diabetes advice

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.

Diabetes Performance for National Diabetes Month

Good day,

We are the Blood Sugars project from the University of the Witwatersrand and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

November is National Diabetes Month.

We have created a performance that takes people through a reflective journey through the use of storytelling and metaphor.

The aim of the performance is to explore the complexities of living and working with Diabetes from the perspective of clinicians, patients and families with the ultimate aim of improving treatment outcomes through changed behaviour.

We would like to bring the performance to hospitals, clinics, schools and theatres as a way of reaching the general public.

We aim to perform in the month of October and November 2016.

Please email me if you are in Johannesburg and interested in hosting a performance.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

– Tshegofatso Seabi
– Health Communication Research Unit
– University of the Witwatersrand

Emotional Help for Diabetic Child?

Hi there,
My daughter has been a Type 1 diabetic for 2 years+ now. She is 10 years old.

Do you perhaps know of a natural product that I can give her to help her emotionally. She’s been very emotional the past couple of months (sometimes really mad and other times really sad). It really is sad and bothers me so much to see her this way, but I don’t like just giving any chemical medicine. I’d like to know which natural products have other mothers been using and obviously the ones which works the best without any negative results.

Would really like your feedback as soon as possible.
– Carolien

Diabetes chat on Afternoon Express

Sweet Life editor Bridget McNulty was recently interviewed on Afternoon Express on SABC3 – here’s the episode if you’d like to watch! She was joined by some fantastic diabetes experts who spoke about everything from health to diet, support and living with the condition. Make yourself a cuppa and watch them all below…

Type 1 Diabetes and Endurance Sports

Hi there,

I am a Type 1 diabetic diagnosed at 33 years. I am now 42.

Exercise used to be such a big part of my life, including mountain biking and gym. Recently I had an incident with low blood sugar.

I don’t have any self belief in starting to practice again as this happened during practice. My sugar levels seem to be very sensitive when exercising: for example, I did a normal 20 minute treadmill walk and run. Before this my sugar level was 13 and after it was 7.5mmol/l.

What is a safe sugar level to have when mountain biking? When is the best time to practice? And what is the best food to eat during, for example, a 40km race to maintain sugar levels?

Will I as a Type 1 diabetic be able to do endurance races like JHB to Sea?

Thanks for making it easier to live with diabetes.



Tips for Weight Gain with Diabetes

Morning to you all,

I’m a Type 1 diabetic and have accepted this chronic condition well.

My only problem with it is a loss of weight. I never wanted to be slim ever in my life, but now there’s no way I can maintain my body to get it back to my normal weight.

Do you have any healthy weight gain tips?


– Thahtoow

No More Insulin from Local Clinics?

Hi there,

I was wondering if you could be so kind as to assist me in the following request.
My girlfriend has been a Type 1 diabetic for 23 years and she always collected her insulin from the local clinic.

Last month when she collected her insulin she was told that the government clinics don’t supply insulin anymore, since then it’s been a uphill battle to get insulin.

She doesn’t have medical aid at the moment and therefore we would appreciate it if you can refer us to someone or a clinic that’s able to help in this matter.

Hope to hear from you soon…

Kind Regards,


Diabetes Chats: Meet the Expert

Every Wednesday at 8pm, the Sweet Life diabetes community gathers together on Facebook (over at Diabetic South Africans) to talk about all things diabetic-related. Ever wondered who runs the chats? Meet Leandra Thompson, our wonderful diabetic chat expert!


1. How long have you been diabetic?

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the beginning of 2006. I also don’t really refer to myself as being diabetic. I know it is just a word, but I tend to feel that “being diabetic” makes it sound as though “diabetes has me” rather than the other way around. It almost makes me feel defeated. I like to think that “I have” diabetes. I control it, even though this is definitely not true a lot of the time.

2. What’s the most challenging part about diabetes for you?

The most challenging for me are those curve balls – you know how today your regime just works perfectly, and if you do it exactly the same on another day you get the complete opposite results. So I guess put simply I find the inconsistency of diabetes the most challenging.

3. What’s the best thing about being diabetic?

Eating speckled eggs when low and not feeling any guilt whatsoever!
But more seriously, there really is nothing I could say I like about diabetes. Having diabetes has made me more aware of my body and my health generally. It makes me eat healthier (more than I might have had I not had diabetes) and I am constantly aware of what I am eating (especially because of carb counting). I also try to be active, considering I work 9 – 5 (at a desk), so time is scarce. I can truthfully say that had I not had diabetes I would likely not have been as aware of these things, or considered them as important as I do now. Although, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

4. What do you love about the diabetic chats?

For me, connecting with other people with diabetes is important. Since I was diagnosed I sought peer support online. Mostly these are not local, and I always wished we had more local support – not medical support, just support from other who are going through the same thing and having similar issues each day. The friends I have made online have been awesome – from abroad I actually met a few for dinner about a year ago in Melbourne. And I also have a very close friend from NZ who I’ve never met – but we message one another and stay in touch all the time, even sending gifts to each other’s kids. There are certain things only someone else with diabetes “just gets”.

5. What makes your life sweet?

The most adorable, sweetest, funniest, and all-round best kid in the world, Cameron,  my only son (and only child).
Join Leandra for this week’s diabetic chat on Facebook at 8pm on Wednesday!

Advice for Newly Diagnosed Sportswoman

Good evening.

Our daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes two weeks ago. Up to then, this 11 year old spent up to 6 hours a day on the tennis court in her quest to become a pro.

We are already discussing with her doctor the possibility on a insulin pump.

Any views and comments from other sport active people out there?


– Louis

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