Questions and answers about the best diabetes diet.
Together with Pick n Pay, we’ve designed a cookbook specifically for people with diabetes who want ideas for every meal of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats – there’s something for everyone!
Get nutritional advice on how to build balanced meals, and delicious recipes the whole family will enjoy – whether or not they have diabetes.
From our community blog:
I am a Type 1 diabetic since 1991. I have had two children and desperately want a third, but cannot face another pregnancy like the second due to severe hypoglycaemia that kept occurring.
I want to get a pump – my doctor did initially suggest it and I have asked for a referral to a centre that deals with pumps. I also would like to know what the chance of getting a pump on medical aid is if it is recommended by a doctor and if the medical aid is paying for CDE at the moment?
I am trying to control my sugars now but even tracking them 6-8 times a day, taking multiple extra shots when needed and tracking my diet closely is not helping.
The CDE has 5 pump centers in Johannesburg. 011 7126000. They also have an amazing 5 day course called DINE. Speak to Michelle Daniels.
I hope this may be of some help in resolving your control problems. I used a pump for 10 years and found it to be helpful particularly as you can control the long acting (basal) insulin for your individual requirements. You programme the pump to dispense whatever you need for each hour of the 24 hour day which will be exclusive to your needs.
A phone call to your medical aid should be able to tell you if they will support the purchase fully or partially. I stopped using mine because my levy on the consumables was increasing beyond reason.
It needs time and expertise to learn how to use the pump. I know we are all different but I believe that with the proper advise and treatment you should be able to get control before getting a pump. It will help your new doctor (it seems you need one) if you keep a record of insulin taken, food consumed, and exercise taken.
I’m a chairman of a support group, find one of these as they can also be very helpful.
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From our community: “Being newly diagnosed, I am learning about foods that I can and can’t use. I cannot find an article explaining what to look for. It’s all a bit confusing. Help would be greatly appreciated.” David Staff.
“Eat the right type of food, in the right amount, at the right time of the day”
It’s important to make dietary changes that are simple and progressive. First you need to learn what foods should be in your trolley, fridge and kitchen cupboards: that will make good eating decisions easier to choose.
I have one simple rule: eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible! This helps to reduce the amount of processed, high sugar, high-fat foods that cause problems with weight and blood sugar control. Try not to focus on what you can’t have (it is very depressing) and rather be adventurous in experimenting with healthy nutritious meals.
Once you know which foods are suitable, you need to get specific and work out how much to eat. Portion control is very important. The good news is that almost all foods are allowed in correct portions.
Here are some general rules:
Starch: Use low GI, high fibre starches. Reduce foods made with lots of white flour and sugar (doughnuts, biscuits, cakes ). For your main meal, the portion size of starch should be the size of your fist (approximately 2 portions of starch).
Protein: Opt for low-fat protein. Remove visible fat from meat and skin from chicken. For your main meal, the portion of protein should be the size of the palm of your hand and the same thickness as your baby finger (less at other meals)
Dairy: Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy. Try for 2 portions of dairy a day.
Vegetables: Choose a variety of colours and serve raw, steamed and roasted. Eat lots – double portions where possible!
Fruit: Try to eat a variety of fruits. The size should be that of a tennis ball and you should aim for 2 servings of fruit a day.
Fat: Try to reduce the use of fats in your cooking. Rather grill, bake, boil, steam, microwave or stir-fry your food. The portion of fat should equal the size of the tip of your thumb.
Specific portion sizes:
- ½ cup wholewheat cereal / muesli
- ½ cup cooked, cooled and reheated mealie meal / oats porridge
- 1 slice seed loaf
- ½ wholegrain seed roll / low GI bread roll
- 3 Provita / 2 Ryvita
- ½ cup (2 Tbs) beans or whole corn
- 1 small mealie on the cob
- ½ cup cooked, cooled & then reheated samp
- ½ cup pasta / long grain rice / wild rice
- ⅓ cup white rice
- ½ cup brown rice with added lentils
- ½ medium sweet potato
- 2 – 3 baby potatoes
- ½ cup cooked lentils
- 1 egg
- 30g grilled chicken / ostrich / extra lean mince / grilled beef or pork
- ¼ cup tuna
- 30g steamed / poached / grilled / baked fish
- 2 tbs peanut butter
- 50g raw soya
- 90g tofu
- ½ cup cooked lentils / beans
- 1 cup low-fat / fat-free milk
- 100ml low-fat / fat-free sweetened yoghurt
- 30g low-fat cheese (Lichten Blanc, Dairybelle InShape, Elite Edam, Woolworths, Mozzarella)
- 50g low-fat feta cheese (Pick n Pay Choice Danish Style / Traditional, Simonsberg)
- 50g low-fat cottage cheese (Dairybelle, Lancewood, Parmalat, In Shape, Clover)
- Green pepper
- Baby marrow
- Bean sprouts
- Mixed vegetables
- Green beans
- 1 medium apple / peach / pear / grapefruit / orange
- 1 large naartjie
- 3 small apricots
- 10 – 12 grapes (only!)
- 1 small to medium nectarine
- 1 tablespoon dried fruit
- ½ cup fruit salad
- 2 teaspoons low-fat margarine / mayonnaise / dressing
- 4 olives
- ¼ avocado
- 80ml low-fat gravy / sauce
- 1 teaspoon olive / canola oil
From our community blog:
Petunia has a question for us about lowering high blood sugar:
“I would like to know what can I do to bring down my sugar. I have Type 2 diabetes, I’m on Actraphane 30/70 and I don’t have a proper diabetes diet.”
What do you suggest?
The obvious ones that spring to mind are:
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein and no refined carbohydrates.
- Steer clear of sweet treats.
- Drink lots of water.
- Exercise a little every day – even if it’s just a walk around the block.
- Lose weight if necessary.
What do you have to add? Let’s help Petunia out!
I am also Type 2 – I find the best thing is exercise. Sometimes you can’t avoid the carbs, but if you walk, run or cycle 30 min per day – you can reduce your sugar levels significantly.
Diabetes is not an easy quick fix ever. It is important to manage this condition in the best way always and this means getting a lot of HELP! I suggest you find a dietician or a diabetes educator in your area and schedule an appointment a soon as possible. In order to understand this condition it’s important to understand how food and your medication impact on your glucose levels. It becomes so easy with this help!
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From our community: “My average blood sugar over the past few months was higher than it should have been, so I’m trying really hard not to eat the wrong foods. Any tips for healthy snacks?” Lynnae Daniel
Getting creative with your snacks can really help make your daily meal plan more exciting. We all get into a rut with our meal choices, and adding different (healthy) snacks can improve variety, colour, flavour and even add valuable nutrients to your daily intake.
Not every person with diabetes needs to snack. Some people are happy with three square meals a day, while others prefer small snacks throughout the day. Your unique eating style largely depends on your own natural eating patterns, medication, blood sugar control, and how active you are.
Remember: If you go for more than 4 or 5 hours between meals you may need to snack in order to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low. But snacking on the wrong kind of food can cause blood sugar levels to rise and also cause unwanted weight gain.
So what does a healthy snack look like?
- A snack should be between 300 to 600 kilojoules otherwise it is more like a meal.
- Snacking is a good chance to increase your vegetable or fruit intake (remember, the aim is 5 servings of vegetables a day).
- Plate your snack to help control portion size: don’t eat straight out of a bag, box or packet – or straight from the fridge!
- Portion your snacks into snack-size packets, or buy suitable snack portions.
Ask yourself: are you actually hungry? Don’t snack because you’re bored, stressed or worried.
Healthy snack ideas:
- One piece of fruit (carb 15g, fat 0g, 300kj)
- 100ml low-fat flavoured yogurt (carb 16g, fat 2g, 400kj)
- 2 cups popped popcorn sprinkled with fat-free parmesan cheese (carb 15g, fat 7g, 636kj)
- 30g lean biltong (carb 0.7 g, fat 2g, 346kj)
- 3 Provitas or 2 Ryvitas with cottage cheese, tomato and gherkin (carb 20g, fat 2g, 382kj)
- ½ an apple with 20g sliced low-fat cheese (carb 8g, fat 5g, 430kj)
- Raw veggies (carrot sticks, cucumber, baby tomatoes, gherkins, baby corn, snap peas) with cottage cheese, hummus or avocado dip (carb 8g, fat 7g, 540kj)
- 30g nuts/seeds (carb 3g, fat 14g, 735kj)
Tip: Nuts and seeds are high in fat and kilojoules. However, the type of fat is much healthier than that found in a chocolate bar.
Unhealthy snack choices:
- 50g bar of chocolate (carb 30g, fat 12g and 1120kj)
- 30g packet of potato crisps (carb 24g, fat 12g, 766kj)
- 300ml bottle of drinking yoghurt (carb 45g, fat 5.6g, 1140kj)
- 25g packet of sweets (carb 18g, fat 0g, 316kj)
Tip: It might seem like this snack is within the recommended carb, fat and kilojoule allowance, but they are empty kilojoules with no fibre and very little vitamins and minerals.
Snacking for exercise:
Remember that exercise can also cause low blood glucose. It is important to check blood glucose before and after you exercise. People react differently to exercise depending on the type, duration and intensity: some people see a rapid drop and others an increase in blood sugar levels, so it is important to test and see what your individual response is.
As always, you should see a dietician to help you plan suitable snacks for different situations. Fresh snack ideas can bring a sense of fun into your daily eating plan.
- Half of South African adults are overweight or obese. What that means is increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and premature death.
- Our eating habits have changed so much that South Africans now spend more money on beer than on vegetables and fruit combined. What?!
- 45% of South African women are obese, as opposed to only 15% men. In 2013, South African women were the most obese in sub-Saharan Africa. So South African women are the most at risk for obesity.
I asked why that was and apparently there are three reasons:
- Women who were nutritionally deprived as children are more likely to be obese as adults (men who were deprived as children are not).
- Women of higher adult socioeconomic status (which is income, education and occupation) are more likely to be obese, which is not true for men.
- And possibly: in South Africa, women’s perceptions of an ‘ideal’ female body are larger than men’s perceptions of the ‘ideal’ male body – it’s seen as a status symbol to be a heavier woman.
Are you a South African woman? I am… Let’s make sure we’re informed and don’t let obesity happen to us and our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends.
Vitality gathered data from half a million Discovery members to give us these results:
- Their weight status (BMI and waist circumference)
Cape Town scores highest, with 53.5% of Capetonians in a normal weight range. Cape Town also topped the healthy purchasing score (which shows a positive relation between what you buy and whether your weight is in range or not.)
Fruit and vegetables
Cape Town purchased the most portions of fruit and vegetables compared to other cities – see the ranking above. In general, though, South Africans are only eating 3 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, as opposed to the 5 servings we should be eating.
Durban purchased the least amount of salt in SA, with Cape Town purchasing the most. We are eating twice as much salt as we should be in a day: it should only be 5g (1 teaspoon).
Durban came out top of this test too, with the lowest average number of teaspoons of sugar purchased – Bloemfontein purchased the most sugar. And again, we’re eating twice as much sugar as we should be – a staggering 100g a day! (That’s 24 teaspoons – in the food and drink we consume.)
There are a number of factors that play into this, of course. The way we buy our food – the impulse buys, the treats, emotional eating. Fast food is also a huge problem, because it’s loaded with salt, sugar and bad fats. Cooking at home with whole foods (not convenience foods or ready-made meals) has been proven to have an enormous impact on health and weight.
So what should we be eating? Here are some excellent guidelines.
What do you think? This information made me take a closer look at how I shop and what we eat… Not even because I’m diabetic, but just because I want my family to be as healthy as we possibly can.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What does living well with diabetes look like for you?
Tried changing my way of eating, lost weight and still had to go on tablets. My levels are stable though – between 5.3 and 6.1 – enjoying my new way of life.
Well… Sharon, that’s living well with diabetes, the rest is history! Well done.
I am Type 2 and lost 40kg from 110kg, gained muscle, full of energy and feeling 10 years younger! What I eat is part of living well with diabetes.
It sucks big time. But taking it day by day. Some days are cool, but some are just hell.
Totally sucks. Got neuropathy from my ankles to my toes! Sugar down from mid 16s to between 8 and 12. Doc wants to put me on insulin but I don’t want to. Staying positive and fighting hard!
After taking control of my diabetes myself, i.e. testing throughout the day and increasing my insulin to where I needed it, I’m happy to report I tend to stay between 4 and 8 with a couple of hiccups here and there when I hit 12 or 9 – but nowhere close to 16 as before… Anton, I fought insulin injections too. But it works and I feel so much better. The fight against insulin is not worth it if you are damaging your body…
Celeste Smith is no stranger to gestational diabetes: she’s had it twice, including during her pregnancy with now-five-year-old twins Connor and Adam. We find out what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.
Is there a reason you’re so happy to share this very personal story?
I want to educate, encourage and motivate women with gestational diabetes, and prevent other women from having to go through what I and many others had to endure.
How did you find out you had gestational diabetes?
My first pregnancy was stillborn: Noah was born at 38 weeks. I didn’t know I had gestational diabetes until after Noah was born. We suspected with my family having diabetes that I could get it, but my doctor at the time never picked it up. When I wanted to fall pregnant again, my new doctor Dr Jansen immediately tested for glucose tolerance before I fell pregnant, and then again after I fell pregnant. That’s how we found out I had gestational diabetes again.
What were your symptoms?
What’s tricky about gestational diabetes is that it goes from nothing to full-blown diabetes very quickly. It’s only when you’re pregnant, so there’s no warning beforehand. The symptoms I had were swollen hands and feet, bad circulation, pins and needles in the hands, and constant thirst – I was drinking a lot of water.
Does diabetes run in the family?
Yes – my late mother had Type 2 diabetes, and three of my sisters and my brother have diabetes (half of my eight siblings, in fact!) None of my family recognised my symptoms, but none of us were looking for them: you put your faith in the doctor, that’s what doctors are there for.
What did you do to manage your gestational diabetes?
During my pregnancy with the twins, I was put on Metformin and later insulin. I also had to have monthly HbA1c tests and test my blood sugar seven times a day: when I woke up, before each meal, after each meal and before I went to bed. My fingers had so many holes in them; I didn’t know where to prick myself! I went to a dietician, which was helpful, we discussed good eating habits and made a lot of changes – we started eating more steamed foods and not so much starch (like potatoes, bread and pasta). And I started exercising. My diabetes doctor, Dr Dave, told me I had to exercise every day, even when I was tired after working all day.
What advice would you offer to women with gestational diabetes?
Listen to your doctors, stick to your eating plan and exercise a little bit every day. Stay focused: this is for the health of your babies. It helps that you just have to stay focused for nine months, and then the reward at the end is breathtaking. My boys were big for twins (2.8kg/each at 35 weeks) and healthy. I’ll never forget how relieved I was to hear both babies crying in the delivery room. They were both crying at the same time, and the doctor said: “Wow, they sound like a choir!”
What makes your life sweet?
I could say sunsets and sunrises, I could say my religion or even cupcakes and chocolates. But my husband and three boys are the light of my life, and sharing everything with them makes my life so sweet.
Are dietary supplements really necessary if you have diabetes? Nicole McCreedy asks the experts.
Like many other people with diabetes, you may be wondering whether you need to take supplements to help manage your condition. Dietary supplements can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other plants, amino acids (the building blocks of protein) or a combination of the above. They can be in pill, capsule, powder or liquid form.
Despite some of the claims being made, there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that any dietary supplements can help prevent or manage Type 2 diabetes. That said, dietary supplements may provide extra nutritional benefit to people with special health problems, including diabetes. In such cases, they are usually recommended when there is a specific lack of something in the body.
Do: Eat correctly
It’s important to try and get the nutrition your body needs from a balanced diet. Making healthy food choices and choosing fruit, vegetables and whole grains over carbohydrates, refined sugars and foods high in saturated fats can make a big difference. Compared with supplements, whole foods provide a variety of different nutrients for health in one package, whereas single vitamin supplements are most often for a single purpose. An apple, for example, contains vitamin C, fibre, and antioxidants – all in one crunchy package!
Dr Claudine Lee, a GP from Hilton, says that following a balanced and healthy diet is essential. “If you think you’re not getting the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet, consult with your GP whether it is necessary to take a supplement,” she advises. Eating correctly, being physically active and taking your prescribed medication is vital for maintaining good control of blood sugar levels to avoid serious complications like strokes, heart and kidney disease, limb amputation and blindness.
Don’t: Go it alone
Talk with your doctor. That is the first step in deciding whether or not to use a dietary supplement. He or she can discuss the possible benefits of dietary supplements, and check that any supplements you take will not interact dangerously with your medications.
Be sure to list any dietary supplements you take whenever you tell your doctor or any other healthcare professional about your medications. Most importantly, keep in mind that a dietary supplement is not a replacement for the diabetes treatment and care advised by your doctor.
So who could benefit from a vitamin supplement?
- Those on low calorie diets, who do not eat a variety of foods.
- Those following vegan diets.
- Those with certain food allergies, kidney disease or diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that interfere with nutrient digestion or absorption.
- Pregnant women.
An A to Z of supplements and their benefits
Ask the expert: Andrea Jenkins, nutritionist.
“The following supplements have been shown to improve blood sugar control or limit diabetic damage.”
Carnitine (L-carnitine), a nutrient made from amino acids that helps the body turn fat into energy, has been found to be deficient in people with diabetes. Almonds, egg and cottage cheese are rich in this nutrient.
Antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of diabetic complications. Choose brightly coloured fruits and vegetables in smoothies, salads and soups to ensure a variety of antioxidants.
Digestive enzymes help ensure that mineral uptake is strong and can aid the management of diabetes. Pre- and probiotics are also helpful to maintain digestion and immunity.
Lipids and essential fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and can help to relieve many of the complications associated with diabetes.
Magnesium, common in leafy green vegetables, is frequently lacking in people with Type 2 diabetes, as is chromium. Brewers yeast, mushrooms and non-refined grains all contain chromium. Zinc improves insulin function, and potassium (found in all fruits and vegetables), can improve insulin sensitivity.
A vitamin B complex improves the metabolism of glucose, and vitamins C and E can improve eye health.
Remember that dietary changes are important to treat diabetes successfully. Many foods can have a positive impact on blood sugar, for example artichokes, garlic, nuts, onions, olives, cinnamon, blueberries, avocado and fenugreek. Try to include some (or all!) of these in your next meal…
Ask the expert: Faaiza Paruk, dietician
“Some people believe that by taking a supplement they won’t need to exercise or take any medication. This is untrue. You need a balanced diet as well as exercise to help control your sugar levels. A balanced diet includes five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, a low intake of salt and fat, lean meat and complex carbohydrates found in foods such as brown rice, potatoes, beans and lentils.”
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.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
How do you treat yourself when you feel like something sweet?
I only have a tiny taste, seems to work for me, but then I don’t really have a sweet tooth.
Very difficult question 🙁
Jungle Oats Light snack bar or Canderel sweets… Sweet enough and good.
Any sweet fruit that is in season! For now grapes and mangoes work for me.
Lehuma, fruits do contain a lot of sugar – especially grapes and mango. Remember to have small portions.
Yes I know, Sharon, hence I only eat them as a treat when I feel like something sweet!
Two blocks of Lindt 70% dark chocolate.
Wow! I thought I was the only one who had this craving for sweet things. I eat ice-cream once in a while. I was really feeling bad about it.
We chat to Ishay Govender, acclaimed foodie writer, about her love of cooking and how to make Indian food just as tasty – but a little healthier.
You have a family history of diabetes – have you been tested yourself?
I get my blood sugar and cholesterol tested once a year – every year. Because I’m aware that Type 2 diabetes is often a hereditary condition, I’m very conscious of my health and how food contributes to my wellbeing. In traditional homes there’s an emphasis on food and family as a way of expressing love, and I know I’ve inherited that from my mother and grandmother – sharing food with people is my way of expressing that love.
Have you made any changes to your diet because you know Type 2 diabetes runs in the family?
I’ve learnt to alter things slightly so that they’re healthier but still have lots of flavour. When we first found out that my mom was diabetic I did a lot of research, and made sure she went to a dietician and found out specifics of how to change her cooking style. That said, we grew up in a very healthy household so the changes weren’t too difficult.
What advice would you offer to people who are struggling to eat a healthy diet?
I think the most important thing is to accept and make peace with the fact that you have diabetes – it doesn’t make sense to fight it. Also, food should never be about restriction, it’s about enjoyment. Change the spotlight from focusing on what you can’t have to what you can enjoy. It’s a great time to explore flavours, textures and a sense of fun in the kitchen.
Have you learnt any ‘tricks’ to make traditional Indian food a little healthier?
A few! Here are the main ones:
- Cook with less oil – it is possible, especially if you use olive oil cooking spray.
- Don’t eat double starch (i.e. rice and potato curry, or curry and roti)
- Cook vegetables for a shorter period of time so that they keep some of their goodness – things like okra and butternut don’t have to be cooked to mush.
- Rethink vegetables – they don’t only have to be pickled or curried, they can be fresh with interesting dressings. I try to include half a salad in a meal, with a yoghurt dressing (plain low fat yoghurt with toasted cumin seeds, mint and lemon zest – delicious!)
- I only use baby potatoes with their skins on – they’re low GI and the skin has fibre.
- Brown rice is so much healthier than white rice – it’s full of fibre and has a lovely nutty flavour. You also need less rice because it fills you up more.
- Spices and herbs are a diabetic’s best friends! They add such flavour and zest, and you can experiment with different combinations to make a dish more interesting.
What makes your life sweet?
The pleasure of enjoying food and food travel with my husband. Cotton pyjamas and fresh linen. The knowledge that even someone with a ‘soft’ voice like mine, can make a difference using it.
Get in touch with Ishay: @IshayGovender on Twitter / Instagram / Vin
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From our community: “Sometimes it feels like I’m constantly trying to juggle what I want to eat and what I should be eating. Are there certain foods I must include in my diet because I’m diabetic?” Gracie Monaheng
The term “superfood” has become very popular in the language of food and health. We know that Mother Nature offers a wonderful selection of healthy foods, but research has yet to prove any of them magical. No single food, no matter how “super,” can take the place of the important combination of nutrients from a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Some tests to help you decide whether a certain food is worth trying:
- How does it taste? No food is worth eating if it doesn’t taste good. There are plenty of options to choose from that offer both health benefits and flavour.
- Where was it grown? Has it had to travel long distances from where it was grown to where it was sold?
- How much does it cost? Has its “super” title brought with it a “super” price tag?
- Has it been researched? Check with your healthcare team.
- What value does it add to my overall diet? Variety is an important measure of diet quality, but bear in mind that adding variety doesn’t necessarily mean trying wildly new things: even just a slight change can wake up your taste buds.
Think positive when planning your diet — focusing on foods to add, rather than avoid. Aim to include*:
- Omega-3 rich foods: like salmon, mackerel, pilchards, tuna, canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.
- Leafy green vegetables: like spinach, kale, lettuce and bok choi. These powerhouse foods are low in kilojoules and total carbohydrate.
- Wholegrains: easily trump their paler, refined counterparts. Choose brown or wholewheat options for a source of protein, fibre and B vitamins.
- Berries: sweet, yet low in calories and packed with antioxidants, vitamins and fibre.
- Nuts: plenty of flavour, very versatile and with a good dose of fibre and selenium. Although they are high in fat and calories, a few nuts go a long way to adding taste to all kinds of meals.
- Legumes: delicious, low in fat, high in fibre and rich in protein.
*As with all foods, you need to work these into your individual meal plan in appropriate portions.
So what’s on the plate of a diabetic?
Many diabetics have a challenge keeping their glucose levels controlled. Remember that a combination of the following 3 factors ensures good glucose control:
- Use of medication (oral meds or insulin injections)
When it comes to diet, most diabetics are familiar with the “AVOID” list of foods. Sugar, sweets and chocolates, sugary cooldrinks, cakes, pastries, biscuits, ice cream and puddings are the most popular. If you’re a diabetic and continue consuming the above list then you are literally accelerating the chances of complications of diabetes – blurred vision, kidney failure, sores on feet etc.
However there are many who are compliant to the “AVOID” list yet may still find elevated sugar levels. Many years of clinical experience of working with diabetics has allowed me to create a shortlist of other foods that are most likely spiking sugar and you are not even aware they are the cause.
These are 100% fruit juice, dried fruit, energy drinks, energy bars, muesli (containing nuts and dried fruit), popcorn and rusks.
Juices and dried fruits are a concentrated source of natural sugar resulting in blood sugar elevation. Most energy drinks are loaded with sugar and are not suitable for diabetics. Energy bars tend to be marketed as low fat however that is not sugar free.
The key to remember is that a diabetic should be aware of all foods that elevate bloods sugar levels. Grains, fruit and vegetables are all healthy but they need to be eaten in the correct portions to keep sugar controlled. Protein helps to stabilise sugar and thus an extra serving of meat / fish / chicken / egg / cold meat etc. will not elevate glucose as much as an additional slice of bread / rice / potato.
The magic to a diabetic’s diet lies in the correct proportion of carb to protein at meals and snacks and to ensure correct portions at every meal and snack.
Omega 3 available from tuna, sardine, salmon and mackerel is an essential fatty acid that is protective towards cardiovascular health and is anti-inflammatory. Due to diabetics being at high risk of heart disease omega 3 supplements are highly recommended. Make sure that you use good quality omega 3 that is heavy metal free.
So my message in a nutshell would be – it’s not just about “no sugar”
Rather, it’s about getting the carb – protein balance. Remember to test your glucose regularly and at different times of day. This enables you to monitor your control throughout the day. Test your sugar before a meal or 2 hours after a main meal. Keep a record of your glucose values.
At Easy Health Wellness we assist our clients by teaching them how to exchange carbs and to count carbs to ensure that they always are in balance at each meal and snack, and they can enjoy variety in their eating plans.
Remember: The diabetic way of eating is a very healthy way of eating, for all of us!
Recent research suggests that a certain kind of surgery may “cure” Type 2 diabetes. We find out more, and give you the facts.
One of the experts in the field of gastric bypass surgery is Professor Tess van der Merwe, the president of the South African Society for Obesity and Metabolism, who have been sharing information about the surgery. We found out what it could mean for Type 2 diabetes, then asked our experts to weigh in on the topic.
Is this surgery a cure for Type 2 diabetes?
Gastric bypass surgery has been used to help obese people lose weight since it was first performed 20 years ago. But now there is new research that this same surgery (specifically a type called “laparoscopic Roux–en–Y gastric bypass”) could cause Type 2 diabetes to go into long-term remission. What does this mean? Type 2 diabetes could be “paused” for a number of years. An international study shows that about 90% of obese patients with Type 2 diabetes who go for this surgery have normal blood sugar and no evidence of diabetes for three to fifteen years.
Is it a cure? No. But it is possibly a very long break from a chronic condition.
Some might say that any surgery that causes very overweight people to lose weight will have a good effect on blood sugar, but experts say the difference can be seen before the weight is lost. Professor Francesco Rubino (a leader in surgery for Type 2 diabetes) was in Johannesburg for the 3rd Centres for Metabolic Medicine and Surgery Workshop. He said that a few days after a gastric bypass, patients with Type 2 diabetes show normal blood sugar levels, even before any weight has been lost.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Bariatric surgery is becoming an important part of the treatment of diabetic patients with a BMI over 35. But although the results with this surgery are very good, it is still an invasive procedure with potential complications. It should not be considered a shortcut to weight loss and diabetes improvement, but a last resort after a low calorie diet and structured exercise programme has failed.”
What if the Type 2 diabetic ate badly and didn’t exercise, and returns to this same lifestyle – will the surgery still work?
The surgery doesn’t just help the patient by making their stomach smaller. It also triggers changes to the hormones, the appetite and the metabolism, so that long-term change is possible. But it is not a magical cure – the patient has to be ready to make changes to their diet and exercise. As Prof. van der Merwe points out, “There is not a single treatment in medicine that will be immune to an uncooperative patient.” In other words, if the patient goes back to a diet of fast food and no exercise, the same problems will return. One of the ways they guard against this in the Centres of Excellence (where they do the surgery) is by coaching the patient to start new, positive habits. They have a team of experts to help with this.
Ask the expert: Genevieve Jardine, dietician
“It is my opinion that gastric bypass surgery may be a good option for those who have a high BMI (above 35) and have tried for many years to lose weight. If they are managed well after surgery and take this opportunity to start over, it could mean a second chance at health. It is important to remember, though, that it still comes down to diet and exercise. Lifelong lifestyle changes are still the foundation of good diabetes management.”
How extreme is the surgery?
The surgery is minimally invasive. It is also known as laparoscopic surgery, keyhole surgery or bandaid surgery because the cuts made are so small – on average 0.5 to 1.5 cm. The doctor uses images on TV screens to magnify the surgery so they can see what they need to do.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Although the procedure is minimally invasive there are still some potentially serious complications. The patient’s decision to have this surgery must not be taken lightly.”
Is the surgery covered by medical aids?
That depends on how urgently you need it. In order to work that out, doctors look at your BMI (Body Mass Index), which outlines whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight (see the box on this page). Diabetic patients with a BMI over 35 may be able to get the surgery covered if they have a motivation letter from a Metabolic Centre for Excellence, and if they are on the right medical aid option. There is usually a 20 to 30% co-payment that the patient would have to pay.
Have there been any local studies?
A South African study based at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital tracked 820 patients who had not been able to lose weight for up to 18 years before they had surgery. Three years later, 88.5% of the patients who had diabetes at the time of the surgery still had normal blood sugar levels.
Is there anyone it won’t work on?
This surgery is only an option for Type 2 diabetics who are very overweight – with a BMI greater than 35. They are doing research on lower BMI’s as well.
Want to find out more?
How to work out your BMI
There are many websites (http://www.smartbmicalculator.com/) that calculate BMI for you, but if you want to do it yourself, here’s what you need:
- Your weight.
- Your height in metres.
- A piece of paper and a calculator!
First, find out the square of your height in metres (your height times your height, i.e. 1,5m x 1,5m).
Then do this sum: (Weight in kg) divided by (square of height in metres)
You should get a number between 18.5 and 40.
- Less than 18.5 means you are underweight.
- 18.5 to 25 means you are at a healthy weight.
- 25 to 30 means you are slightly overweight.
- More than 30 means you are very overweight (obese).