diabetes advice

Spreading the word about diabetes

Neville Pillay is one of Durban’s favourite DJs and comedians… Who just happens to be a Type 2 diabetic. We speak to him about keeping up with the Morning Rush on Lotus FM, with diabetes.

How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed well over 12 years ago, when I was 28 years old. But I remember my doctor telling me at 24 that I was at higher risk for diabetes because of my family history, and that I should change my diet… If only I had listened then!

Was your diagnosis a surprise?

To be perfectly honest, I knew all the symptoms – frequent urination, constant thirst, itchy skin, the sweats – but I chose to ignore them. By the time I was diagnosed I wasn’t surprised at all.

Are any of your family members diabetic?

My dad was and my mom is – she’s a Type 1 diabetic. You would think that would have made me more aware of diabetes, but the way we were brought up, we were ignorant about it – it was just something that my mom had. Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, is also a very different condition to Type 1.

Do you ever talk about diabetes on air?

Absolutely: every chance I get to relate my story, I do. Many of my listeners on Lotus FM are affected by diabetes in one way or another, so it helps to be able to share our stories.

Do you ever tell jokes about diabetes in your comedy shows?

Oh yes, for sure. My comedy is based on my life, so of course I do! For example, I’ve got a lot of friends whose dads have passed away and left them things: cars and houses, even a Jaguar – all kinds of things. What did my dad leave me? Diabetes. I also like pointing out the irony of the fact that Indians came to South Africa as indentured labourers to cut sugar cane… And what disease do we all get? The sugars! Diabetes.

How do you balance a busy lifestyle with eating right and exercise?

It’s so difficult to do, so difficult. I’m not a pro at it and yes, I lapse every now and then. But for the most part I’m on point with eating well, staying away from sugary drinks and sweets and taking my medication. I’ve been a DJ since 1997 and I love it, but if you want any kind of stability or comfort zone, radio isn’t it. Every day is different and the landscape is constantly changing. So that’s an added challenge.

What do you think the biggest challenge of living with diabetes is?

To constantly monitor your blood sugar and make the right choices. The difficulty is in making those daily healthy choices, even when you’re around other people who can eat anything they like. That said, I know that there are terrible side effects, so it’s well worth making the effort. I was diabetic for a long time before I was diagnosed, and I know there have been some debilitating effects on my body, so I’m very careful to take good care now.

What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?

Make one small change at a time and eventually you will have changed your lifestyle to effectively manage your condition.

What makes your life sweet

My girls, Jordan and Skylar, and my job. I love to entertain and it drives me daily.

Get in touch with Neville: @topdan on Twitter or Neville Pillay on Facebook.

Your insulin pump questions, answered

If there’s one question we get all the time, it’s about the insulin pump: what is it, how it works and how to get it covered by medical aid. So we’ve gathered together all your Frequently Asked Questions, and found the answers.

Meet the expert

Name: Imke Kruger
How long have you been diabetic? 25 years
How long have you been on the pump? 5 years

What made you decide to get an insulin pump?
I battled to get my blood glucose under control on multiple daily injections, especially when doing sports. It was before my first 94.7 cycle challenge that my doctor suggested insulin pump therapy. It has changed my life! I can’t imagine life without my Accu-Chek Combo pump.

What do you love about the pump?
Everything! It helps me to live life the way I want to. I love the discreetness of it – I can give a bolus in a meeting or when going out with my friends, without anyone noticing.

What are some of the challenges?
The first two months were difficult to get used to sleeping with the pump, but now I don’t even realize that I’m wearing it. The challenge is more with diabetes – not the pump. It’s important to realise that insulin pump therapy is not taking the condition away. There are so many variables in diabetes, and that will always be a challenge.

When should someone consider getting an insulin pump?

  • If they are experiencing severe hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes despite careful management.
  • If they are on multiple daily injections, following a meal plan, testing their blood glucose levels 4 times a day, and still not getting target HbA1c results.
  • If they have irregular eating, working and resting times.

Insulin pump therapy won’t work for those who aren’t committed to it, and there isn’t enough evidence to recommend it for Type 2 diabetics.

A more comprehensive description of the Indications and Contra-Indications to Pump therapy can be found in the SA Guidelines for Insulin Pump Therapy. A Amod, M Carrihill, JA Dave, LA Distiller, W May, I Paruk, FJ Pirie, D Segal, Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) JEMDSA 2013;18(1):15-19.

 

FAQ about the insulin pump from our community:

 

  1. What is an insulin pump?

  • Insulin pumps are portable devices attached to the body that deliver constant amounts of rapid or short acting insulin via an infusion set.
  • The pump tries to mimic the release of insulin from a normal pancreas, but you have to tell it how much insulin to inject.
  • It delivers insulin in two ways: a basal rate which is a continuous, small trickle of insulin that keeps blood glucose stable between meals and overnight; and a bolus rate, which is a much higher rate of insulin taken before eating to “cover” the food you plan to eat or to correct a high blood glucose level.
  • Because the insulin pump stays connected to the body, it allows the wearer to change the amount of insulin they take with the press of a few buttons at any time of day. You can also program in a higher or lower rate of insulin delivery at a chosen time – when sleeping or doing sports, for instance.
  1. Where do you buy an insulin pump and how much does it cost?

You need to be a patient at one of the accredited pump centres in South Africa. Your doctor will decide if you are a pump candidate according to the Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) guidelines. If you are, you will need a script to claim the pump through your medical aid, or buy it cash from one of the supplying pharmacies.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using an insulin pump?

Insulin pump therapy improves metabolic control while giving you greater freedom and a better quality of life.

  • Your metabolism stays more stable, with better HbA1c values and fewer low blood sugar episodes.
  • You can be more flexible in your eating, if you understand the concept of carbohydrate counting.
  • You can participate in sports whenever you feel like it — without having to plan in advance

Disadvantages are that you have too much freedom in making food choices, and that there is a risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) from pump malfunction or absorption problems.

Remember: Deciding on insulin pump therapy is not a simple decision and should be carefully discussed with your healthcare team.

  1. Will my blood sugar control be better if I use an insulin pump?

It all depends on you. You can wear a pump and it can have no impact on your blood sugar. Or you can use a pump, and with the right settings, motivation and help from your healthcare team, you can have better blood sugar control.

  1. Will I still have to test my blood sugar as much?

A pump patient needs to be a motivated patient who tests regularly, around 4 times a day.

  1. Are there insulin pumps that have a Continuous Glucose Meter attached?

Yes there are – it’s a good idea to discuss with your healthcare team which pump would best suit your needs

  1. How would the insulin pump be used for sports? Are there special casings made or will I have to play without it?

You can engage in any kind of physical activity while wearing an insulin pump. But for sports with intensive body contact and water sports we recommend temporarily disconnecting the insulin pump (not for longer than 1 hour). Special cases and pouches can protect the pump, but it’s always a good idea to insure it as well.

  1. At what age can you put a child on the insulin pump and how easy is it for them to adapt?

I would say at any age, but it’s best to get advice from your pediatric endocrinologist. Children often adapt the easiest of all age groups to insulin pump therapy.

  1. What is the risk of infection?

If you follow the right hygiene steps, the risks are low. You should always disinfect the pump site before inserting the infusion set. It is also critical to replace the infusion set every three days.

  1. How much is an insulin pump with and without medical aid?

That depends on the type of medical aid plan and whether the medical aid covers the costs fully or partly. It would be best to discuss this with your healthcare team or your medical aid. If your doctor agrees that pump therapy is the best option for you, they will send an application to the medical aid.

Ask the expert: Dr Claudine Lee, GP

“Pump therapy is a beautiful and practical way of delivering insulin that tries to fit in with you, the patient, in terms of meals, exercise and illness, as well as just living a normal life.”

 

Advice for a newly diagnosed diabetic

From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What advice would you give a newly diagnosed diabetic?

Get as much info as you can. Prepare to make lifestyle change. Respect the illness and it won’t control you

Heidi

Don’t think you are any different from any other human. Carry on and enjoy yourself: everything in moderation. Exercise a lot and eat well – no problem!

Craig

Vat een dag op ‘n slag. eet gesond en doen oefeninge. en als wat ‘n nie-diabeet doen kan diabete ook doen!

Magrietha

Cut out anything white (sugar, flour, bread, chips, etc) and start an exercise program.

Brenda

Don’t dwell on it too much. My Type 1 diabetic son of 8 understands his illness yet just gets on with life. He is a happy child and a true inspiration to the people around him.

Wayne

Relax – it’s not the end of the world. It can be so overwhelming at first, but remember you have a manageable condition (note, not disease) God bless you!

Jashika

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

10 Fast facts about foot ulcers

All diabetics know that foot care is really important, but do you know why? Preventing foot ulcers is an essential part of keeping your feet healthy. Here are some great tips.

  1. Foot ulcers are skin ulcers where the skin has broken down under the foot and you can see the tissue underneath it.
  2. Diabetics are at greater risk of foot ulcers because high blood sugar for a long period of time can damage the nerves in the feet, which means you won’t be able to feel pain and might not notice a foot injury.
  3. A diabetic foot ulcer can develop after even the smallest injury, like stepping on a little stone with bare feet. Ulcers are easily infected and can take weeks or even months to heal.
  4. 15% of people with diabetes may develop a foot ulcer.
  5. More than half of all diabetic foot ulcers become infected.
  6. Foot ulcers are the most common reason for diabetics needing to go to hospital.
  7. Luckily, they are also easily prevented: by carefully controlling blood sugar levels to prevent nerve damage.
  8. It is very important to check the feet, including the areas between the toes, for cuts and sores – every day.
  9. Keeping the feet clean and dry is essential – but do not soak them.
  10. Be sure to have your feet checked once a year by a doctor or podiatrist.

 

5 minutes with Bongi Ngema-Zuma

We chat to Bongi Ngema-Zuma, First Lady and founder of the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation.

  1. Why did you start the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation?

    It has always been my ambition to do something like that – I never came across anybody who told me about diabetes as a child, even when I was at school. But when you speak about it you find that each and every family is affected by diabetes in some way.

  2. How did your mother find out she was diabetic?

    My mother was not an educated woman, she was a housewife and only went to school up to Std 4. First she was told she had hypertension and received treatment for that. And then they investigated further and found out she had diabetes. Many people have had this happen – the underlying factor is diabetes. That’s why I encourage people to actively check their blood sugar. Whenever you go to the clinic you should get tested. What I learned from my mother is that changing her lifestyle made her live healthier and longer. She took every little lesson she could from the clinic – you eat like this, you don’t eat like that, you take your tablets, you eat so many times a day. What made it easier for her is that she made the whole family eat like that.

  3. What makes your life sweet?

    What makes me happy is chatting to people. I like getting people’s opinions on things, I like listening to people’s stories and visiting new places where I can learn new things.

Find out more about the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation here.

 

“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

 

10 Fast facts about planning financially with diabetes

Newly diagnosed with diabetes? We get to grips with what your medical scheme can do for you, and what you might have to budget for yourself.

  1. Join a medical scheme
    Diabetes is a chronic condition that’s on the Medical Scheme Act’s Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) List. All registered medical schemes in SA have to provide basic funding for your diagnosis, treatment and care.
  2. Register your condition
    Make sure your condition is registered with your scheme, and be sure to do this again each time you switch. Find out how the registration process works: you’re likely to have to complete a form with the help of your doctor.
  3. Stay on a scheme
    If you leave your current scheme, or join a scheme for the first time, the new scheme may impose a waiting period of 3 to 12 months. During this time, your costs may not be fully covered. Do your research before you join a new scheme and avoid breaks where you don’t belong to a medical scheme at all.
  4. Use a healthcare broker
    Understanding what’s covered by all the schemes out there can be complicated. Do your research with the help of a healthcare broker. Their services are free of charge.
  5. Reassess your plan
    Once a year, you can shift from a basic to a more comprehensive plan, and vice versa. Ask your scheme for your medical records and check what you’ve had to pay out of your own pocket during the year. Do the math to see if it makes sense to upgrade or downgrade your plan.
  6. Check which meds are covered
    Even the most basic plans cover diabetes medication, as long as you choose from the formulary (the list of approved medication). Ask for this list before you choose a plan. Your prescribed medicine might not be available on the scheme’s most basic plan, but it could be on another, more comprehensive plan, or on another scheme’s formulary list.
  7. Stick to Designated Service Providers (DSPs)
    These healthcare providers (doctors, pharmacists and hospitals) have an agreement with your scheme, which means their rates are usually fully covered. Get hold of your scheme’s DSP list and use them. Expect a co-payment if you use a doctor outside of this network.
  8. Go for your consultations
    This will depend on your plan, but some of your doctor’s visits will be covered up to an agreed rate. Some schemes, for example, cover annual visits to the GP, dietician, podiatrist, ophthalmologist and other specialists in full.
  9. Check up on tests and equipment
    Diagnostic tests are usually covered in full, as well as annual HBA1c, creatinine microalbumin and lipid tests. Insulin pumps and other specialised equipment might only be covered by top-tier plans, or not at all.
  10. Use those additional benefits
    Many of SA’s schemes offer free coaching, education and reward programmes. Make use of these benefits – they’ll help you to manage your condition better, saving you money in the long run.

The day you’re diagnosed with diabetes

Gabi Richter is a diabetic counsellor on our Panel of Experts. Today, she speaks to us about the day you’re diagnosed with diabetes.


The day that you are diagnosed with diabetes is a day that is hard to describe. The world stops but at the same time a neverending rollercoaster ride starts: one you never asked to get on in the first place.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and a funny thing happened: he said the test results came back and you’re a Type 1 diabetic. After that I was in shock. The funny thing is I knew that he was talking because his lips were moving, but honestly I have no idea what he said. It was all a blur to me. All I remember thinking is: how can this happen? I never ate much sugar and now I’m going to die. But at least I have an answer to why I’ve been feeling so sick the last few months.

After the shock set in, I remember going to the book shop to basically buy any book that had been printed that mentioned the word diabetes, and then reading them all and being more confused than ever as they all contradicted each other. After the initial diagnosis, the doctor suggested that I go and see an endocrinologist.

Well, I saw a few of them and what they were all good at was sitting me down and telling me the negative side of the disease. How you can lose your eyesight and your feet and how if you get wounds there is a good chance they won’t heal well. Then in the next breath, they explain that now you will need to go on a strict diet and inject for everything you eat ever. They seem to wonder why you look so depressed and have an attitude of, what’s the point to life any more?

At some point during the initial diagnosis, it seems we all go on a sort of autopilot. We inject when needed and ask every question we can think of, and blindly trust what our doctors say, because they’re the professionals and know what they’re talking about, right?

What we don’t realise then is that diabetes is a common condition but it’s also very individually based. What makes my levels go up can have no effect on a friend’s levels. The other thing we learn on our journey is that at some point all diabetics and carers become doctors, dietitians and endocrinologists. The only difference between us and the real doctors is that they have diplomas and we don’t, but we have the life experience and they don’t.

What I have learned the most in my love-hate relationship with diabetes is that while I hate the constant management and daily injections, being diabetic has made me a stronger person and taught me to stand up for myself. In a weird way, it has given my life a kind of warped purpose. So I guess I will always love to hate being diabetic. You know what? That’s actually okay and totally healthy.

Natural supplements for diabetics

We all know that a healthy diet is key to managing your diabetes. But should you also be taking a diabetic supplement? Andrea Kirk asks the experts.

Living with diabetes can be challenging, so when you hear about a natural supplement that works wonders, it’s easy to get excited. “A number of supplements have been said to play a role in improving insulin sensitivity, blood sugar control, and helping to prevent complications of diabetes,” says endocrinologist Dr Joel Dave. “Although there is some observational evidence to suggest that some of these may be beneficial, unfortunately there are no large, long-term, placebo-controlled studies that prove any supplement is effective when it comes to diabetes.”

Dietician Cheryl Meyer agrees: “In some cases benefits have been shown, but at this stage there is just not enough scientific evidence.” Both experts believe that a well balanced diet should provide all the essential minerals and vitamins you need.

“I don’t recommend routine supplementation,” says Dr Dave, “but if someone is deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral, then I would recommend they take a supplement of that particular vitamin or mineral.”

When a supplement may be necessary

If you are experiencing specific symptoms and suspect you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, speak to your doctor about having a blood test. Your doctor will make a recommendation based on the test results and may prescribe a supplement. Keep in mind that the type and dosage your doctor prescribes may be different from what is found on the shelf. Stick to your prescription rather than self-medicating.

Be careful of drug interactions

Dietary supplements can have adverse interactions with prescription drugs, other herbal products or over-the-counter medications, warns Meyer. The effects range from mild to potentially life-threatening, so it is important to disclose everything you are taking to your doctor.

Never replace your conventional prescription

“Don’t replace a proven conventional medical treatment for diabetes with an unproven health product or practice. The consequences can be very serious,” says Meyer.

“I generally advise my patients to steer clear of supplements unless we know for sure that it’s necessary,” says Dr Dave. “Rather focus on sticking to a healthy diet and lifestyle, monitoring your blood glucose and taking the medication your doctor has prescribed.”

 

Supplements and their claimed benefits

 

Alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant made by the body. It is found in every cell, where it helps turn glucose into energy. Several studies suggest ALA helps lower blood sugar levels. Its ability to kill free radicals may also help people with nerve damage, which is a common diabetes complication. For years, ALA has been used to treat diabetes-related nerve damange in Germany. However, most of the studies that found it helps were based on using intravenous ALA. It is not clear whether taking it orally will have the same effect.
Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre

Chromium
Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a role in how insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. For many years, researchers have studied the effects of chromium supplements on those with Type 2 diabetes. While some clinical studies found no benefit, others reported that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels, as well as the amount of insulin people with diabetes need. Good food sources of chromium include whole grain breads and cereals, lean meats, cheese, some spices (like black pepper and thyme), and brewer’s yeast.
Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre

Fenugreek
Fenugreek seeds may be helpful to people with diabetes because they contain fibre and other chemicals that are thought to slow digestion and the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and sugar. The seeds may also improve the way the body uses sugar and increase the amount of insulin released. An Iranian study found that a daily dose of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water may be helpful in controlling Type 2 diabetes. Another study from the US suggests that eating baked goods, such as bread, made with fenugreek flour may help to reduce insulin resistance in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Source: Healthline

American ginseng
Several studies have shown that American ginseng lowered blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. The effect was seen both on fasting blood sugar and on glucose levels after eating. One study found that people with Type 2 diabetes who took American ginseng before or together with a high sugar drink experienced less of an increase in blood glucose levels.
Source: Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Some studies suggest that supplementing may be beneficial, but other studies have shown no benefit. A healthy diet should provide all the magnesium you need, so have your doctor check for deficiency before you consider supplementing. Good food sources of magnesium include legumes, whole grains, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, dairy products, seeds and nuts.
Source: Oregan State University and WebMD

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).

Diabetes and depression

Gabi Richter is a diabetic counsellor on our Panel of Experts. Today, she speaks to us about depression and diabetes.


Managing everyday life challenges can be hard for the strongest and most emotionally balanced people. But having diabetes changes the game and adds extra curve balls we need to deal with. Depression is a very common problem, but studies show that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes are three time more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. With the constant management plan we have to follow, it’s no surprise that we are at greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Anxiety and depression can overlap with symptoms of diabetes, which make it harder to diagnose whether it is simply anxiety or rather depression that you are feeling. Anxiety can lead to depression if not treated correctly, but depression rarely leads to anxiety. Depression also has fewer symptoms, making it harder to diagnose.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects how you think and feel, and it can manifest in both emotional and physical symptoms. The thing to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression without fully feeling depressed, and if you are depressed it’s not easy to simply snap out of it.

There are six main symptoms to look out for when dealing with depression:

  • A loss of appetite or any change in eating habits
  • Feeling down all the time
  • Any change in sleeping pattern
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in daily tasks that you used to enjoy
  • Feeling irritable all the time.

These symptoms are very similar to anxiety, however the main difference is that when you are anxious you worry more about the future and current things that have either happened or could happen. When you feel depressed, you simply have no drive to do anything and can only see things from a negative space.

To understand more about depression, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in your body. Your mood is determined by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are released into the brain. When these levels are low, we start to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Depression can feel a bit like anxiety and that is why it is often overlooked. A constant state of anxiety can show up in ways that make you feel physically sick, such as constant headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach and nausea.

To suffer from depression or to feel depressed does not mean that you are weak. Many people suffer from depression: it is an ancient disease that affects thousands of people, even famous people such as Winston Churchill. He used to call it his “black dog”.

As diabetics, we often have weaker metabolic and glycaemic control. This in turn can intensify depression symptoms: if not treated correctly, it can lead to diabetes burnout. We need to remember that when we experience depression or anxiety, the body reacts the same way it does to stress. The fight, flight, fright response is activated which releases adrenalin and cortisol into the blood stream, which in turn increases our sugar levels. There are many levels of depression ranging from mild to major: the levels don’t get worse, it’s simply the consequences and symptoms that change.

Depression affects everyone and people suffering from chronic conditions are at a higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. One of the most important things to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression and not look depressed. The symptoms for depression do not always manifest in the known ways: it is also linked to aches and pains in muscles or constant headaches.

So what’s the answer? We need to find ways to relax as much as we can and remember to listen to our bodies. You are not alone in this.

The challenge of brittle diabetes

Do you know what brittle diabetes is? We asked one of our readers, Rencia, to share her story of living with brittle diabetes with us.

I was diagnosed as a juvenile diabetic at the tender age of 5 and a half. This was in 1987, when medicine was not as advanced as it is today.

Upon diagnosis, my parents were told that I would have to take insulin twice a day for the rest of my life and refrain from eating sweets, cakes and all the good things. At that point in my life I couldn’t grasp the enormity of being diabetic. I adhered to the diets and adapted quickly to the injections and glucose testing methods. I would often hear my parents discussing how doctors had advised them that I needed to be told that due to my diabetes I would never conceive children.

The strict control became non-existent when my parents got divorced. I guess as a teenager I didn’t understand the repercussions my teenage years would have on my life.

At the age of 19, I began to notice that my vision was being halved. I went to an ophthalmologist who had me undergo all kinds of tests to determine what the problem was. I was suffering from diabetes retinopathy: when the retina detaches from the back of the eye. If not treated as soon as possible, this leads to permanent blindness.  I underwent my first eye operation to reattach the retina in my right eye and had to wait four months with sight only in my left eye. During the 4 months, I lost the vision in my left eye too and for the remainder of those months I had no proper vision, just distorted images in my right eye.

After the operation to my left eye, I became critically ill with hyperglycaemia  (high blood glucose levels). I was in a coma for a few days. At this point I was being treated by my current specialist. He changed my insulin and put me on four insulin injections a day, as well as four blood tests a day. I had a new lease on life it seemed and I would take hold of it with both hands. I began to keep away from all forbidden items and all seemed well.

In mid 2007, I began having frequent lows and highs. Maintaining my blood sugar levels became more and more difficult, and it was worrying as I started losing chunks of my memory when I had a hypoglycaemic episode. I saw my specialist who diagnosed my diabetes as brittle diabetes. He explained that brittle diabetes is when you have hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia without much warning. There is no treatment for this, except frequent blood sugar checks.

I am often ill with mostly low sugar levels, ranging from 1.6 to 2.2. I’m seldom able to determine when these episodes occur which leads me into very dangerous ground. Brittle diabetes is a sub-type of Type 1 diabetes, a term used to describe particularly hard to control Type 1 diabetes. Those people who have brittle diabetes will experience frequent, extreme swings in blood glucose levels, causing hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia.

At the end of 2007, I was experiencing severe tenderness in my left eye and I visited my ophthalmologist who suggested I have my left eye removed as it was shrinking and becoming noticeable that there was no vision in the eye. I had the eye removed and 6 weeks later was fitted with a prosthetic eye.

Against all odds, I conceived my first child in 2010. It was a petrifying experience for me because I was so afraid of something going wrong. On the 4th of October 2010, I gave birth via C-section to my son Tyler. It was a very trying time keeping my levels down. I have successfully had two children – my second pregnancy was easier, though I was hospitalized three times in my first trimester. Once that was over, I maintained constant contact with my specialist and tried my utmost to keep my levels between 4 and 8mmol/l, so that I didn’t have to deal with the effects of my brittle diabetes.

Living with Type 1 diabetes is not as easy as most people thank. It’s a constant challenge and mine is slightly more difficult. However, I do try to rise to each of the challenges to the best of my ability. It’s my great desire to one day receive sponsorship in order to obtain a DAD (diabetic alert dog) – a dog trained to pick up if your blood sugar is high or low by the scent your body omits. Having one of these dogs as a brittle diabetic would be such a great help. It could be a lifesaver.

I urge parents, teenagers and even older individuals to take extra care of their diabetes from day one of diagnosis in order to prevent the challenges I face daily. See your doctors regularly and you could lead a fairly normal life. Diabetes is a life-altering illness, but with the correct care from day one you can lead a fairly normal life.

– Rencia Gabriel-Phillip

Would you like to share your story of living with diabetes with the Sweet Life community? Email us – we’d love to hear from you.

How to avoid dehydration caused by diabetes

When you think of your diet as it relates to your diabetes, you probably think mostly about the foods you consume. However, did you know that staying hydrated is also a big concern if you have diabetes? In fact, polydipsia is the term given to excessive thirst that is a symptom of diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration occurs when the kidneys have trouble filtering and absorbing excess sugar. Those who suffer with diabetes insipidus are also at an increased risk for dehydration.

To ensure that you stay hydrated and reduce the risk of dehydration caused by diabetes, follow these three top strategies.

Keep a water bottle with you at all times
One of the easiest ways to stay hydrated is to keep a full water bottle with you at all times. This removes the need to purchase water outside of the home, makes it simple to have a constant supply of water, and serves as a constant reminder to drink water throughout your day. Since many public places are equipped with filtered water, you can prevent the onset of dehydration caused by diabetes with little effort and no expense.

Set reminders to get enough water
The importance of staying hydrated while managing your diabetes symptoms should not be overlooked. Dehydration is a serious condition which shouldn’t be treated lightly. If you are having a tough time remembering to drink water during the day (even while carrying a water bottle with you), set daily reminders for yourself on your phone or computer to make it a habit. Treat regular water drinking as if it were as essential as taking a medication on schedule.

Replace other beverages with water
Do you tend to drink beverages other than water throughout the day? Skip beverages that don’t provide adequate hydration. Instead, replace some of your carbonated beverages, coffee, and other drinks with a glass of water. Aim to drink at least eight 250ml glasses of water every day. Consuming a sufficient amount of water (rather than beverages that simply contain water) will help combat the risk of dehydration. 

Make it simple to stay hydrated
Making it a habit to stay hydrated doesn’t have to disrupt your life. Begin working these simple steps into your life to limit your chances of developing dehydration as a result of diabetes. While it may take a few weeks (or more) to be sure that you are consuming the proper amount of water, you’ll eventually see how simple it is to stay hydrated throughout the day.

Using laughter as medicine

You would never guess that Trevor Davids, a business consultant, film and TV producer and biker filled with the joys of life, has Type 2 diabetes. That’s because he’s managed to take diabetes in his stride.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

Six years ago, in November 2010. I had all the usual symptoms – constantly thirsty, needing to urinate a lot – and I looked them up on the internet. Up came: diabetes. I read up on the condition before going to the doctor, and then announced, “I have diabetes.” We took the necessary tests and my blood sugar was really high (18mmol/l), so I was put onto insulin tablets immediately. Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, I’m not overweight and I do a lot of exercise, so I’m not a typical Type 2 case. I do have high blood pressure that runs in the family. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I had already given up alcohol ten years before, but I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day, so I had to give that up too. After 31 years of smoking, I quit on the first try. Once I make up my mind about something, there’s not much that can move me.

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

I’m a lot more conscious of my eating patterns now. I never used to eat breakfast – I’d grab something on the run, snack in the afternoon, and then eat a big plate of food in the evening. I had to learn to be less flexible about food. Eat a regimented breakfast, lunch and dinner, look at my intakes and learn about low GI. I couldn’t have done it without my family – my wife Norma and son Danté have been the most amazing support.

How do you manage to focus on the lighter side of living with a chronic condition?

I never focussed on the darker side of diabetes! I’m a very positive person, I like being focussed on doing something well. In challenging times, I just take it in my stride and deal with life’s knocks as they come.

Is there anything diabetes has stopped you from doing?

No. Only smoking! I’ve actually been able to take on more daily life challenges since being diagnosed, because I restructured and reorganised my life, so I now have more time.

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

If you’ve just been diagnosed, don’t worry – it’s not as daunting as you think. It can become a lifestyle condition, you just need to adapt your lifestyle. Diabetes is part of who you are now, and denying it doesn’t make it go away.

What makes your life sweet?

Life itself! And my family, of course. And laughter: the ability to laugh and create a laugh. I believe that people can live a long time if they can learn to laugh in the face of adversity. I like to use laughter as part of my medication.