Ask the Dietician

The basic diabetic pantry

Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer

From our community: “I’ve just been diagnosed and have no idea what to eat. Please help me! I just need some basic ideas of what to keep in my cupboard so I can make easy healthy meals…” John Tabenga.

Stocking your pantry is a fantastic place to start – healthy eating isn’t only about your kitchen, it begins when you wheel your trolley down the aisles of your local supermarket. Arming yourself with a well-planned grocery list will not only get you in and out of the shops quickly, it will also keep your healthy eating plan on track.

To help get you started I have put together a basic list to help you stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with healthy options:

Breakfast cereals

  • Oat bran
  • Rolled oats
  • Low GI muesli

Cooked starches

  • Baby potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Mealies
  • Corn: frozen, canned or fresh

Breads & crackers

  • Rye, wholewheat or low GI bread
  • Wholegrain crackers: Provitas, Ryvitas, Finn Crisp
  • Multigrain melba toast
  • Wholewheat wraps
  • Wholewheat pita bread


  • Canned beans, lentils and chickpeas (drain and rinse well)
  • Dried beans, lentils and chickpeas

Dairy products

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yoghurt
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Hard cheeses: mozzarella or reduced fat cheddar

Tip: When choosing hard cheese, aim for less that 25g fat per 100g.

Meat, poultry, fish & eggs

  • Lean beef and pork, trimmed of fat
  • Chicken, trimmed of skin
  • Ostrich
  • Lean cold meats
  • Eggs
  • Fish rich in omega 3s: Fresh, frozen or tinned salmon, trout, tuna, pilchards, sardines, mackerel
  • Hake or kingklip fillets

Fats and oils

  • Olive / canola / avocado oil
  • Seeds
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado
  • Low oil dressings and mayonnaise (less than 5g fat per 100g)


  • Frozen vegetables: green beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli.
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Tinned tomato
  • Tinned asparagus


  • A variety of fresh fruit
  • Pre-cut frozen fruit
  • Canned fruit (in juice) for treats


  • Hummus
  • Tzatziki
  • Olive oil


  • Unsalted nuts
  • Lean or game biltong
  • Popcorn kernels to prepare homemade popcorn with a dash of oil and salt

Store cupboard basics

  • Non-stick cooking spray: Spray n Cook
  • Beef, chicken and vegetable stock powder
  • Lots of herbs and spices

Tip: Read food labels and compare different brands within each food category.

With these pantry essentials, you should be able to whip up all kinds of delicious diabetic-friendly meals… Check out our recipes here if you’re looking for inspiration!


“Cheat” treats

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “I know that as a diabetic I should always try and be good, but sometimes it’s hard… What can I snack on without feeling too guilty about it (but that will also be a treat)?” Charne Smith.

A treat is something that tastes great, is normally high in fat and refined carbohydrate, and is eaten to either celebrate or make you feel better… But how do you have your treat and prevent it from totally messing up your blood sugar levels for the day?

Treats are not forbidden, but they should not be too often or too big. It all comes down to self-control and portion control. The occasional block or two of chocolate should not mean disaster for your blood sugar: it’s when you eat the whole slab that things spiral out of control. Everything in moderation is the key.

If you battle with cravings, you need to understand that the last bite never tastes as good as the first bite. The feel good rush you get from the first bite of a treat starts to fade as you continue eating, but your blood sugar levels start to increase.

What does this mean? You only need a small amount to feel like you’ve had a treat. You don’t need the whole slab, packet, bowl or slice…

How to cheat:

  • Split a dessert with your partner. It might drive them nuts, but it will keep your blood sugar and weight down. Better yet, plan ahead and choose a light main course so that you can have a small dessert on those special evenings out.
  • Choose biscuits and cakes that don’t have icing, or remove the icing and jam from cakes. Icing has twice the amount of sugar as the cake or biscuit.
  • Choose a dessert like apple crumble (without the ice-cream or cream) or two small scoops of ice-cream. Just remember to keep portions small.
  • Spoil yourself with some good diabetic-friendly ice-cream (low fat/low sugar), lite custard and diabetic friendly puddings.
  • Opt for small “bite” sized chocolates or chocolates with wafer inside (e.g. Kit Kat Fingers).
  • Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa is better for you as it is higher in antioxidants. Dark chocolate is also bitter so people tend to eat less of it: usually a block or two is enough.
  • Salt and vinegar popcorn instead of crisps will keep your fat content low and help with salt cravings. When going to the movies, choose a small popcorn and a diet drink.

Remember: Spoiling yourself on the odd occasion is allowed. Always test your blood sugar levels to see how they react and you will learn to better control these situations.

10 FAQ about the diabetic diet

Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer

We asked our community what they most wanted to know about diabetes and food – here are 10 frequently asked questions, answered by our expert dietician.

  1. Must I cut sugar out of my diet completely?

Small amounts of sugar can be included in your diet, but too much sugar or sweet food is not recommended as part of a healthy eating pattern.

  1. What can I eat when I feel like chocolate?

Treats like chocolate can fit into a healthy diet, as long as you keep these points in mind:

  • Try to have treats with a meal, e.g. as a dessert.
  • Watch your portion size: choose a small portion or share.
  • Put a healthy twist on treats – check out these great recipes for ideas
  1. Do I have to buy special sugar replacements, or can I just use less sugar?

Small amounts of sugar, jam, and honey have little effect on blood glucose levels, so small amounts of sugar can be included in your diet, e.g. a scrape of jam on wholewheat bread.

  1. How important is fibre in a diabetic’s diet?

Fibre keeps your digestive tract working well, can help lower your cholesterol level and can improve blood glucose control if eaten in large amounts. Another benefit of fibre is that it adds bulk to help make you feel full. Given these benefits, fibre is important to include in a diabetic’s daily diet – and in the diets of those who don’t have diabetes!

  1. How many vegetables should I be eating in a day?

The amount of vegetables you need depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity. On average, an adult woman will need 2½ cups a day, while an adult man will need 3 cups, and children will need between 1 to 2 cups a day.

  1. How much protein do I need to balance out carbohydrate?

Protein should account for about 15 to 20% of the total calories you eat each day – roughly a fist-sized portion at each meal.

  1. Is too much fruit bad for diabetics? And grapefruit?

Fruit (any kind, grapefruit included) can be included as part of your diet, but controlling portion size is vital. Limit your portions to a fist-sized or tennis-ball sized portion at a time.

  1. How do I manage food for my diabetic child?

Provide structured, nutritious meals and snacks for your child and make healthy eating and lifestyle changes as a family (don’t single out one family member). Remember that they are a child first and a diabetic second. Work with your child’s diabetes health care team to help your little one grow up healthy and happy!

  1. My sugar is always high – am I eating wrong?

Diabetes is managed with diet, exercise, tablets and/or injections. Check in with your doctor to make sure your food choices, exercise levels and medication are on track to keep your sugar within your target range.

  1. How can a diabetic lose weight in a healthy way?

The best way to lose weight for good is to find an approach to eating that makes sense, doesn’t cut out whole food groups and has you eating regularly and feeling well.


Proudly South African portion sizes

Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer

From our community: “Can anyone tell me about madumbis for diabetics – good or bad for us, and how much can we eat?” Lynette Hitchcock.

Madumbis, amadumbe, African potato or taro – call them what you will, they are delicious! They have a rich, nutty, earthy flavour and a stickier texture than potatoes. Like potatoes, they fall into the carbohydrate group of foods and can be roasted, mashed or boiled.

The key to eating proudly South African carbohydrates like madumbis, roti, pap or samp in a healthy diabetic diet is portion control! Counting the carbs in your meals and being aware of the carbs you eat can help you match your medication or activity to the food you eat. This can lead to better blood sugar control.

Remember: Everyone needs a different amount of carbohydrate at each meal and/or snack – the amount that is best for you depends on your:

  • age
  • height
  • weight
  • physical activity
  • current blood sugar
  • blood sugar targets

Not sure how many carbs you should be eating? Ask your doctor or dietician for help.

A general guide:
  Carb limits for women Carb limits for men
Meal 30 – 60g 45 – 75g
Snack 15 – 30g 15 – 30g

What does this mean? A food that has 15g carbohydrate is called “one carb serving”. One slice of bread or a small piece of fruit each have around 15g carbohydrate, so they are equal to one carb serving.

One carb portions of Proudly South African foods:

1 carb serving 50g madumbi
1 small roti (35g)
⅓ cup pap (60g)
⅓ cup samp (75g)
½ cup sweet potato (100g)
1 medium mielie (140g )
½ cup rice (50g)
1 x 15cm tortilla or wrap (35g)
½ cup pasta (100g)
1 slice bread (30g)
1 small apple (115g)

As much as possible, try to stick to this portion size, with a serving of protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans) and half a plate of vegetables or salad.

How to cook amadumbe: Scrub them clean and steam or boil until soft. Drain and cool slightly before removing the skins. Serve dusted with black pepper, a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Yum!

Amadumbe in numbers:
100g portion boiled amadumbe has: *

  • 600 kJ
  • 5g plant protein
  • 1g fat
  • 5g of carbohydrate
  • 1g fibre

* According to The SA Food Tables

“Junk” food for diabetics

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “My favourite food isn’t very good for me… I love braais and chips, hamburgers and hot dogs. Is there any way to make these delicious foods better for me? Help!” Thabo Duma.

All of us like a bit of pleasure in life, and nothing beats a treat now and again. The attraction of junk food lies in its “quick fix” ability to satisfy food cravings. Unfortunately, what makes junk food so delicious is also what makes it unhealthy. Junk food tends to be high in kilojoules, bad fats and refined carbohydrates. Because it tastes so good, it’s also hard to stop eating. You may get away with one biscuit, but 4 or 5 will cause a significant increase in blood sugar.

When relaxing with family and friends, you want to be able to enjoy holiday food: take-outs, braais and easy meals. There are definitely ways to enjoy these times without feeling left out – and without packing on the extra kilograms!

Healthy take-out

For take-out options, choose grilled chicken breast or beef hamburgers with salad (no chips!) Or try grilled chicken breast, spicy rice, coleslaw and green salad. Choose water or a diet fizzy drink to go with your meal, and obviously skip the dessert. Try to avoid food that’s high in fat and refined starch and sugar – pizza, deep fried chips and sugary drinks are all a bad idea.

Braai menu

Who said a braai couldn’t be healthy? Bring chicken or beef kebabs and braaied corn on the cob, with carrot salad and green salad on the side. These are a much better choice, and much lower in fat and carbs than boerewors and chops, garlic bread, pap and gravy or white bread rolls. And they’re delicious!

If you’re looking for delicious snacks, here are some yummy diabetic-friendly options:

Snack Portion Energy Carbohydrate (including sugar) Fat
Popcorn (lite) 2 cups popped 636kj 15g* 7g
Dried fruit 2-4 pieces 381kj 21g 0g
Low GI biscuit 1 biscuit (30g) 440kj 15.3g 5.8g
Lean biltong Handful (30g) 346kj 1g 2g

* Remember that one carbohydrate portion = 15g.

Compare those to regular snacks and you’ll see the difference:

Snack Portion Energy Carbohydrate (including sugar) Fat
Chocolate 1 bar (50g) 1120kj 30g 15g
Energy bar 1 bar (40g) 739kj 22g 7g
Biscuits (with icing) 2 biscuits (33g) 676kj 30g 7g
Sweets (boiled) 125g packet 316kj 18g 0g
Potato crisps 1 packet (30g) 766kj 24g 12g


The best diabetes-friendly drinks

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “My daughter is on insulin injections and can’t inject for every cold drink she wants. Everybody says aspartame is bad for you, so what can she drink except water?” Di-ann Reid.

A lot of the excess sugar in our diet comes from drinks that are high in sucrose and fructose: regular fizzy drinks, energy drinks and also fruit juices. These not only have an effect on blood sugar, but also increase overall energy intake, which can lead to weight gain. That’s why these drinks aren’t a good idea for diabetics.

So what else can you drink?

Artificially sweetened diet drinks
These are pretty much kilojoule free and don’t raise blood sugar levels, but most of them contain aspartame – the topic of a lot of debate for many years. Although aspartame has been linked to increased risk of cancer, mood disorders and even diabetes, nothing has been proven and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved diet drinks with aspartame, with a limited daily intake. So it’s a good idea to reduce the number of artificially sweetened drinks you have, especially if you’re using other sweeteners in tea and coffee.

Fruit juices
These often confuse people with diabetes, because they say “no sugar added” on the label. Although there is no added sugar, fruit juices are high in fructose sugar that can push up blood glucose levels. They are a concentrated form of natural sugar from the fruit – you get all the sugar, but none of the fibre that’s good for you. A small glass of fruit juice can have twice as much sugar as a piece of fruit!

Tip: When looking at food labels, always check the total carbohydrate content (per serving size) and not just the sugar content.

Here are some ideas for drinks with and without artificial sweeteners:

One-a-day drinks – low carb, with artificial sweeteners

  • Diet fizzy drinks (Tab, Coke Light, Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, Fanta Zero etc.)
  • Diet cordials (Brookes Low-Cal etc.)
  • Light iced teas (Lipton Iced Tea Lite etc.)
  • Light flavoured mineral water (aQuelle Lite etc.)

Everyday drinks – low carb, no artificial sweeteners

  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice-cold water.
  • Hot or cold flavoured herbal teas (no sugar added).
  • All unflavoured sparkling water.
  • Chopped up fruit pieces (like strawberries, lemon or orange) soaked in water for the fruity flavour without the sugar.

Treat drinks – medium carb

These drinks have 6 to 8g of carbohydrate per serving – half the amount of normal drinks!

  • 200ml tomato juice (low GI).
  • 150ml Lamberti’s low GI juice.
  • 100ml Energade Champ (low GI).

Fun festive food

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “With Christmas coming up I know I’m going to want to eat what I shouldn’t… What are the ‘safe’ foods to snack on at parties?” Jabu Hlazo

The festive season is a great time of year when the hard work is over and it’s time for fun and feasting. The question is, how do you celebrate with everyone else, but still maintain healthy blood glucose levels? Here are some holiday points to ponder.

Watch your weight

Most people tend to gain about 2 to 5kg over the festive season only to make a New Year’s Resolution to lose it again. Prevention is better than cure, so make it your goal not to gain any weight this festive season.

Treat yourself

Using your bonus money to buy special treats is tempting – nothing says Christmas like mince pies or brandy pudding. This year, why not use your money to buy healthy treat alternatives: exotic fruit, nuts or delicious lean biltong. Better yet, spoil yourself with non-edible treats like a magazine, a new recipe book or a pair of running shoes.

Get active

Use your free time and the sunny weather to try a new activity. Play a game of tennis, hire a bike, do that hike you’ve always wanted to do. Take the focus off food and get adventurous. Touring a new city on foot or playing with the kids on the beach allows you to burn off kilojoules and improves your body’s ability to use insulin more affectively. The result? Better blood sugar control.

Re-gift the chocolates

It’s the season of giving and granny’s homemade biscuits or that box of chocolates can become very tempting. The truth is that you don’t have to eat the whole box in order to celebrate or appreciate the gift. This year, rather re-gift the biscuits and spoil someone else.

Plan ahead

During the festive season the social calendar fills up. Be wise and plan around your daily ‘eating commitments’. It is still important to eat regular meals (even while on holiday) and you may need to adjust meal sizes and snacks around social engagements. For example, if you know that you have a family braai in the afternoon, you may want to plan a light lunch with a healthy snack just before you leave to help stabilize blood sugar levels and avoid binging on snacks. When invited out, offer to contribute to the meal and bring your own healthy alternative. You will be amazed how grateful people are when you arrive with an extra plate of fresh veggies and dip, or a fresh green salad or diabetic-friendly dessert.

Watch the alcohol

Holiday celebrations often involve excessive drinking, which can send blood glucose levels soaring with an inevitable crash in the early hours of the morning. Be sensible and opt for alternatives like light beer or light wine, and watch how much you drink: the recommended amount is two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one per day for women. Never drink on an empty stomach and don’t drink and drive. There is more at stake than just your blood glucose levels.

Party tricks

If the festive season means endless office parties and end of year functions, don’t hesitate to find out more about the food. Chat to the person in charge of catering the office party to ensure there will be snacks like chicken pieces, fruit kebabs, diced vegetables and sandwiches, as well as diet drinks and light alcohol. For restaurant dining, phone ahead for the menu and decide what to order so you’re not tempted when you get there. If you choose wisely and stick to reasonable portions, you’ll get through the festive season just fine.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Quick diabetes-friendly food

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “I find myself worrying about food a lot, as a diabetic… What are the essentials I should always have on hand for healthy lunches or quick food on the go?” Kriveshen Moodley.

Life is busy, with many demands that distract us from healthy eating. So how do we make good food choices? It starts with the right attitude and being prepared. As a diabetic, it’s important to remember that food is part of your treatment, so it needs to be a priority – but it doesn’t need to be hard.

Some helpful tips for simplifying food choices:

  • Plan meals for the week and do a big weekly shop.
  • Take a bag full of fresh food to work on Monday morning to use as lunch for the week.
  • Keep healthy snacks stashed in your car.
  • Have a back-up meal replacement drink for those times you don’t have time to eat.

Breakfast ideas:

Great tip: Wake up earlier so that you have time for breakfast at home – always a good idea!

  • Bake some diabetic-friendly muffins as a breakfast option.
  • A poached egg in the microwave (even at work) on a slice of low GI toast with a piece of fruit is a healthy choice.
  • Microwave oats (they’re low GI!) with a chopped apple or ¼ cup (30g) raw nuts and seeds to make a quick nutritious breakfast.

Lunch ideas:

  • A sandwich made with low GI bread filled with lean protein (cottage cheese / low-fat meat / tinned fish). Stuff with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and other salad.
  • Vegetable soup with 1 to 2 slices of low GI bread or a small wholewheat roll.
  • A picnic lunch with wholewheat crackers, hummus for a dip and cucumber chunks, carrots sticks, baby tomatoes or snap peas instead of a salad.
  • A salad made with lean protein (chicken or tuna) with very little dressing and no high fat toppings (croutons, bacon bits, cheese etc).

Dinner ideas:

Great tip: Cook meals for the week or cook double portions and freeze the food so that you have meals ready when you don’t have time to cook.

  • Make simple meals that don’t need lots of attention: roast chicken or baked fish with roasted vegetables. A steaming net is a handy tool that fits into any pot and steams all your vegetables at one time.
  • Always have a stash of frozen vegetables in the freezer for when you run out of fresh vegetables. When life gets busy, the first food groups to suffer are vegetables and fruit.
  • Always have salad ingredients handy. Salad is a quick side dish that takes up room on the plate so you can’t fill it with more carbs!
  • An omelette filled with vegetables like tomatoes, onion, mushrooms and peppers is a quick and healthy meal.

Get more fantastic meal ideas here.

What is the ‘right’ kind of food for diabetics?

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “Being newly diagnosed, I am learning about foods that I can and can’t use. I cannot find an article explaining what to look for. It’s all a bit confusing. Help would be greatly appreciated.” David Staff.

“Eat the right type of food, in the right amount, at the right time of the day”

It’s important to make dietary changes that are simple and progressive. First you need to learn what foods should be in your trolley, fridge and kitchen cupboards: that will make good eating decisions easier to choose.

I have one simple rule: eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible! This helps to reduce the amount of processed, high sugar, high-fat foods that cause problems with weight and blood sugar control. Try not to focus on what you can’t have (it is very depressing) and rather be adventurous in experimenting with healthy nutritious meals.

Once you know which foods are suitable, you need to get specific and work out how much to eat. Portion control is very important. The good news is that almost all foods are allowed in correct portions.

Here are some general rules:

Starch: Use low GI, high fibre starches. Reduce foods made with lots of white flour and sugar (doughnuts, biscuits, cakes ). For your main meal, the portion size of starch should be the size of your fist (approximately 2 portions of starch).

Protein: Opt for low-fat protein. Remove visible fat from meat and skin from chicken. For your main meal, the portion of protein should be the size of the palm of your hand and the same thickness as your baby finger (less at other meals)

Dairy: Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy. Try for 2 portions of dairy a day.

Vegetables: Choose a variety of colours and serve raw, steamed and roasted. Eat lots – double portions where possible!

Fruit: Try to eat a variety of fruits. The size should be that of a tennis ball and you should aim for 2 servings of fruit a day.

Fat: Try to reduce the use of fats in your cooking. Rather grill, bake, boil, steam, microwave or stir-fry your food. The portion of fat should equal the size of the tip of your thumb.

Specific portion sizes:


  • ½ cup wholewheat cereal / muesli
  • ½ cup cooked, cooled and reheated mealie meal / oats porridge
  • 1 slice seed loaf
  • ½ wholegrain seed roll / low GI bread roll
  • 3 Provita / 2 Ryvita
  • ½ cup (2 Tbs) beans or whole corn
  • 1 small mealie on the cob
  • ½ cup cooked, cooled & then reheated samp
  • ½ cup pasta / long grain rice / wild rice
  • ⅓ cup white rice
  • ½ cup brown rice with added lentils
  • ½ medium sweet potato
  • 2 – 3 baby potatoes
  • ½ cup cooked lentils


  • 1 egg
  • 30g grilled chicken / ostrich / extra lean mince / grilled beef or pork
  • ¼ cup tuna
  • 30g steamed / poached / grilled / baked fish
  • 2 tbs peanut butter
  • 50g raw soya
  • 90g tofu
  • ½ cup cooked lentils / beans


  • 1 cup low-fat / fat-free milk
  • 100ml low-fat / fat-free sweetened yoghurt
  • 30g low-fat cheese (Lichten Blanc, Dairybelle InShape, Elite Edam, Woolworths, Mozzarella)
  • 50g low-fat feta cheese (Pick n Pay Choice Danish Style / Traditional, Simonsberg)
  • 50g low-fat cottage cheese (Dairybelle, Lancewood, Parmalat, In Shape, Clover)


  • Asparagus
  • Green pepper
  • Baby marrow
  • Lettuce
  • Bean sprouts
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Butternut
  • Onion
  • Cabbage
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Radish
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Green beans
  • Watercress


  • 1 medium apple / peach / pear / grapefruit / orange
  • 1 large naartjie
  • 3 small apricots
  • 10 – 12 grapes (only!)
  • 1 small to medium nectarine
  • 1 tablespoon dried fruit
  • ½ cup fruit salad


  • 2 teaspoons low-fat margarine / mayonnaise / dressing
  • 4 olives
  • ¼ avocado
  • 80ml low-fat gravy / sauce
  • 1 teaspoon olive / canola oil

To snack or not to snack?

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “My average blood sugar over the past few months was higher than it should have been, so I’m trying really hard not to eat the wrong foods. Any tips for healthy snacks?” Lynnae Daniel

Getting creative with your snacks can really help make your daily meal plan more exciting. We all get into a rut with our meal choices, and adding different (healthy) snacks can improve variety, colour, flavour and even add valuable nutrients to your daily intake.

Not every person with diabetes needs to snack. Some people are happy with three square meals a day, while others prefer small snacks throughout the day. Your unique eating style largely depends on your own natural eating patterns, medication, blood sugar control, and how active you are.

Remember: If you go for more than 4 or 5 hours between meals you may need to snack in order to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low. But snacking on the wrong kind of food can cause blood sugar levels to rise and also cause unwanted weight gain.

So what does a healthy snack look like?

  • A snack should be between 300 to 600 kilojoules otherwise it is more like a meal.
  • Snacking is a good chance to increase your vegetable or fruit intake (remember, the aim is 5 servings of vegetables a day).
  • Plate your snack to help control portion size: don’t eat straight out of a bag, box or packet – or straight from the fridge!
  • Portion your snacks into snack-size packets, or buy suitable snack portions.

Ask yourself: are you actually hungry? Don’t snack because you’re bored, stressed or worried.

Healthy snack ideas:

  • One piece of fruit (carb 15g, fat 0g, 300kj)
  • 100ml low-fat flavoured yogurt (carb 16g, fat 2g, 400kj)
  • 2 cups popped popcorn sprinkled with fat-free parmesan cheese (carb 15g, fat 7g, 636kj)
  • 30g lean biltong (carb 0.7 g, fat 2g, 346kj)
  • 3 Provitas or 2 Ryvitas with cottage cheese, tomato and gherkin (carb 20g, fat 2g, 382kj)
  • ½ an apple with 20g sliced low-fat cheese (carb 8g, fat 5g, 430kj)
  • Raw veggies (carrot sticks, cucumber, baby tomatoes, gherkins, baby corn, snap peas) with cottage cheese, hummus or avocado dip (carb 8g, fat 7g, 540kj)
  • 30g nuts/seeds (carb 3g, fat 14g, 735kj)
    Tip: Nuts and seeds are high in fat and kilojoules. However, the type of fat is much healthier than that found in a chocolate bar.

Unhealthy snack choices:

  • 50g bar of chocolate (carb 30g, fat 12g and 1120kj)
  • 30g packet of potato crisps (carb 24g, fat 12g, 766kj)
  • 300ml bottle of drinking yoghurt (carb 45g, fat 5.6g, 1140kj)
  • 25g packet of sweets (carb 18g, fat 0g, 316kj)
    Tip: It might seem like this snack is within the recommended carb, fat and kilojoule allowance, but they are empty kilojoules with no fibre and very little vitamins and minerals.

Snacking for exercise:

Remember that exercise can also cause low blood glucose. It is important to check blood glucose before and after you exercise. People react differently to exercise depending on the type, duration and intensity: some people see a rapid drop and others an increase in blood sugar levels, so it is important to test and see what your individual response is.

As always, you should see a dietician to help you plan suitable snacks for different situations. Fresh snack ideas can bring a sense of fun into your daily eating plan.

What does this food label mean?

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From the community: “I would like to understand the nutritional information printed on food labels – I’m new to it all and don’t know what I should and shouldn’t be looking for.” Lynnette Hitchcock.

Food labels are certainly not the simple list of ingredients they used to be – they’ve evolved into complicated beasts that don’t make sense to most people. So what information is actually useful? What makes you decide to put a product into your trolley?

Let’s take a look at an example: Jungle Energy Bar (Yoghurt)

At the top of the label is the nutritional breakdown for 100g/ml and the breakdown per serving size. Make sure that you read the label clearly and understand the difference – this example is clear because it gives the nutrients for 100g and for the 40g bar.

There should also be a list of ingredients with the highest ingredient by weight listed first. You can then check the nutritional value of a particular ingredient by referring to the nutrition information panel.


When it comes to Energy, look at the serving size. This energy bar contains 760kj per bar. People with diabetes who are trying to manage their weight should compare total energy of a few products to get perspective. For example, this energy bar is a snack, but when you compare it to the energy content of an apple (273Kj) or low-fat yoghurt (425Kj) you will notice that it contains twice the amount of kilojoules. There is no reference for energy content because you have to take into account your total energy intake across the day.


The Protein content per serving may come with a percentage next to it (not found on this example). This is merely to indicate how much of the product contributes to the recommended daily allowance of the average individual: about 55g protein per day.


This is important for diabetics, especially those who are carbohydrate counting or watching their carbohydrate intake. On most labels you will see two categories “Total Carbohydrates” and “of which are sugar”. This information can be tricky to interpret: the total amount of carb is more important than how much sugar and starch there is, as all sugar and starch eventually ends up as glucose in your blood stream. The “sugar” indicated on the food label could mean added sugar or natural sugars found in the food. If we look at the list of ingredients, we see that oats appear first (highest in weight) followed by sugar and golden syrup. This would indicate that oats make up most of the carbohydrate amount, with a smaller contribution made from sugar and golden syrup. The sugar is therefore added sugar.

If you look at the label, there are 25g of total carbohydrate in the energy bar. 15g of carb is one portion, so this energy bar is closer to two servings (30g) of carbohydrate. The bar therefore has a much higher carb content than an apple, 3 Provitas or 100ml low-fat flavoured yoghurt – all 1 carb.


When looking at the fat content, take a look at the values per 100g/ml. Take note of the total fat content and then the saturated fat and trans fatty acid.

For a product to be labeled “low-fat” there needs to be less than 3g of total fat per 100g (solids) or 1,5g per 100ml (liquids). Fat-free means less than 0,5 g total fat per 100 g/ml.

Saturated fat is part of total fat and is a key player in raising cholesterol. Low saturated fat is less than 1.5g per 100g (solids) or 0.75g per 100ml (liquids). This energy bar is not low in fat or saturated fat.

Trans fatty acids have a similarly harmful affect and also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. For a product to be called “trans fat free” there should be less than 0,1g per 100g/ml.


Fibre is very important to help improve gastro-intestinal health, prevent cancers, help lower cholesterol and delay the release of glucose into the blood stream. It also helps you feel fuller for longer. These are all very positive benefits which make a high fibre product very desirable. The recommended daily intake for fibre is 25g per day (for women) and 30 to 45g per day (for men). As a general estimate, a high fibre product would be more than 5g of fibre per 100g. This energy bar just makes the grade.


Sodium comes from salt: a high salt intake has been linked to raised blood pressure in some people. The recommended daily intake of salt is 240 to 300mg per day. A low sodium product should contain less than 120mg per 100g. A sodium free product should contain less than 5mg per 100g. This energy bar is not too bad.


So overall how does the energy bar fair? The energy and total carbohydrate content of the energy bar are similar to that of a Bar One chocolate, with slightly less total fat. On the plus side the fibre content is good and the sodium content is low. I would suggest this energy bar as a treat.

Diabetic superfoods

Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer

From our community: “Sometimes it feels like I’m constantly trying to juggle what I want to eat and what I should be eating. Are there certain foods I must include in my diet because I’m diabetic?” Gracie Monaheng

The term “superfood” has become very popular in the language of food and health. We know that Mother Nature offers a wonderful selection of healthy foods, but research has yet to prove any of them magical. No single food, no matter how “super,” can take the place of the important combination of nutrients from a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Some tests to help you decide whether a certain food is worth trying:


  • How does it taste? No food is worth eating if it doesn’t taste good. There are plenty of options to choose from that offer both health benefits and flavour.
  • Where was it grown? Has it had to travel long distances from where it was grown to where it was sold?
  • How much does it cost? Has its “super” title brought with it a “super” price tag?
  • Has it been researched? Check with your healthcare team.
  • What value does it add to my overall diet? Variety is an important measure of diet quality, but bear in mind that adding variety doesn’t necessarily mean trying wildly new things: even just a slight change can wake up your taste buds.

Think positive when planning your diet — focusing on foods to add, rather than avoid. Aim to include*:


  1. Omega-3 rich foods: like salmon, mackerel, pilchards, tuna, canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.
  2. Leafy green vegetables: like spinach, kale, lettuce and bok choi. These powerhouse foods are low in kilojoules and total carbohydrate.
  3. Wholegrains: easily trump their paler, refined counterparts. Choose brown or wholewheat options for a source of protein, fibre and B vitamins.
  4. Berries: sweet, yet low in calories and packed with antioxidants, vitamins and fibre.
  5. Nuts: plenty of flavour, very versatile and with a good dose of fibre and selenium. Although they are high in fat and calories, a few nuts go a long way to adding taste to all kinds of meals.
  6. Legumes: delicious, low in fat, high in fibre and rich in protein.

*As with all foods, you need to work these into your individual meal plan in appropriate portions.

National Heritage Day eats

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From the community: “Every year I hold a National Heritage Day feast for my friends and serve up all the South African classics: boerewors rolls, koeksisters, samoosas, shisa nyama and curry. This year I have a diabetic friend coming and don’t want him to feel left out. How do I make the feast more diabetes-friendly?” Nashikta Singh

National Heritage Day is about celebrating the mixed flavours of South Africa, and there’s no better way to do this than by showing off our traditional dishes. Coming together around the braai or dining room table lets us share our past and create our future.

Traditional South African dishes have a lot of flavour and nutrition. Many of the classic dishes are naturally diabetes-friendly, while others may require some simple changes.


Made with onions, tomatoes, carrots, chillis, garlic, cabbage and cauliflower. It is packed with nutrients, fibre and flavour.
Tip: Don’t use too much oil while making chakalaka.


Mielie meal is a starch, so it will affect blood sugar. For better blood glucose control, you can cook it the night before and then reheat it on the day. This lowers the GI (glycemic index) of the pap.
Tip: Mix pap with cooked beans to further reduce the GI.


Use lean cuts of meat and fill the pot with a wide variety of vegetables. This method of cooking keeps the nutrients locked in the sauce.
Tip: Add plenty of non-starchy vegetables like baby marrows and green beans.

Curry and bobotie

The beauty of Indian cooking is all the herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, fresh chilli, turmeric, coriander and clove are all great for your health. Try to use lean cuts of meat (extra lean mince) and serve with small portions of brown basmati rice and vegetables.
Tip: Bean or lentil curry make an excellent starch alternative.

Shisa nyama or braai

Traditionally, braai meat is fatty (brisket, boerewors, chicken wings) and served chargrilled. Try to use leaner cuts of meat like skinless chicken or sirloin, with different marinades to keep the meat tender. Don’t only think meat when it comes to a braai: mielies, butternut, sweet potatoes and madumbes are also delicious.

Some traditional foods, like lean biltong or air-fried samoosas, can be altered to make them healthier. But when it comes to things like vetkoek and koeksisters, there’s not much you can do!

Just diagnosed: your best and worst food choices

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

When someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, it’s helpful to start with very simple dietary advice as they come to terms with the necessary lifestyle changes. The spectrum of food choices for diabetics involves “good choices” on one end and “bad choices” on the other. In the middle lies ‘moderation’, which can be adapted to the individual depending on personal factors and other conditions like blood pressure or cholesterol.

Here, we’ll break down what good and bad choices look like in each of the food groups – proteins, starches and sugars, vegetables, fruit, fats and oils, and drinks.

Proteins: meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy

Good choices:

  • Fish more frequently (especially fatty fish like salmon, trout and mackerel)
  • Eggs, especially boiled eggs
  • Plain yoghurts, milk and cottage cheese
  • Plant-based protein options like beans, lentils and chickpeas, instead of meat
  • Using chicken that has skin removed (preferably grass-fed)
  • Game meat that is very low in fat

Bad choices:

  • Deep fried meat, chicken and fish
  • Very fatty red meats and processed meats
  • Diary that has been sweetened, like ice cream
  • Imitation cheese and coffee creamers

Starches and sugars

Good choices:

  • Unprocessed, high fibre starches like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley.
  • Items made with wholegrain flour with little or no added sugar such as wholegrain bread, crackers and cereals.

Bad choices:

  • Any food item that has a lot of sugar added, like sweets, chocolates and biscuits.
  • Refined flours that have been processed and bleached white such as white flour, white breads, white crackers, white rice and refined cereals (especially if the cereals have sugar added).
  • Deep fried starches such as doughnuts, koeksisters, vetkoek, fried potato chips and crisps.


Good choices:

  • Homegrown, fresh or even frozen vegetables with emphasis on lots of different colours. Try to eat a rainbow of vegetables. Eat them raw, juice them, steam them or bake the root vegetables for maximum nutrient retention.
  • Fresh herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mint, rosemary and coriander.

Bad choices:

  • Vegetables that have been boiled
  • Vegetables with thick sauces
  • Canned vegetables which are higher in salt (for those people who need to watch their salt intake)


Good choices:

  • Fresh fruit in season
  • Fruits with a naturally lower sugar content, such as berries, apples and citrus

Bad choices:

  • Fruit juices
  • Dried fruit with sugar coating
  • Fruit canned in a thick syrup

Fats and oils

Good choices:

  • Foods that are naturally high in fats like olives, avocado, nuts and seeds
  • Good quality oils such as extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

Bad choices:

  • Foods that are high in trans fatty acids and hydrogenated vegetable oils (read the food labels to spot these words).
  • High quantities of plant seed oils like sunflower and canola oil (usually deep fried products).


Good choices:

  • Filtered water flavoured naturally with lemon or mint
  • Herbal teas

Bad choices:

  • Sugary drinks such as sports drinks, fizzy drinks, iced tea, flavoured water.
  • Alcoholic beverages that are high in sugar, such as cocktails, dessert wines and fruity mixed drinks.