include fruits as a healthy dessert option
  • Make water your drink of choice
Dan Gold, Unsplash
Some people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes may also find benefits from other types of diets such as low carb, Mediterranean and plant-based, among others. While these diets can be a good start on the road to managing a diabetes diagnosis, it is always important to speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian to ensure that you follow a way of eating that works best for you. There are also some key lifestyle changes that can help to manage a type 1 or type 2 diabetes diagnosis, including:
  • Stress Management: Taking time to evaluate and limit areas of stress in your life can help you to better manage a diabetes diagnosis.
  • Sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels and can help lower stress levels.
  • Physical Activity: Regular physical activity has been proven to promote weight loss and lower blood glucose levels. Diabetes Canada recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous aerobic exercise each week (30 minutes, 5 days a week) and resistance exercises (such as weightlifting) two to three times a week.

Although there are some major differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both can be managed with physical exercise, a commitment to a healthy diet and creating some positive lifestyle choices like stress and sleep management. Committing to these changes can help manage symptoms of diabetes and can decrease the likelihood of experiencing complications such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, as well as kidney and eye damage. For this reason, it is important to talk to your doctor to help set you up for success in self-managing a diabetes diagnosis.


Diabetes Canada. (2021). Lifestyle management. Diabetes Canada.

Diabetes Canada. (2021). What is diabetes? Diabetes Canada.

Bolla, A. M., Caretto, A., Laurenzi, A., Scavini, M., & Piemonti, L. (2019). Low-carb and ketogenic diets in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Nutrients, 1–14.

Wilcox G. (2005). Insulin and insulin resistance. The Clinical biochemist. Reviews26(2), 19–39.

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