Questions and answers about the best diabetes diet.
It’s one of the questions we get asked at Sweet Life all the time. Do I have to change my lifestyle – and my diet – to manage Type 2 diabetes?
Well, that depends. Most of the time, Type 2 diabetes is caused directly or indirectly by issues of diet and lifestyle – it’s sometimes called a ‘lifestyle disease’. That said, there is a strong genetic component, so it’s not helpful to think that you ‘gave yourself diabetes’. That kind of attitude isn’t going to help you live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.
Take a close look at your lifestyle. Do you think it’s one of the reasons you were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes? Do you eat a lot of fried, fatty food? Is there enough fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet? Do you eat a lot of processed food or refined carbohydrates? Do you eat large portions, even if you’re no longer hungry? If so, it might be time for a lifestyle revamp. Take a look at Sweet Life’s Ask the Dietician articles for advice on a healthy diabetes diet.
Family with diabetes
One of the hardest things for newly diagnosed diabetics is making the changes necessary for their health, while still being part of the family. For many people, family meals are an important part of the day, and having to either eat a different variety of a meal or eat at different times or in a different way (a plate of food instead of sharing from communal plates, for example) is a difficult adjustment. Some families are fantastic at supporting the newly diagnosed, others find it too much of a challenge. Sweet Life has written about the challenges of family life with diabetes in our Partner’s Corner articles – you can find out more about families with diabetes here.
Remember that it’s important to sit down and explain to your family why you need to make certain changes, and how they can benefit from them too. Those who have adopted a healthier lifestyle – one that’s rich in fresh food and regular exercise – not only see the effects in their blood sugar results, but in their overall wellbeing.
Have you had to change your lifestyle because of diabetes?
Not sure what to make for dinner? Let us help! Check out our delicious free diabetes-friendly recipes to get ideas for dinner that are tasty, healthy and good for people with diabetes (and all those without diabetes!)
You’ll find recipes for:
- Spinach and Leek Pie
- Grilled Boerie, Cauli Mash and Relish
- Korean Beef Lettuce Wraps
- Baba Ganoush with Tortilla Crisps
- Guilt-free Baked Chicken
- Hearty Beef and Bean Soup
- Delicious Chicken Barley Salad
All with nutritional information to ensure you know the carbohydrate count, protein and fibre in each dish.
Looking for a specific diabetes recipe? Let us know!
And don’t forget to check out our free diabetes cookbook, which you can read online or download and print out.
Here’s to healthy, delicious, diabetes-friendly meals!
I’d like to introduce a new contributor to Sweet Life: one of my favourite Instagram feeds, Tracy Sanders. Also known as @type1tracy. Tracy has Type 1 diabetes, but that doesn’t stop her from doing anything in life… Check out what she has to say, below, on a solo trip to Italy.
H O N E S T Y 💭H O U R: Firstly, I just want to say whatever you want to do, whatever you dream of, or whatever adventure you seek. You can do it. With diabetes. Without diabetes.
Secondly, this isn’t an inspirational “Diabetes can’t stop you from living your dreams” message, let’s be potently honest, it sure as hell can. If you choose to passively sweep through this life ignoring diabetes, your body, it’s messages, type one will create walls and obstacles.
You have to be practical💪. You have to take charge💥. You have to apply yourself and take responsibility. Take on responsibility WITHOUT resentment. 🙏Without wishing otherwise, “I wish I didn’t have diabetes, I wish I could be lucky like my friends who don’t have to inject”. It is important to acknowledge these thoughts💭, be intensely curious about them and their origins, and let them go.
Taking responsibility does not mean aiming for perfection (it does not exist). It’s about refusing to let numbers define you🚫, putting effort 💪🏼into working FOR your numbers and looking after your mental health too: patience, self-love and kindness, forgiveness, gratitude.
Being alone in Italy, it dawned on me the kind of responsibility that I was carrying with me.🙈 If I had a low, the only person I could rely on was myself.
The thoughts of mid-sleep hypoglycemia developing into seizures did creep into my mind. 🤔I have never had such before, but this does not mean it’s not possible. It just means I better make 100% sure it doesn’t happen as there will be no one to run into my room to help me. Careful bolusing, dinner well before I sleep, glucose sweets🍬 always on hand & at my bedside. Small practicalities that make all the difference. But I had gelato🍦, I had pasta🍝, I skipped dinner, and ate until my tummy was bursting😂 I had some nasty BGs and a lot of good ones
Yes you can be free, you can explore, you can run that event, you can lower your HBA1C, you can have a beautiful healthy pregnancy. But you first need to have a RAW and HONEST conversation with yourself. How can you make a change, take charge and free yourself of any little bits of a victim mentality that can lurk in the setting of chronic disease?
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “I don’t understand the whole ‘low carbs high fat or high protein’ idea – how do carbs, fat and protein work together? Is there a happy middle ground, or does it need to be all or nothing?” Wessel Jones
To understand what all the fuss is about, we need to look at the history of diabetes treatment. Treating diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) by lowering carbohydrates (carbs) has come and gone out of fashion over the last century. This debate is not a new one and it is probably not going to go away.
Before the invention of insulin, the only way for a diabetic to survive was to cut out the foods (carbs) affecting blood glucose. With the advent of insulin, the focus switched from lowering carbs to lowering fat to help reduce heart disease. Fast forward a couple of decades and we can see that we have failed in reducing obesity, diabetes or heart disease. It’s not as simple as just diet: it’s about physical activity, stress, diet and environment.
How do carbs work in the body?
What is quite simple is that carbs cause blood sugar to rise and the more carbs you eat, the higher the blood sugar goes. If a person wants to control their blood sugar, it’s a very good idea to reduce carbs. The big question is: how low do you go? A “low carbohydrate diet” can have anything from 20g to 130g of carbohydrate per day.
Remember: One portion of carb (a medium apple, a slice of bread) = 15g carb
The amount of carbs depends on the individual, their control, their medication and their weight. There is a growing amount of scientific evidence that low carb diets improve glucose control and help with weight loss.
Where do fat and protein fit in?
When carbs are cut, the amount of protein or fat (or both) go up. And this is where the debate heats up. The concern is not the low carb, but the increase in saturated fat or fat in general. Remember that not all fat is the enemy and there are good fats that play a very important role in the body.
A benefit of protein and fat is that in the immediate, they do not cause the same spikes in blood sugar. When you lower carb intake you have an immediate blood sugar lowering effect. When this happens, and you have fewer spikes and dips in blood sugar, your appetite is better controlled. The fuller you feel, the less likely you are to snack and the fewer kilojoules you consume. The fewer kilojoules you consume, the more likely you are to lose weight.
The problem with the low carb approach is that, like everything else, it needs to be a lifestyle. When you add carbs back into your diet you will put on weight, especially if you have increased your fat and/or protein. You can’t have it all: full fat products and also carbs. The most important goal is to increase your vegetable intake and try to eat as close to nature as possible. Eat foods in their most original form.
When it comes to deciding on the right ratio of carbs : fat : protein, work with a dietician. It may take time to find your correct balance and you need to be monitored properly with blood tests and possible medication adjustments.
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From our community: “I get invited to lots of business meetings and workshops that are catered… Needless to say, none of the catering is healthy! What do I choose or how do I deal with this situation?” Rene Prinsloo.
Many of us consume at least half of our meals and snacks during work hours, which makes our food choices in catered meetings and workshops very important. Here are three steps to consider:
Step 1: Build your plate
- Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad. Look out for vegetable skewers, veggie sides, crudités (chopped raw veg), soup or salads.
- Next, add a healthy carbohydrate: either a wholegrain/high fibre starch or a piece of fruit.
Look out for:
- Wholewheat bread
- A seeded roll
- Wholewheat pita
- Wholewheat pasta/noodles
- Wholewheat wrap
- Brown or basmati rice
- Fresh fruit
- For long-lasting brain and body power, add a source of protein.
Some good protein choices:
- Lean cold meats
- Grilled chicken
- Mini meatballs
- Legumes like beans or lentils
- Fish like tuna, sardines or pilchards
- Cottage cheese
- Boiled eggs
Sauces like low-fat mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce, hummus or guacamole are optional but not essential.
- Deep-fried foods (like samoosas, spring rolls or vetkoek)
- Sausage rolls and pies
- Croissants, muffins or other pastries
Step 2: Choose portions with caution
- Be sure to start the day with a balanced breakfast and keep healthy snacks or a packed lunch on hand to avoid arriving at a meeting hungry.
- Use smaller plates and serving utensils to help manage how much you dish up.
- Sit far away from the food to avoid “picking”.
- Use the size of your hand to determine sensible and healthy portion sizes and curb overeating:
- A fistful is equal to one cup and can be used to estimate the portion size for carbohydrates (starches and fruits).
- The size of the palm of your hand can be used to estimate the portion size for protein. For a stew, curry or casserole this would be about half a cup.
- The tip of the thumb is equivalent to one teaspoon and can be used to estimate the portion size for all oils, butter or mayonnaise.
- The thumb can also be used to estimate the portion size for peanut butter or hard cheese.
Step 3: Carefully consider your choice of drink:
Some good choices are:
- Still or sparkling water
- Tea or coffee
- Vegetable juice
- Low-fat milk
- Sugar-free fizzy drinks
Ketones and ketoacidosis are often mentioned in relation to diabetes, but what are they exactly?
- Ketones result when your body burns fat for energy.
- They are formed when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to use glucose for fuel.
- A urine test is traditionally used to test for ketones: some blood glucose meters can also test for ketones.
- Ketones make the blood more acidic.
- Ketones in the urine combined with high blood sugar are a warning sign that your diabetes isn’t under control.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is caused by a combination of high blood sugar that causes a rise in ketones. The ketones are an indication of how acidotic the patient is, and the acidosis can be fatal.
- DKA is serious and can lead to diabetic coma.
- DKA is rare in Type 2 diabetics and more common in Type 1 diabetics with uncontrolled blood sugar.
- Symptoms of DKA are thirst, frequent urination, high blood glucose, constant tiredness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dry/flushed skin, breathing difficulty and confusion.
- If these symptoms ring a bell, see a doctor as soon as possible to get your blood sugar under control.
Sometimes the biggest challenge to eating a healthy diet is finding the right ingredients: here’s how Annora Mostert, the founder and group owner of Anja’s Pantry, and Alliyah Geldenhuys, who just opened Anja’s Pantry Plumstead, did just that.
Do you have a special interest in diabetes?
“It soon became clear that people with diabetes have the biggest need for healthy low carbohydrate and sugar-free food,” explains Annora. “So we involved trained nutritionists to guide us in what the right type of products should be for diabetics, and started to change the content of our pantry.” The result? All the products in Anja’s Pantry stores are now diabetic friendly. Some of the store owners also have close family members with diabetes, so as a team they work together to stock the right kind of products.
Do you think awareness is growing around healthy food alternatives?
“Absolutely! Social media is the biggest contributor creating awareness, but the awareness is now affecting policies. The research is so clear and the problem is so great that the South African government has followed the UK government in introducing a sugar tax next year on foods to try to curb the high sugar content in processed foods,” says Annora. As a result, all their stores offer a wide range of food products that are sugar-free and low carb so that those who want to avoid sugar can still have a variety of foods to choose from. “Our range of food products is now over 200 items with more being added all the time. This becomes a mini grocery store for the large percentage of the population that are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, those who have allergies or those who just want to lose weight while enjoying their food.”
How did you choose the location of Anja’s Pantry Plumstead?
Anja’s Pantry in Plumstead is right next door to a number of fast food restaurants. “We chose the location on purpose,” explains Alliyah, the owner of the store. “We want to provide healthier options to those in Plumstead and surrounds. It’s often difficult to prepare home cooked meals and so called ‘proper food’ with the fast paced lifestyles that many of us lead today. We end up simply settling for the quickest and easiest option available, but often these are unhealthy food choices. With our easy to prepare premixes and pre-prepared items such as pizza bases and meals, we are hoping to make it much easier for those wanting to enjoy a more nutritionally sound meal.”
Do you think there’s a particular need for healthy alternatives in the Muslim community?
“Yes! Traditional Muslim food is well known for being loaded with unhealthy fats, excessive carbohydrates and sugars. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol are rife within the Muslim community and have sadly become a way of life for many within the community. I think it’s possible to ‘eat yourself healthy’, and that if we can share this vision and all that it stands for it will change the lives of many and allow Muslims to re-think their food choices.”
Do you have any advice for those who are struggling with their diabetes?
“Living a sugar-free and low carb life shouldn’t be that difficult,” says Annora. “We know that it is more expensive since real food items aren’t mass produced and made with lots of chemicals, but it saves so much on unnecessary medical bills.” Alliyah agrees. “An important part of managing your condition is to eat healthy meals and steer clear of certain items. Always read labels and check the ingredients of items that you purchase, as product packaging can often be misleading!”
What makes your life sweet?
For Annora, it’s feeling healthy and eating without feeling guilty. For Alliyah: “My amazing family, who made the opening of this shop a reality. It would never have happened without their help, guidance and support.”
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From our community: “As the mom of a diabetic child, I’m constantly wondering what to make her that is delicious but won’t spike her blood sugar. Could you give me some basic guidelines please?” Bernadette Simons.
As a mother of three (constantly hungry) young boys I am kept on my toes when it comes to healthy eating. Although my children are not diabetic, I practice “diabetes-friendly” eating in my household. The bottom line is that you want your children to eat real, whole foods. This means no foods that are manufactured, processed and refined: time for a cupboard clear-out!
For children with diabetes, you need to make meals novel, colourful and exciting, while reducing refined carbohydrates and harmful fats. It’s important to break away from the rut of cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and one-pot meal for dinner. Parents need to constantly focus on increasing fresh foods and not wait for dinner to try and make up the daily vegetable intake…
Here are some menu options:
- Bring back eggs for breakfast! Make eggs more interesting and nutritious by adding vegetables and baking in a muffin tray as mini crustless quiches. Serve with chopped strawberries or other brightly coloured fruit.
- Try making your own cereal out of nuts and seeds, coconut shavings and some rolled oats. This can be eaten with plain yoghurt or milk. Use vanilla, cinnamon and half a grated apple to sweeten it naturally.
- Move away from a daily sandwich for lunch. Try choosing other low GI starch like baby potatoes or corn on the cob.
- Add some protein – chicken drumsticks, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, homemade fish cakes or cheese. Remember protein makes you feel fuller for longer and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.
- Add a small amount of colourful fruit like a fruit kebab or fruit salad.
- All lunchboxes should have vegetables! If your child doesn’t like salad, give some cucumber and carrot sticks, baby tomato kebabs or cucumber sandwiches (two slices of cucumber with cheese or cream cheese in the middle).
- Most traditional South African dinners are one-pot meals like curry, stew, cottage pie or spaghetti bolognaise that are high in starch and low in vegetables. Try adding more vegetables to stew, curries and mince. Make the mashed potatoes with added cauliflower, add lentils to brown rice, and use baby marrow or aubergine instead of pasta.
- Always serve dinner with vegetables on the side. Raw carrot sticks, sliced cucumber or snap peas are kid-friendly. Children need to get used to eating vegetables that are not hidden in food but out in plain sight!
Remember: Children learn eating habits from their parents so you need to set the example. Tastebuds are influenced early on by processed foods with hidden sugars and fats, so it’s up to you to encourage your kids to eat – and love – real food.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What’s the secret to a happy life with diabetes?
To not make it an issue. Treat it and forget it. Life is too short.
Most people suffer some type of illness, but we all have to just deal with it and get on with our lives.
Sorry to all those optimistic people out there… but there is no happy life with diabetes 🙁
Finding the right balance… While diabetes is not a good thing to have, one certainly does still have a happy life. Be informed… and that goes for your spouse and family members too.
Support and understanding from the people closest to you makes it easier to live with.
When Vickie de Beer’s son Lucca was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she started a journey that ended with her publishing an award-winning cookbook and lifestyle guide: The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics.
Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when Lucca was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
That insulin takes much longer to reach the blood stream than we were told. I had a lot of anxiety about Lucca going into a hypo after eating, and it was completely unnecessary. I also wish I knew what a huge impact carbohydrates had on his blood sugar! We did carb count and test and inject diligently, but there were always unexplained highs and lows that frustrated me and made Lucca feel awful.
What inspired you to write The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics?
We have always, from the first day, taken Lucca’s diabetes seriously. We did everything the doctors and dietician told us. We adapted our diet to eating only low GI foods and tested Lucca’s blood sugars diligently. Every time we went to the doctor they congratulated us on his great HbA1c result and said that we were doing everything possible for Lucca’s health.
The doctor always said that the next step would be to control the extreme fluctuations between high spikes and lows in Lucca’s blood sugar. I could never get clear information on how we were supposed do that though, apart from doing what we were already doing. About a year ago I met Prof Tim Noakes at the book launch of Real Meal Revolution. We significantly reduced our carbohydrate intake, but did not remove carbohydrate completely from our diet.
I didn’t understand how we could remove all the carbohydrates from Lucca’s diet as suggested by the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) movement. We were taught that children needed carbohydrates for energy, growth and brain function and I also knew that Lucca needed to get insulin. If we took away the carbohydrates how would he get the insulin he needed? I still gave the children small amounts of Low GI carbs like brown rice and brown pasta with their evening meals. Lucca’s blood sugar did not improve significantly – I would say that we were on a moderate carb diet.
A few months ago I made contact with a group in the USA that follow a low carb high protein (not high fat) diet with great success in managing steady blood glucose levels in Type I diabetic children. This way of managing diabetes is based on a book: Dr Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution. Dr Bernstein has been a Type 1 diabetic for 69 years. After reading his book and studying various other low carb websites and books, we decided to change the way we eat.
Do you have any tips for people who feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing their way of eating?
Do it gradually. We started with breakfast (because the boys love bacon!) and then did dinners – lunchboxes were the last!
What advice would you offer to people living with diabetes who are struggling?
Diabetes is in the details. The best tool is to test constantly and diligently. The bottom line is that cutting carbs makes diabetes easier to manage. All the hundreds of reasons I used to give to explain Lucca’s unstable sugar – the heat, stress, tiredness – it was always the carbs!
What makes your life sweet?
Hugs from my boys! Playing board games with them (and winning), swimming and braaing with them, reading with them… The fact that Lucca’s blood sugar is under control has changed our lives. We had a lot of anxiety in our life beforehand. Although we still test and inject diligently, the anxiety is gone. I think we have finally taken control of diabetes, and diabetes has lost its control over us.
Get in touch with Vickie: @Vickiefantastic on Twitter
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From the community: “Being both diabetic and pregnant makes it difficult to know what to eat – there are so many things I have to avoid! And I’ve been craving sweet things. Any advice?” Sameshnie Naidoo.
The diet for pregnant women with diabetes should be a healthy, well-balanced eating plan aimed at supporting the pregnancy and promoting blood sugar control. This is essential for the wellbeing of both mom and baby.
Of course, pregnancy and diabetes means that there are more foods on the “Do Not Eat” list, as your normal diabetic diet has a new list of things to avoid. But bear in mind that it’s only for nine months, and that it’s for the best possible cause: your healthy child.
Foods to avoid:
Here’s a list of foods that you shouldn’t eat when you’re pregnant because they pose a potential food safety risk and might make you ill or harm your baby.
- Soft cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, and blue-veined cheeses unless the label says they are made with pasteurised milk.
- Processed cold meats or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
- Refrigerated paté or meat spreads (canned options can be eaten).
- Refrigerated smoked seafood unless as an ingredient in a cooked dish e.g. a casserole.
- Raw or partially cooked eggs and dishes that contain these e.g. homemade mayonnaise.
- Raw or undercooked meat and poultry
- Unpasteurised juice
- Raw sprouts
- Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish
- The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends pregnant women avoid fish high in mercury e.g. shark, swordfish, marlin. And limit intake of fish and shellfish lower in mercury e.g. prawns, canned light tuna and salmon, to 360g or less per week.
The good news? You don’t need to give up caffeine entirely. The AND recommends keeping your intake below 300mg/day, which is about one or two servings of coffee or tea. And of course rooibos is naturally caffeine free, so you can have as much as you like!
Being both diabetic and pregnant can feel restrictive from a diet point of view… When you’re lacking motivation, just remember that everything you eat your baby is eating too: so put down the junk food and pick up a carrot!
A note on cravings:
Whether it’s pickles and ice cream or other odd combinations, both cravings and food aversions are common during pregnancy. Although the exact cause is unknown, taste perceptions may change with hormonal changes. Cravings are generally harmless*, unless foods you crave replace more nutritious foods, or all you want is junk food. If broccoli loses its appeal, for example, substitute another vegetable that you enjoy and tolerate.
*Cravings for non-food substances like sand or chalk (a condition called pica) can be dangerous as they contain lead or other toxic substances. If you’re craving non-food items, consult your doctor.
Ask the dietician: Keri Strachan
We recently published an article called The basic diabetic pantry, which focuses on a dietary pattern rich in wholegrains / high fibre grains and starches, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol consumption; and lower in refined grains, red/processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Some of our readers asked if we could provide the low carb alternative to the diabetic pantry, so here it is!
Low carb pantry guidelines
When you start a low carb lifestyle, you’ll be struck by how you no longer visit certain parts of the supermarket, only the areas of fresh produce, and limited packaged items. When buying real food there is no need for a label, but there are some that are still worth checking: this will help you to identify which brands are better than others to suit your needs.
Buy basic food ingredients and cook from scratch and you are unlikely to be fooled into hidden carbs sneaking in. Here’s a basic list of what to eat:
- Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
- Fish (especially omega-3 rich such as sardines, pilchards, salmon, fresh tuna, salmon, trout)
- Free-range eggs
Vegetables and fruit
- Low carb veggies, excluding butternut, all potatoes, peas and corn
- Low carb nutrient dense fruit such as berries
- Full-cream milk
- Full or double-cream plain yoghurt (but in limited amount due to natural carb content)
Nuts and seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Olive oil (not for cooking)
- Macadamia nut oil
- Coconut oil and cream
- Lard (no vegetable oils)
- Canned tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Almond flour and coconut flour (but avoid replica foods too often, they are not as low carb as you think)
- Stevia, erythritol (but try to avoid sweetness)
- Coconut flakes/ desiccated coconut
- Pure herbs and spices e.g. paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley
- Mayonnaise made from non-vegetable oil e.g. macadamia, avocado
- Fresh herbs (rocket, basil, origanum)
Remember a few tips:
- Do not snack!
- Get enough fat to replace your carbs, and ensure that you last between meals without snacking
- Avoid over-eating protein
- Bulk meals with boldly colourful vegetables, herbs and spices
- Drink mostly water, limit milk through hot drinks
“My dad is a poorly controlled Type 2 diabetic, and he doesn’t seem to care. I keep telling him how serious his condition is and that he has to take care of himself, but he continues eating whatever he likes and says he’s too old to change. What can I do?” Celeste Damen.
It isn’t easy for people to hear that they have diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that cannot be cured: it has to be taken care of every day. People who have diabetes have to make some important changes in their lives, but if the change is forced on them, they may not want to do it.
This is what is probably happening with your dad. He most likely knows exactly how important it is to look after his diabetes, but might still be in denial or angry that this inconvenience has been brought into his life.
The fear you feel for your dad’s condition also projects to him, and he is probably trying to reassure you by giving you excuses that he is too old to change or that the situation is not that serious.
Instead of telling Dad what to do and being cross with him when he doesn’t do the right thing, you need to ask him what changes he is willing and able to make. Then encourage him to follow through on what the two of you have decided.
Diabetes has not only happened to him: it has happened to your whole family. This is something all of you have to accept. It’s a good idea to get the whole family to adopt healthy habits, so that there will be less temptation… Offer your dad help, but try not to be the Diabetes Police.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “My wife and I love having friends over for sundowners but never know what drinks to offer and what snacks to serve so that I can actually enjoy myself too. Any advice?” Riyaaz Benjamin.
Luckily, there is a way to enjoy (guilt-free) sundowners… It just takes a little planning. Let’s take a look at the when, what and where of it.
The main problem with sundowners lies with the timing. As the name suggests, they usually occur long after lunch and just before supper. This means that you may arrive hungry and tired with low blood sugar levels: a recipe for overeating, drinking (sugary) alcohol on an empty stomach, and filling up on unhealthy snack food. After sundowners, you may then go for supper, which means even more food and alcohol.
The key? Sundowners are best handled when prepared. Make sure you have an afternoon snack just before arriving (preferably one that contains protein to help stabilise blood sugar levels). Upfront, decide to either have the snacks as a replacement dinner (only a good idea if there are healthy snack options) or hold back and leave room for a light supper.
What is being dished up? The good news is that sundowner snacks are usually savoury and not sweet. The bad news is that savoury snacks – like chips and cream dip, sausage rolls and salty peanuts – are often high in starch and fat. Try to choose the healthiest options on the table, and don’t forget to dish up a plate rather than snacking so that you know exactly how much you’re eating.
Sundowners are also synonymous with cocktails (not the right choice of drink for anyone with diabetes!) When it comes to alcohol, good options are light beer, a wine spritzer made with Sprite Zero or soda water, or single spirit tots with diet mixers. Sparkling water with ice, lemon and cucumber is a refreshing drink if you’re not in the mood for alcohol.
Healthy snack ideas:
- Lean proteins like nuts, lean biltong and grilled strips of chicken or beef.
- Fresh vegetables like cucumber strips, baby carrots, baby tomatoes and celery sticks, served with a low-fat cottage cheese, avo or salsa dip.
The last thing to consider is where the sundowners are being held. If you’re hosting or going to a friend’s house, you can simply bring along what you would prefer to eat and drink. Restaurants can be more challenging, but easily overcome with a bit of forward planning. Call the restaurant beforehand and make sure that there are snacks or drinks on hand that you can enjoy. Most restaurants are more than willing to help – if not, at least you know and can plan for the evening.
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cold drink and a delicious snack as the sun goes down, it just means you need to forward plan a little to enjoy it!
Sweet Life editor and Type 1 diabetic Bridget McNulty shares her pregnancy story – and what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.
How long have you been diabetic?
I was diagnosed in October 2007… It was a very dramatic diagnosis: I was admitted to ICU for five days and was apparently only three days away from a diabetic coma because my blood sugar was so high.
Did you have to prepare to fall pregnant?
I told my endocrinologist ahead of time that my husband Mark and I were thinking of having a baby, and he gave me the go-ahead because my blood sugar was already well-controlled: my HbA1c results were 7.0 and below for the year before I fell pregnant. I also mentally prepared for the pregnancy, because I knew it would require a lot of discipline and that my diabetes would become even more of a full-time job than it already was!
How did having diabetes affect your pregnancy?
I had to be in extremely tight control throughout – HbA1c results of 6 and below (which I didn’t think was possible before I fell pregnant!) and blood glucose results of 7.8mmol/l or below an hour after eating… Where possible. I also had to test even more frequently than usual (up to 8 times a day). I had HbA1c tests every month and saw my endocrinologist every month, and I couldn’t indulge in pregnancy cravings like eating a whole tub of ice-cream! I had to be very strict with my diet. But it’s amazing how much easier it is to do when your motivation is the health of your baby.
How was the birth experience?
As smooth as I could have hoped for. I chose to have an elective C-section: it was either that or an induction, as all babies born to diabetic moms have to be born at 38 weeks. In the week before the birth my blood pressure started creeping up, and I was retaining a lot of water. Because diabetics are at greater risk of pre-eclampsia, my gynecologist decided to bring the birth forward two days, from the Monday to the Saturday. It was hugely exciting, and hugely nerve-wracking. Arthur, my baby boy, was born totally healthy and weighed in at a (very) healthy 4.5kg. We fell in love with him instantly.
What was it like having a young baby, with diabetes?
It was a real challenge in the early days. Breastfeeding plays havoc with blood sugar control, and causes really persistent lows. Sleep deprivation is tough to deal with, and it’s so overwhelming having a new baby and trying to learn how to be a parent that my diabetes kind of took a back seat for a while. I remembered to inject and test, but that was about it.
What do you think the biggest challenge of a diabetic pregnancy is?
Although 9 months doesn’t seem like that long at first, it feels like a really long time to be non-stop super-disciplined.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
You will feel so much better if you get your blood sugar under control. It is so worth it in terms of health and energy and general happiness to do what it takes to get good control. I know how hard it can be, but the reward is a healthy, happy life with diabetes – and that’s about as good as it gets.
What makes your life sweet?
My two sweet children, my wonderful husband, my awesome family and friends and the sweet life I’m living!