What’s the one piece of advice all diabetics should listen to?
We asked our Panel of Experts… Here’s what they had to say:
“Focus on the good-for-you foods you want to include in your diet, rather than the things you want to limit.”
Cheryl Meyer, Dietician.
“Make small changes to your diet that could bring about a bigger change in your health. Swap white bread for low GI bread, for example, and leave off the butter.”
Faaiza Paruk, Dietician.
“Exercising, keeping to the right BMI and eating a good diabetic diet are all essential because these factors determine the amount of medication you need. It’s also important not to smoke, to take your medication properly and to visit your doctor regularly.”
Dr. Joel Dave, Endocrinologist.
“Ask yourself: ‘Have I got diabetic retinopathy: Yes or No?’ The only way you can know that answer is if someone competent and trained has looked at your retina and given you the answer. So visit an ophthalmologist every year!”
Dr. Dale Harrison, Ophthalmologist.
“Always use a good diabetic foot cream. Examine your feet every day, especially if you have neuropathy. Check your shoes with your hands before you put them on to be sure there isn’t anything in them. Ensure your shoes fit properly and have enough space so that there are no pressure areas that could cause blisters or wounds.”
Andy Blecher, Podiatrist.
“Go to a qualified podiatrist for a thorough Diabetic Foot Assessment at least once a year. Ask questions and be informed.”
Anette Thompson, Podiatrist.
For radio presenter and TV actor Kini Shandu, Type 2 diabetes gave him new meaning. Here’s what he has to say about his condition.
Kini Shandu is a radio presenter on one of KZN’s biggest radio stations, Gagasi FM, a TV personality on SABC’s biggest telenovela, uZalo, and the founder of Inqaba Media. He’s also a father of two and a Type 2 diabetic.
When were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2010 – six years ago now.
How did you cope with the diagnosis?
It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the new lifestyle, especially because I felt I was too young to be diabetic.
Has it become any easier with time?
Yeah, it has. It became easier once I came to accept that it was my new reality. Having family and friends who support me all the way makes a great difference.
What’s the hardest part about being diabetic for you?
The pressure of making sure I don’t default on my medication: having to keep my medication kit with me, even when I’m travelling. We are all human and we can forget, but this is a challenge I just have to face. Reminders on my cellphone help me a lot!
How do you balance a busy life with eating right and exercise?
I jog every morning and I try by all means to eat as clean as I can. There are times when I miss junk food, but knowing the damage it could do is enough to switch my brain straight to its senses.
You’re a radio presenter on Gagasi FM, do you talk about diabetes at all?
Yes, I do talk about it a lot. I’m fortunate to have Gagasi FM listeners who follow me closely: they know I’m diabetic and are very supportive. I also make sure I spread the word on every platform I get.
Could you tell us about your TV acting?
I play the character of Shaun, a lawyer, on the SABC1 telenovela, Uzalo, weekdays at 8:30pm. The character is the complete opposite of me, but I’m loving it and I’d like to do more TV gigs in the near future.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
Accept the situation and take it one step at a time. Diabetes is a silent killer, so take a stand and fight it. Surround yourself with people who love and support you.
What makes your life sweet?
The fact that I’m diabetic! Joking. I love my life, I live an awesome life, I live with no regret. I thank God for each and every day in my life: diabetes gave me a new meaning to life.
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From our community: “I get invited to lots of business meetings and workshops that are catered… Needless to say, none of the catering is healthy! What do I choose or how do I deal with this situation?” Rene Prinsloo.
Many of us consume at least half of our meals and snacks during work hours, which makes our food choices in catered meetings and workshops very important. Here are three steps to consider:
Step 1: Build your plate
- Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad. Look out for vegetable skewers, veggie sides, crudités (chopped raw veg), soup or salads.
- Next, add a healthy carbohydrate: either a wholegrain/high fibre starch or a piece of fruit.
Look out for:
- Wholewheat bread
- A seeded roll
- Wholewheat pita
- Wholewheat pasta/noodles
- Wholewheat wrap
- Brown or basmati rice
- Fresh fruit
- For long-lasting brain and body power, add a source of protein.
Some good protein choices:
- Lean cold meats
- Grilled chicken
- Mini meatballs
- Legumes like beans or lentils
- Fish like tuna, sardines or pilchards
- Cottage cheese
- Boiled eggs
Sauces like low-fat mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce, hummus or guacamole are optional but not essential.
- Deep-fried foods (like samoosas, spring rolls or vetkoek)
- Sausage rolls and pies
- Croissants, muffins or other pastries
Step 2: Choose portions with caution
- Be sure to start the day with a balanced breakfast and keep healthy snacks or a packed lunch on hand to avoid arriving at a meeting hungry.
- Use smaller plates and serving utensils to help manage how much you dish up.
- Sit far away from the food to avoid “picking”.
- Use the size of your hand to determine sensible and healthy portion sizes and curb overeating:
- A fistful is equal to one cup and can be used to estimate the portion size for carbohydrates (starches and fruits).
- The size of the palm of your hand can be used to estimate the portion size for protein. For a stew, curry or casserole this would be about half a cup.
- The tip of the thumb is equivalent to one teaspoon and can be used to estimate the portion size for all oils, butter or mayonnaise.
- The thumb can also be used to estimate the portion size for peanut butter or hard cheese.
Step 3: Carefully consider your choice of drink:
Some good choices are:
- Still or sparkling water
- Tea or coffee
- Vegetable juice
- Low-fat milk
- Sugar-free fizzy drinks
Ketones and ketoacidosis are often mentioned in relation to diabetes, but what are they exactly?
- Ketones result when your body burns fat for energy.
- They are formed when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to use glucose for fuel.
- A urine test is traditionally used to test for ketones: some blood glucose meters can also test for ketones.
- Ketones make the blood more acidic.
- Ketones in the urine are a warning sign that your diabetes isn’t under control.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is caused by ketone levels being too high.
- DKA is serious and can lead to diabetic coma.
- DKA is rare in Type 2 diabetics and more common in Type 1 diabetics with uncontrolled blood sugar.
- Symptoms of DKA are thirst, frequent urination, high blood glucose, constant tiredness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dry/flushed skin, breathing difficulty and confusion.
- If these symptoms ring a bell, see a doctor as soon as possible to get your blood sugar under control.
We’ve got a dose of winter workout motivation that will ensure the only layers you’ll be adding this chilly season are layers of clothing! Lee-Anne Spurdens gives us the ideas.
While it’s tempting to stay under a blanket all winter long, hibernating isn’t good for your body or mind. Exercise is essential to manage your diabetes well, keep away the winter blues and build a healthy body – which also means you’ll be able to battle the winter germs better. Need some ideas to get you started? Here are seven of our favourites.
- Skipping Mobile, inexpensive and effective, this might be the most winter-friendly workout around. If it’s too cold or wet to skip outdoors, any indoor non-slippery surface will do (even in front of the TV). Skipping ups the heart rate, burns calories and strengthens muscles and bones. Start with five to 10 minutes a day.
- Boot camp If a little authority is what you need to get moving, you could be a winter warrior in the making! Boot Camp Academy SA (bcasa.co.za) offers “military” style boot camp classes across the country for all fitness levels.
- Exercise videos If you prefer to be drilled from the comfort (and warmth) of your living room, an exercise DVD is a good option. And who better to whip you into shape than martial arts guru, Billy Blanks? His legendary Tae Bo workouts are a mix of taekwondo and boxing, and available from takealot.com.
- Fit radio Sometimes all you need to get you moving is the right music. The Fit Radio app delivers a fresh new workout soundtrack whenever you need it and is guaranteed to get you off the couch, even if all you do is dance around your living room. Which brings us to…
- Dancing A tonic for body and soul, the ultimate stress buster and a fun way to warm up a cold body! From ballet and ballroom to hip hop and salsa, there are adult classes available for just about every type of dance. Check out dancedirectory.co.za to find a class in your area – soon you’ll be walking taller, sitting straighter and bending down more easily.
- Walking A brisk, daily 30-minute walk can help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles, manage high blood pressure and heart disease, improve balance and lift your spirits.
- Running If you’re ready (and willing) to take your walking up a notch, why not try a local park run? These free, timed 5km runs take place every week all over the world, are open to all levels and are a great way to get the whole family moving and make new workout buddies. Visit parkrun.com to find a run near you.
Morning movers and shakers
Generate some heat on chilly winter mornings with this 3-minute blood-pumping routine:
- Jumping Jacks: Jump your feet out and sweep your arms up over your head, then jump feet together and bring arms to your side. Repeat for 60 seconds.
- Side squats: Squat as low as you can, stand up and take a step to the side. Squat down again. Repeat on the other side. Keep going for 60 seconds.
- Plank: Get into a push-up position. Bend your arms to the floor, and rest your body weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, your body in a straight line from head to feet. Hold for 60 seconds.
How to motivate yourself to get off the couch
Ask the expert: Ilona Padayachee, Biokineticist
Enjoyment: This is the key to staying motivated, so make sure you enjoy whatever exercise you choose.
Goal setting: This reaffirms a sense of mission, purpose and direction. Set goals during winter to keep you motivated, and reward yourself for sticking to your exercise routine.
Variety: Change up your workout routine to prevent it from becoming boring – try different activities, train outdoors as well as in, and work out with a partner to keep things interesting.
Your toes might be in hiding over winter, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect them. Podiatrist Anette Thompson has this advice for healthy winter feet:
- Treat dry, flaky skin with an exfoliating foot scrub and a good foot and heel balm.
- Warm feet up by soaking them in warm (not hot) water for five to 10 minutes. Follow with foot balm and thick socks for extra snugness.
- Shoes with inflexible soles prevent natural bending at the ball of the foot, which can cause circulation problems. Tight shoes and a toe shape that does not match your foot shape can also limit circulation. Wear low-heeled shoes with flexible soles that don’t squeeze the front of your foot (this can cause inflammation of the big toes or ingrown toenails). Buy a larger size if you wear thick socks, and choose shoes with built-in cushioning – this promotes circulation under the ball of the foot.
From our community blog:
I am new to this site.
Last night I was at the casualty section of Wilgeheuwel Hospital in Joburg because my 2 year-8-month year old son has been very listless and vomited and I thought he probably had gastro. He was diagnosed about 2 hours ago with Type 1 diabetes and was taken straight to ICU to be stabilised and to have tests done.
This was an overwhelming, terrifying moment for me — I know very little about Type 1 Diabetes and my OCD thinking went into a tailspin about “what if he is in a situation one day where there is no insulin available and and and…”
Forgive me for sounding so panicked, but I am utterly at sea and trying to come to grips with the news. I am writing in the hope that someone can tell me everything’s going to be okay – that the ‘episodes’ or emergency situations will be able to be handled with confidence and success, and that (bar all the huge adaptations we’ll make to our lives), he will be okay.
I’d really appreciate any comfort anyone can give to this totally inexperienced, upset mom.
My son is also a diabetic. He was diagnosed at age 12, nearly 6 years ago. I just wanted to say: hang in there. Your child will be okay. He will one day be able to cope with this all. Just remember that this is not your fault. Nothing could have prevented this. Do join our group on Facebook: Kids powered by insulin. This group has helped me through some tough times.
Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. Keep the faith. It will get better, that I promise.
All will be okay as long as you take care of it and treat it accordingly.
Keep monitoring your son’s diabetes and it will be fine!
Oh my, I know the feeling of absolute devastation! I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago at an oldish age, and I live alone, and thought the world had come to an end. Obviously for such a little one it is very difficult… I’m very aware of what I eat. Living with diabetes is difficult, but doable.
Sometimes the biggest challenge to eating a healthy diet is finding the right ingredients: here’s how Annora Mostert, the founder and group owner of Anja’s Pantry, and Alliyah Geldenhuys, who just opened Anja’s Pantry Plumstead, did just that.
Do you have a special interest in diabetes?
“It soon became clear that people with diabetes have the biggest need for healthy low carbohydrate and sugar-free food,” explains Annora. “So we involved trained nutritionists to guide us in what the right type of products should be for diabetics, and started to change the content of our pantry.” The result? All the products in Anja’s Pantry stores are now diabetic friendly. Some of the store owners also have close family members with diabetes, so as a team they work together to stock the right kind of products.
Do you think awareness is growing around healthy food alternatives?
“Absolutely! Social media is the biggest contributor creating awareness, but the awareness is now affecting policies. The research is so clear and the problem is so great that the South African government has followed the UK government in introducing a sugar tax next year on foods to try to curb the high sugar content in processed foods,” says Annora. As a result, all their stores offer a wide range of food products that are sugar-free and low carb so that those who want to avoid sugar can still have a variety of foods to choose from. “Our range of food products is now over 200 items with more being added all the time. This becomes a mini grocery store for the large percentage of the population that are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, those who have allergies or those who just want to lose weight while enjoying their food.”
How did you choose the location of Anja’s Pantry Plumstead?
Anja’s Pantry in Plumstead is right next door to a number of fast food restaurants. “We chose the location on purpose,” explains Alliyah, the owner of the store. “We want to provide healthier options to those in Plumstead and surrounds. It’s often difficult to prepare home cooked meals and so called ‘proper food’ with the fast paced lifestyles that many of us lead today. We end up simply settling for the quickest and easiest option available, but often these are unhealthy food choices. With our easy to prepare premixes and pre-prepared items such as pizza bases and meals, we are hoping to make it much easier for those wanting to enjoy a more nutritionally sound meal.”
Do you think there’s a particular need for healthy alternatives in the Muslim community?
“Yes! Traditional Muslim food is well known for being loaded with unhealthy fats, excessive carbohydrates and sugars. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol are rife within the Muslim community and have sadly become a way of life for many within the community. I think it’s possible to ‘eat yourself healthy’, and that if we can share this vision and all that it stands for it will change the lives of many and allow Muslims to re-think their food choices.”
Do you have any advice for those who are struggling with their diabetes?
“Living a sugar-free and low carb life shouldn’t be that difficult,” says Annora. “We know that it is more expensive since real food items aren’t mass produced and made with lots of chemicals, but it saves so much on unnecessary medical bills.” Alliyah agrees. “An important part of managing your condition is to eat healthy meals and steer clear of certain items. Always read labels and check the ingredients of items that you purchase, as product packaging can often be misleading!”
What makes your life sweet?
For Annora, it’s feeling healthy and eating without feeling guilty. For Alliyah: “My amazing family, who made the opening of this shop a reality. It would never have happened without their help, guidance and support.”
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From our community: “As the mom of a diabetic child, I’m constantly wondering what to make her that is delicious but won’t spike her blood sugar. Could you give me some basic guidelines please?” Bernadette Simons.
As a mother of three (constantly hungry) young boys I am kept on my toes when it comes to healthy eating. Although my children are not diabetic, I practice “diabetes-friendly” eating in my household. The bottom line is that you want your children to eat real, whole foods. This means no foods that are manufactured, processed and refined: time for a cupboard clear-out!
For children with diabetes, you need to make meals novel, colourful and exciting, while reducing refined carbohydrates and harmful fats. It’s important to break away from the rut of cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and one-pot meal for dinner. Parents need to constantly focus on increasing fresh foods and not wait for dinner to try and make up the daily vegetable intake…
Here are some menu options:
- Bring back eggs for breakfast! Make eggs more interesting and nutritious by adding vegetables and baking in a muffin tray as mini crustless quiches. Serve with chopped strawberries or other brightly coloured fruit.
- Try making your own cereal out of nuts and seeds, coconut shavings and some rolled oats. This can be eaten with plain yoghurt or milk. Use vanilla, cinnamon and half a grated apple to sweeten it naturally.
- Move away from a daily sandwich for lunch. Try choosing other low GI starch like baby potatoes or corn on the cob.
- Add some protein – chicken drumsticks, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, homemade fish cakes or cheese. Remember protein makes you feel fuller for longer and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.
- Add a small amount of colourful fruit like a fruit kebab or fruit salad.
- All lunchboxes should have vegetables! If your child doesn’t like salad, give some cucumber and carrot sticks, baby tomato kebabs or cucumber sandwiches (two slices of cucumber with cheese or cream cheese in the middle).
- Most traditional South African dinners are one-pot meals like curry, stew, cottage pie or spaghetti bolognaise that are high in starch and low in vegetables. Try adding more vegetables to stew, curries and mince. Make the mashed potatoes with added cauliflower, add lentils to brown rice, and use baby marrow or aubergine instead of pasta.
- Always serve dinner with vegetables on the side. Raw carrot sticks, sliced cucumber or snap peas are kid-friendly. Children need to get used to eating vegetables that are not hidden in food but out in plain sight!
Remember: Children learn eating habits from their parents so you need to set the example. Tastebuds are influenced early on by processed foods with hidden sugars and fats, so it’s up to you to encourage your kids to eat – and love – real food.
Hypoglycemic episodes (hypos) can be a scary experience for all involved: here’s what you need to know to deal with one.
- A hypo is a sudden low blood sugar episode.
- The optimal blood glucose range is 4 to 7mmol/l. With a hypo, blood glucose levels are usually lower than 3mmol/l.
- Initial symptoms are nervousness, sweating, intense hunger, trembling, weakness, palpitations, or trouble speaking (depending on the person).
- The best thing to treat a hypo is fast-acting carbohydrates: 15-20g of sugary carb (a few sweets, 2 tablespoons of raisins, a tablespoon of honey or half a cup of fruit juice).
- The key is to catch low blood sugar early – as soon as it starts dropping – and treat it with a small dose of something sweet.
- If blood glucose drops too low it can get to the stage where the brain is not getting enough glucose.
- Symptoms of this are confusion, drowsiness, changes in behaviour, seizure and eventually coma.
- In case of a severe hypo, a glucagon emergency kit may be necessary. This once-off injection instantly raises the blood sugar, and is particularly useful when the person with diabetes is unconscious or unable to swallow.
- Notify all those close to you what to do in an emergency and how to use a glucagon injection.
- Test often to keep your levels as well controlled as possible.
“One of my children has diabetes, the other doesn’t. How do I make changes that the whole family can adopt so that my daughter doesn’t feel like she’s making our lives more difficult because of diabetes?” Fatima Richards.
The emotions that parents deal with when a child is diagnosed with diabetes are the same as any serious medical condition. Confusion, shock, denial, sadness, anger, fear and guilt are some of these emotions.
Unfortunately, guilt is a feeling common to many family members, the patient as well as the parents. I believe that guilt is one of the most destructive negative emotions – it drains you so that you can’t focus on more important things.
Getting the whole family to deal with these feelings openly at the time of diagnosis helps with long term adjustment. As you all learn to live with diabetes, you will become more used to it and find ways to fit it into your life more naturally. Fitting diabetes care into as normal a life as possible is the major goal.
Remember, too, that if all family members have a positive attitude, life with diabetes will be much easier. One day at a time is a good option!
How to help the whole family adjust to diabetes:
- Keep your family routine as close to the previous ‘normal’ as possible.
- Whenever possible, fit diabetes care around your child’s lifestyle, rather than her life revolving around diabetes.
- Remember, children with diabetes are children first. Their diabetes should not define who they are.
- Explain any changes that are made because of diabetes to everyone in the family.
- Remember that nobody is being punished because of the diabetes. Everyone is just going to follow a healthier lifestyle. And this is a good thing.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
Long office hours and travelling to work by bus or car can make it hard to find the time to exercise. Nicole McCreedy gives us some fun ways to squeeze it in at work.
It’s no surprise that most people spend too much time each day sitting. These habits are having a negative effect on our long-term health and are increasingly linked to being overweight and obese, the development of Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and even an early death. How’s that for inspiration to get moving!
Experts say that those of us who work desk-based jobs should aim to stand and do light activity throughout the day. In some countries, workers are encouraged to spend up to half of their eight-hour working day standing. This may not be possible for many of us, but we can all take at least ten minutes here and there at work to fit in some physical activity.
Being active is especially important when you have diabetes. There are many benefits to regular activity, but the biggest one for diabetics is that it makes it easier to control your blood sugar levels. Regular movement can also help you avoid sore wrists, stiffness and repetitive motion injuries.
Use the space available
Making simple adjustments to your routine can help to increase your daily activity. We’ve all been told to take the stairs instead of the lift, but there are many other things you can do to inject some movement into your day. Avoid sitting at your desk during your lunch break, and instead head outside or to the parking lot for a quick stroll. If you need to take a meeting, suggest that you “walk and talk” with your colleagues. Another option is to find an empty office or conference room where you can shadow box, run on the spot or do a few walk-lunges or some yoga poses.
If you have diabetes, it’s obviously important to be aware of your blood sugar levels. Depending on the type of activity you plan to do, carry a snack or eat a 15g portion of carbohydrate beforehand to prevent low blood sugar.
Exercises to do at your desk
We asked biokineticist Ilona Padayachee and podiatrist Anette Thompson for a few exercises you can do while seated at your desk to tone your muscles and lift your heart rate, without breaking a sweat.
Top tip! Remember to repeat the exercise on each side.
- Seated toe raises: Seated upright at your desk with your core pulled in tightly, lift your toes while keeping your heels firmly on the ground. When you lower your toes, push them into the ground and pull them back. Alternate your feet. Complete 3 sets with 10 repetitions in each set.
- Seated straight-leg raises: Keep your back straight, your chest out and your shoulders down. Straighten your right leg out in front of you and tighten the quadricep muscle. Raise the foot off the floor approximately one ruler height (20 to 30 cm). Repeat on the left side.
- Leg extensions: Seated upright at your desk with your core pulled in tightly, sit on the edge of your chair and extend your right leg until it is level with your hip. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then lower your leg slowly. Alternate sides. Complete as many as you can and remember to increase your holding time slightly every week.
- Calf raises: Stand in front of a desk or other piece of furniture you can hold on to for balance. Raise your heels of the floor and slowly lower them.
- Heel raises: These can be done while standing or seated. Lift your heels up as high as possible. Keep the weight on the big toe side of your foot. Hold for two to three seconds at the top, then lower. Repeat 25 times. Heel raises improve circulation and tone the calves.
Ask the expert: Anette Thompson, Podiatrist
“Doing 300 heel raises a day is the same as going for a long walk. People who haven’t done them before should aim for 50 heel raises in a day, then gradually build up the repetitions until you can do them all in your lunchtime.”
Meet Shane Casserley: a Type 1 diabetic who is also juggling coeliac disease and ADD… while living his best life.
When were you diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
When I was 8 years old years. I am now 22.
Was your diagnosis a shock?
A huge shock. I was completely freaked out. I was hospitalised straight away and had to stay in hospital to learn to give my own injections and I was visited by a dietician to adjust my diet. After the initial shock wore off I went into depression.
When were you diagnosed with coeliac disease and ADD?
In 2011, when I was 16 years old.
How do they affect your diabetes?
They don’t affect my diabetes in any way but it was another huge diet adjustment because when you have coeliac disease you are not allowed to eat anything containing wheat or gluten. The ADD also does not affect the diabetes directly but indirectly it is a lot more difficult to remember to check your sugar regularly and give insulin when you eat.
How did you become interested in fitness?
When I was going through a rough time, a friend offered to take me with him to gym. It made me feel so good that I have been hooked ever since.
Why do you want to be a personal trainer?
Going to gym and changing my diet greatly improved my health and self image, and gave me the confidence that I lacked. I would like to do the same for other people, especially for diabetics who are battling.
How do you think regular exercise helps people with diabetes?
It has a big impact on stabilising sugar and thereby lessening the risk of future complications. At the same time, it increases your endorphins, which makes a person feel good psychologically and decreases depression.
What advice do you have for other diabetics who are struggling?
The most important thing is to accept that you have it and you can’t change it and rather learn to adapt to it. Once you have accepted it and you start eating right, exercising regularly and keeping a good check on your sugar readings, then you can lead a normal life. It is always good to get support from other diabetics.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What’s the secret to a happy life with diabetes?
To not make it an issue. Treat it and forget it. Life is too short.
Most people suffer some type of illness, but we all have to just deal with it and get on with our lives.
Sorry to all those optimistic people out there… but there is no happy life with diabetes 🙁
Finding the right balance… While diabetes is not a good thing to have, one certainly does still have a happy life. Be informed… and that goes for your spouse and family members too.
Support and understanding from the people closest to you makes it easier to live with.
When Vickie de Beer’s son Lucca was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she started a journey that ended with her publishing an award-winning cookbook and lifestyle guide: The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics.
Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when Lucca was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
That insulin takes much longer to reach the blood stream than we were told. I had a lot of anxiety about Lucca going into a hypo after eating, and it was completely unnecessary. I also wish I knew what a huge impact carbohydrates had on his blood sugar! We did carb count and test and inject diligently, but there were always unexplained highs and lows that frustrated me and made Lucca feel awful.
What inspired you to write The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics?
We have always, from the first day, taken Lucca’s diabetes seriously. We did everything the doctors and dietician told us. We adapted our diet to eating only low GI foods and tested Lucca’s blood sugars diligently. Every time we went to the doctor they congratulated us on his great HbA1c result and said that we were doing everything possible for Lucca’s health.
The doctor always said that the next step would be to control the extreme fluctuations between high spikes and lows in Lucca’s blood sugar. I could never get clear information on how we were supposed do that though, apart from doing what we were already doing. About a year ago I met Prof Tim Noakes at the book launch of Real Meal Revolution. We significantly reduced our carbohydrate intake, but did not remove carbohydrate completely from our diet.
I didn’t understand how we could remove all the carbohydrates from Lucca’s diet as suggested by the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) movement. We were taught that children needed carbohydrates for energy, growth and brain function and I also knew that Lucca needed to get insulin. If we took away the carbohydrates how would he get the insulin he needed? I still gave the children small amounts of Low GI carbs like brown rice and brown pasta with their evening meals. Lucca’s blood sugar did not improve significantly – I would say that we were on a moderate carb diet.
A few months ago I made contact with a group in the USA that follow a low carb high protein (not high fat) diet with great success in managing steady blood glucose levels in Type I diabetic children. This way of managing diabetes is based on a book: Dr Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution. Dr Bernstein has been a Type 1 diabetic for 69 years. After reading his book and studying various other low carb websites and books, we decided to change the way we eat.
Do you have any tips for people who feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing their way of eating?
Do it gradually. We started with breakfast (because the boys love bacon!) and then did dinners – lunchboxes were the last!
What advice would you offer to people living with diabetes who are struggling?
Diabetes is in the details. The best tool is to test constantly and diligently. The bottom line is that cutting carbs makes diabetes easier to manage. All the hundreds of reasons I used to give to explain Lucca’s unstable sugar – the heat, stress, tiredness – it was always the carbs!
What makes your life sweet?
Hugs from my boys! Playing board games with them (and winning), swimming and braaing with them, reading with them… The fact that Lucca’s blood sugar is under control has changed our lives. We had a lot of anxiety in our life beforehand. Although we still test and inject diligently, the anxiety is gone. I think we have finally taken control of diabetes, and diabetes has lost its control over us.
Get in touch with Vickie: @Vickiefantastic on Twitter
“My husband is a diabetic, and I would like to know how long it takes before diabetes affects your liver? Should I be worrying about him?” Alicia Greenway.
You’re wise to think about steps to protect your husband’s liver – diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects the liver and vice versa. Being informed is the first step towards ensuring good liver health. Those with diabetes are at higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which extra fat builds up in the liver even if you drink little or no alcohol. Other medical conditions related to diabetes — including obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure — also raise the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Diabetes does not cause fatty liver disease, but the two tend to occur in the same people because the same conditions cause both problems.
Diabetic-related liver disease can be largely prevented. Good control of blood sugar, maintaining a healthy weight, and having regular check-ups to monitor the effects of medication can help reduce the risk of liver problems.
Strategies for protection against fatty liver disease include:
- Working with your health care team towards good control of your blood sugar.
- Losing weight if necessary, and trying to maintain a healthy weight.
- Taking steps to reduce high blood pressure.
- Keeping your cholesterol within recommended limits.
- Not drinking too much alcohol.
Then, let’s talk about worry. “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia.
Having a partner with diabetes puts unique strains on a relationship, but it can also bring you closer together if you learn how to work together. Here are some golden rules for rising to the challenge of managing a chronic disease like diabetes:
- Get educated
- Set shared goals
- Make room for negative emotions
- Get support from others
- Commit to nurturing your relationship.
You can do it if you work together.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator