What challenges does India present to type 1 diabetes?
As you can imagine the food in India is a lot more spicy, and creamy, and perhaps slightly more carby than in the UK. If you consume a lot of naan bread, chapati, or rice, then you might find it challenging on your blood sugars.
I would recommend practising with these types of foods at home in the UK before you leave, so you can get a rough idea of what insulin you need for various portion sizes.
It won’t be exact, but it’s a good place to start.
Another option is to use an app such as Calorie King, My Fitness Pal or Carbs and Cals to help you calculate the carbs whilst you are eating. If you do have a successful carb count session, then make a note so you have a starting point for the next meal.
Or, you can do what I did sometimes. Focus on the curry and skip the rice and naan. Generally Roti or Chapati is lower in carbs than naan bread, so it’s a good alternative, or you can have salad with your curry.
Remember that the creamier the curry (for example a butter masala, or any masala based dishes) tend to be higher in carbs that straight up tomato based, spicy curries.
But by the way, the food in India is some of the best I’ve had in my life, so it’s definitely worth eating and diabetes won’t stop you!
With regards to other foods that aren’t curries, India likes to use a lot of sugar in its dishes, so bare this in mind when you’re eating snacks.
The time zone change in India could affect your blood sugars. If you are on an insulin pump, you can switch your insulin pump time to the new time zone when you land the monitor for a few days more closely.
You may find you need less or more insulin depending on your body and your activity level.
If you are on an insulin pen, then the time zone switch can be a little more complicated (doable, but might take a few days longer).
I’ve completed a whole guide on switching time zones with type 1 diabetes here, so you’ll find more in depth information there.
Depending on the part of India you visit, some parts are colder or warmer than others. For example in Goa the temperatures were hitting nearly 40 degrees celsius and I found I needed a lot less insulin. I typically reduced my insulin by 20%.
Whereas other parts of India are colder (especially near the tea regions of the north and the Himalayan region). We found Pushkar was generally colder (needed a jacket in the evening type cold) and I definitely needed my normal dose of insulin, than normally needed in the heat.
Remember, regardless of the cold or warm temperatures, then use a Frio bag to keep your insulin cool while travelling.
Also, remember to wear sunscreen, because sunburn can lead to dehydration, which will push your blood sugars up higher and could result in DKA if you are not careful. Better to be safe than sorry.
What injections do I need for India?
Since type 1 diabetics generally have a lower immune system, I always recommend that you get the required injections for every country you visit. For India this includes,
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- yellow fever
- Japanese encephalitis
- measles,mumps and rubella (MMR),
- Tdap (tetanus,diphtheria and pertussis)
(some may be available on the NHS in the UK)
The healthcare system in India
It’s not great, but it’s not dire either. If you need insulin then you will need to head to a city as they will have insulin pens (sometime insulin vials for insulin pumps). Cities like Mumbai and Delhi have more modern hospitals, so it’s easier to get supplies there.
You typically need a prescription, so it's best to go see a doctor and discuss what insulin you need. If they don’t have your preferred insulin, then call your doctor at home and ask what is the most similar insulin you can use that they have.
If you are on an insulin pump, it is very rare that they will have insulin pump supplies should you need them. So you can either have family or friends ship them out to you, or you can learn how to switch from insulin pumps to insulin pens for the duration of your trip.
You can claim back your insulin costs on your travel insurance (should you have it).
In general the healthcare system is crowded, and you may need to wait a few days for insulin. There are also a few type 1 diabetic charities in both Mumbai and Delhi who are run by English companies, and they may also be able to assist you.
Arriving into India with type 1 diabetes
I had no issues whatsoever with my insulin pump, FreeStyle Libre or insulin pump supplies. Your hand luggage is sometimes scanned, so they’ll see your supplies, but I was never asked for letters or anything, nor was I overly questioned when they searched me. ( I don’t set of the alarm)
But, it’s still always worth having your doctors letter than explains your condition and the supplies you are carrying, just in case. (especially if you are crossing land borders), you should also translate it into Hindi to make your life even easier.
Activities you shouldn’t miss in India
Once you’ve got your blood sugars settled, you’ll want to explore all that India has to offer. So, I’ve put together my top 4 and any diabetic implications.
Visit the Taj Mahal
You will go through a xray scanner, as will your handbag if you bring one. No one asked me anything about my insulin pump, they thought it was a phone. It’s basically like an airport security point. The Taj is amazing.
Visit the beautiful lakes of Udaipur
No diabetes issues here, just make sure you have hypo supplies on you as it can get warm! Udaipur was one of my favourites.
Visit Amer Fort
Jaipur is a bustling city and Amer Fort sits above proud and beautiful. There are no security pat downs, so you’ll have no diabetes implications. But if you have a sensor on, you will probably have some people ask what it is.
Relax on the beaches of Goa
No issues here, just bring hypo supplies due to the heat on the beach, and make sure your insulin is kept in a frio bag if you have it out with you. Use a Medangel One sensor to check the temperature via an app on your phone.
So there you have it, I hope you’ve found my little guide on travelling with diabetes in India useful! If you’ve been to India or you have anymore tips, then comment below <3