diabetes and diet

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.”

 

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

 

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).

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.

Maintaining a healthy weight with diabetes

Whether you battle to lose weight, or struggle to gain it, maintaining a healthy weight is a constant battle for many people with diabetes. Joanne Lillie explains how to make lasting changes.

Putting on weight

Controlling blood sugar levels is the starting place for achieving your target weight with Type 1 diabetes, as high blood sugar levels will cause glucose to be lost in the urine and result in weight loss, says dietician Genevieve Jardine. Many people find that once their glucose levels are under control, weight management becomes much easier.

Top tips to build mass:

  • Go for low GI: To balance your glucose levels, lower-GI carbs such as wholegrains, beans, sweet potatoes and some fruit (like plums and apricots) are great choices, as they are less likely to spike your blood glucose. Milk and yoghurt also have a low GI. Just remember that low GI food still has to be eaten in the right portion.
  • Eat more often: Rather than three meals a day, eat six smaller meals a day. Check your blood sugar more often and inject accordingly if you decide to try eating this way. Don’t skip meals as you will miss opportunities to increase your calorie intake.
  • Fat has more calories than carbohydrates or protein: fat contains 9 calories per gram, while carbs and proteins contain 4 calories. So it makes sense to eat more fat when you’re aiming to put on a few pounds. Just be aware that you need to choose healthy fats. Cook with more olive or canola oil, get plenty of nuts and seeds, and add avocado and olives to salads.
  • As long as your kidneys are in good shape, you can add protein powder to yoghurt or smoothies. This helps you gain weight as lean muscle mass rather than fat.


Losing weight

A normal body mass index (BMI) is vital for people with diabetes. “As the BMI increases, the amount of insulin required to maintain a normal glucose level also increases because patients become more insulin resistant,” explains endocrinologist Dr Joel Dave.  An elevated BMI is also associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol (dyslipidemia).

Healthy eating, regular physical activity, and medicine (if prescribed), are the key elements of Type 2 diabetes management. For many people with diabetes, the most challenging part of the treatment plan is working out what to eat.

Top tips to lose mass:

  • Aim to reduce your energy intake while sticking to a healthy eating pattern. This means getting all the nutrients you need, in as few calories as possible. How? By focusing on nutrient-dense foods such as green vegetables, some fruits (especially berries) and beans.
  • Carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes and dairy products are better than from other sources, especially those with added fats, salt and sugar. The most carb-dense foods include those with refined white flour: breads, biscuits, pastries, cakes, as well as white rice and potatoes. Limit these as much as possible!
  • A Mediterranean-style diet may boost weight loss and benefit blood sugar control and cardiovascular risk factors. This means:
  • Eating mostly plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Keeping carbohydrate levels as low as possible
  • Using healthy fats, such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

Ask the expert: Genevieve Jardine, dietician

“Learn to respond to hunger and not appetite. Often a high carbohydrate diet makes people hungry whereas enough protein and healthy fats helps make people feel fuller for longer.”

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

How to eat seasonally

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of eating only what’s in season. Fresh fruit and vegetables are obviously at their most abundant when they’re in season, and I like to only eat what’s local and fresh (don’t we all?!) It’s not always that easy to know what’s in season, though, and what to look out for. That’s why I love this seasonality calendar we were sent – take a look below and download a PDF if you’d like to keep it.

Happy cooking – and eating!

Seasons change, and so should the fruits and veggies you put onto your plate. Eating seasonally is tastier, more cost effective and sustainable. Chef James Diack, one of South Africa’s pioneers of provenance, has taken the concept of seasonality even further by producing a Seasonality Calendar for South Africans as a guide on what to eat each season, and what they can expect to see on his plates during the months and weeks of the year based on the produce from Brightside Farm.

“Seasonality and sustainability are all about protection – protection of the environment, protection of our diners’ health and not least of all protection of animal health. All of our practices are geared toward these goals,” James says.

Download the calendar to keep on your fridge!

Download (PDF, 1.08MB)

Tackling the Challenges of Diabetes and Obesity in Africa

I was lucky enough to be invited to the most fascinating diabetes conference in Cape Town recently: Tackling the Challenges of Diabetes and Obesity in Africa.

The line-up was truly impressive (more on that below) but what really struck me was how engaged and passionate all the attendees were about the issues of diabetes and obesity, and what we – as individuals, researchers and caregivers – can do about it.

But first! The amazing speakers and their topics.

The first day was chaired by Professor Naomi Levitt, the Head of Diabetic Medicine and Endocrinology at the University of Cape Town. Prof Levitt gave an overview of the issues of diabetes and obesity in Africa, and led the discussions after each talk. Her passion for diabetes research in South Africa is palpable.

Professor Justine Davies is a Professor of Global Health from Kings College London and started us off with a talk on Health systems challenges of deadling with diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa. She’s the previous editor of The Lancet journal and gave insights from The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Commission. A fascinating look at just how severe the problem is in sub-Saharan Africa.

Then it was Dr Ankia Coetzee‘s turn. She’s a Clinical Endocrinologist at Stellenbosch University, with a special interest in gestational diabetes. Her talk – Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: The Alchemy of Diabetes Prevention? – suggested that treating those with gestational diabetes holistically can be a key to unlock future Type 2 diabetes.

After a short tea break to let the information digest, Salaamah Solomon, a Dietician from Tygerberg Hospital, spoke about Challenges in Nutrition Education – specifically, how essential it is to make nutritional information as simple as possible so that it can be easily adopted.

Then Professor Julia Goedecke, a Researcher at the South African Medical Research Council, spoke about her research into Mechanisms underlying insulin resistance in black South African women, which sparked a whole debate around exercise and diet as two critical components in Type 2 diabetes management (along with medication, of course).

After a fascinating lunch spent absorbing more diabetes information, Professor Tandi Matsha, the Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cape Peninsula University of Technology spoke about Epigenetics and Type 2 Diabetes. I didn’t know much (if anything) about epigenetics, so this was a real eye-opener for me.

And then Dr Sundeep Ruder, an Endocrinology Consultant and Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, took things in an entirely new direction with his presentation about Philosophy in Diabetes – how it is our goal as humans to be peaceful, blissful and happy, and too often we use food as a cheap trick to get us there. (Among many other fascinating points!)

I had to get home to my young children, so sadly I missed Professor Carel Le Roux‘s talk: Can we approach obesity as a subcortical brain disease to address prediabetes and diabetes? I also missed Professor Andre Kengne‘s talk on Diabetes and BMI trends in Africa – both of which were discussed a lot the next day.

The next day was World Diabetes Day, and Dr Rufaro Chatora from the World Health Organisation gave some opening remarks about World Diabetes Day.

Then it was time for the keynote presentation, by Professor Jean Claude Mbanya, Honorary President of the International Diabetes Federation (Africa Region and Global), and Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at the University of Yaounde, Cameroon. He gave a fascinating presentation on Global and Africa’s Burden of Diabetes, releasing the latest research from the 8th IDF Diabetes Atlas.

Then it was Dr Eva Njenga‘s turn to tell us about diabetes in Kenya. She’s the Chair of the NCD Kenya Alliance and the Director of the Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre, which she co-founded. They get funding from the WDF and partner with the Minister of Health to make a tangible difference to people with diabetes in Kenya. She spoke about Changing lifestyles to combat Diabetes, Obesity and other NCDs.

It was really the most extraordinary two days of diabetes discussions, talks, information sharing and inspiration. I left feeling so motivated to make a difference to people with diabetes in South Africa, and so inspired by all the doctors, researchers and healthcare workers who are so involved in diabetes in our country.

I can’t wait for the next one!

Type 1 diabetic going through puberty

From our community blog:

Hi,

My son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes about a year and a half ago.  His HbA1c hasn’t been great for the last few months – sitting on about 8. We seem to do everything “right” but for reasons we cannot understand we go through days with sugar levels that just won’t come down.

I now think that he is often injecting into scar tissue… He uses pretty much the same area to inject. I think he is finding it hard to inject anywhere else as it is a bit painful (he had a slight phobia of needles before being diagnosed). He is now 12 years old and is going through puberty so his body is changing and will need more insulin.

Any advice?? I’m feeling a little helpless at the moment.

We see his doctor every 3 months, but does anyone know of a nurse in the Fourways Johannesburg area who deals with Type 1 diabetics who we can perhaps see monthly to check his readings and perhaps guide us on eating, etc.

Thank you so much.
Warm Regards
– Candice
Comments:

Jen Whittall is in Bryanston
Kimberley

Hi Candice
You are quite spot-on with your own findings concerning your son. If he is currently injecting into the stomach, challenge him in injecting into the upper outer thigh. He should try to do this fast (like throwing a dart – playful challenging). When I changed my technique from a slow approach to the dart action, I never looked back. Just take note that the legs are active and blood glucose levels might drop faster than expected, especially if you are correct with your diagnosis of him injecting into scarred tissue.
Kindest regards
Marelize

Making diabetes delicious

It might seem as though being a restaurant chef would be too tempting a job for a Type 1 diabetic, but 30-year-old Vanessa Marx has made an art out of making healthy food delicious – and accessible.

When did you find out you were diabetic?

I was about sixteen and in high school – seriously bad timing! I had all the usual symptoms. I was drinking about four litres of water a day and falling asleep during class because I was so exhausted. My mom eventually suspected diabetes and I had to be hospitalised. It was a traumatic experience. I’ve always loved food, and I remember lying in my hospital bed naming all the foods I could never eat again… It was a long list!

How has diabetes changed your daily life?

That’s a hard question, because it’s so much a part of my daily life. It can be difficult, sometimes, explaining to people who don’t have diabetes how you’re feeling. If I wake up with low blood sugar, for example, I’m exhausted before the day begins. People understand a throat infection, but they often don’t understand what waking up low feels like. As a head chef, I need to be alert every day, taking charge of the kitchen. There’s no room in a busy kitchen for feeling tired or unwell because of high blood sugar or needing time out to have something sweet because of low blood sugar.

Isn’t it difficult to be around food all day? How do you resist sweet treats?

It is quite tricky! Often just the act of making sweet treats for someone else satisfies the urge for me but other times I’m pretty tempted: what puts me off is that I know how I’ll feel later. I do believe in “everything in moderation”, so I allow myself a treat now and then. As long as it’s a once-off, and I’m not doing it every five minutes!

What advice would you offer to other diabetics?

Be disciplined! Pay attention to your diet: what you eat plays a huge role in how you feel. Also don’t feel like you’re on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help – talk about your diabetes, and explain to those around you what it feels like. There’s still a stigma around diabetes, that it’s only people with weight problems who are diabetic. But the only way we’re going to change that is by talking about it.

What makes your life sweet?

My family and friends, and my work.

Get in touch with Vanessa: @vanessajaynem on Twitter and Instagram

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.