Sweet Life magazine
Posts about Sweet Life, a South African diabetes lifestyle magazine.
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For radio presenter and TV actor Kini Shandu, Type 2 diabetes gave him new meaning. Here’s what he has to say about his condition.
Kini Shandu is a radio presenter on one of KZN’s biggest radio stations, Gagasi FM, a TV personality on SABC’s biggest telenovela, uZalo, and the founder of Inqaba Media. He’s also a father of two and a Type 2 diabetic.
When were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2010 – six years ago now.
How did you cope with the diagnosis?
It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the new lifestyle, especially because I felt I was too young to be diabetic.
Has it become any easier with time?
Yeah, it has. It became easier once I came to accept that it was my new reality. Having family and friends who support me all the way makes a great difference.
What’s the hardest part about being diabetic for you?
The pressure of making sure I don’t default on my medication: having to keep my medication kit with me, even when I’m travelling. We are all human and we can forget, but this is a challenge I just have to face. Reminders on my cellphone help me a lot!
How do you balance a busy life with eating right and exercise?
I jog every morning and I try by all means to eat as clean as I can. There are times when I miss junk food, but knowing the damage it could do is enough to switch my brain straight to its senses.
You’re a radio presenter on Gagasi FM, do you talk about diabetes at all?
Yes, I do talk about it a lot. I’m fortunate to have Gagasi FM listeners who follow me closely: they know I’m diabetic and are very supportive. I also make sure I spread the word on every platform I get.
Could you tell us about your TV acting?
I play the character of Shaun, a lawyer, on the SABC1 telenovela, Uzalo, weekdays at 8:30pm. The character is the complete opposite of me, but I’m loving it and I’d like to do more TV gigs in the near future.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
Accept the situation and take it one step at a time. Diabetes is a silent killer, so take a stand and fight it. Surround yourself with people who love and support you.
What makes your life sweet?
The fact that I’m diabetic! Joking. I love my life, I live an awesome life, I live with no regret. I thank God for each and every day in my life: diabetes gave me a new meaning to life.
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
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
Yoga is not only a fantastic form of strengthening exercise, it’s also great for calming the mind – something most of us with diabetes need to do! Bridget McNulty finds out more.
As a diabetic, the one thing I hear over and over is that exercise is good for me. And it is! But sometimes exercise feels a bit too much like… well… hard work. Not so with yoga. I started doing yoga a few months ago and I’m totally hooked – it has just the right balance of strengthening, balancing and heart-racing poses, and I love that we get to meditate after each class. I asked yoga teacher Tasha Saha why she thinks yoga is particularly good for diabetics.
“As well as better fitness and cardiovascular health, yoga massages and stimulates the function of the internal organs, balances the endocrine system and has measurable effects on the release of stress hormones,” she says. “All of these are factors that affect blood sugar, so it’s no surprise that several major studies have shown that regularly doing yoga can significantly reduce blood sugar levels.” Another aspect of yoga that sets it apart from other exercise is that it increases body awareness, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight and to make wiser food choices.
But which yoga to choose? In general, hot yoga (Bikram) and flow yoga (Ashtanga) are more demanding, so it’s better to begin with a slower practice like Hatha or Iyengar. Some poses (especially those that are active in the abdominal area and lower back) are particularly good for diabetics because they target the pancreas, promoting better function and helping to lower blood sugar levels. “But a balanced yoga session will work holistically on every system in the body,” says Tasha, “as well as the mind and emotions too – lowering stress levels and helping the whole person towards balance.”
I can honestly say that my yoga practice has helped me feel not only stronger and fitter, but calmer and more able to take on the daily challenges of diabetes.
Want to give it a try? Many yoga studios offer free trial periods or classes to beginners. Most gyms also offer yoga classes at a fraction of the price of private classes.
When Roxanne and Derick de Villiers wanted to enroll their son Noah in pre-school, they didn’t think diabetes would be an issue. When it turned out it was, they turned the situation around.
Can you tell us about Noah’s diagnosis?
It was just before his 3rd birthday. When Noah got really sick and then diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, we were really emotional. Here was our little boy who had this huge change in his young life: nurses and needles – that’s a picture we will never forget. But we can promise you this: in the midst of those overwhelming emotions, your parental instinct to protect your child immediately kicks in and your mind opens up so much to take in all that you need to. There is an urgency to get on top of the changes and adapt as quickly as possible.
Has it become any easier with time?
It has, it really has. You know that old saying that time is a healer? We believe time is a teacher. Diabetes is now second nature and so much a part of life. Having other family members also educated about Type 1 diabetes has made it easier as well because they can also test and inject when necessary.
When did Noah start pre-school?
Noah actually started pre-school the January before he was diagnosed with Type 1. When the pre-school was informed about him being diagnosed, the principal and his class teacher were at the hospital and were really supportive about this change in his life. What really impacted our lives positively was that they were prepared to learn and take part in this process too.
Could you tell us about the school application process?
At Noah’s first pre-school in 2012, he was already enrolled ahead of being diagnosed. We then made a home move and Noah needed to move pre-schools too. The school we enquired at for enrolment was amazing. Applying for Grade R was a little bit different and more involved. They had never had an application that included full disclosure of the child having Type 1 diabetes. We had a few meetings with the Executive Head and we pressed on for the understanding that we (the school and parents) could put a fair process in place that would protect both the child and the school without discarding school laws.
We needed to be a voice for Noah, for other diabetic children to follow and especially for the parents of diabetic children who go through this worry and want to enroll their precious children at the schools of their choice. The Executive Head and Regional Head of Noah’s grade school were true blessings because they agreed to put the suggested process in place and were on board to becoming the forward thinking, proactive and progressive school that they are. A beautiful school/parent relationship exists now.
What advice would you offer to other parents about diabetes education in schools?
The education is ongoing. It is never a once-off. Urge the school to have more teacher / parent sessions to talk openly about Type 1 diabetes. Whether your medical support is private or public, involve the nurse, the pediatrician, or the professor looking after your child. There is a big need, a big want and a big drive for education in this area. Minds need to be changed about diabetes and its management within the school system.
What makes your life sweet?
For Noah, having control of the DSTV remote and the Smart Tab and for us, his parents, seeing him so confident and secure even though he lives with diabetes.
Photos taken at Noah’s current school, Curro Century City.
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!
Bridget McNulty finds out what reflexology is all about, and if there’s any chance it can help those with diabetes.
Before I went for a reflexology session, I didn’t know much about it. I knew it was more than a foot massage, but didn’t really see how pressing a few points on my feet could affect my health and wellness.
Reflexology, it turns out, is a therapy that uses specific finger, thumb and hand pressure techniques on the different reflex areas, or zones of the feet, to correlate with different organs of the body. A reflexologist can tell you a lot about your body by feeling for congestion and imbalances in the feet, which show up as tightness, sensitivity or grainy areas. They can also ‘read’ the feet: the shape of the feet, the valleys and peaks, and how they respond to pressure.
The South African Reflexology Society has been recognized by the medical profession, and all reflexologists have to register with the Allied Health Professions Council. But what does a reflexology session actually feel like? Well, at first it is a little uncomfortable. The therapist looks for areas of tension or imbalance, and these are rubbed or pressed until they loosen. It’s like having a really firm massage: not painful, but not necessarily soothing. It is deeply relaxing, though, an hour of having your feet worked on feels like a few hours of sleep, and Lulu Beyers, the therapist I went to, says she has a lot of insomniacs as patients!
Reflexology, like most alternative therapies, has to be given on a regular basis to really see the results and changes in the body – the changes are slow but can be very positive, especially when it comes to treating complications of diabetes, like numbness in the feet. There have been a number of studies done on diabetes and reflexology (including self-reflexology, like the example below). The studies are mainly in Korea and China, as reflexology is an accepted form of healing in the East. (It began in 2330BC in Egypt, then spread to India, and from there to China and Japan.) Many of these studies show that reflexology is helpful in improving peripheral neuropathy, especially tingling sensation and pain, as well as slightly lowering blood sugar – perhaps due to a reduction in stress from the relaxing nature of the treatments – and an improvement in fatigue and mood.
Whether this is because of the nurturing nature of the treatments, an improvement in blood circulation from the massaging movements of reflexology or because of the endocrine system (especially the pancreas) being activated through pressure points is still to be discovered. But there is certainly no harm in having reflexology as part of your diabetes programme. Think of it as putting your feet up on the diabetic table, made up of the right medication, a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Try out this simple self-reflexology at home:
Press on each of these glands of the endocrine system (pictured below) with the base of a ball point pen for a few minutes at least once a week.
Ask the expert: Andy Blecher, podiatrist
“In my opinion, having time out to put your feet up and have them massaged can be good for your overall wellbeing – and if there’s some evidence that it helps with circulation and peripheral neuropathy in diabetics then patients should give it a try.”
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!
Bridget McNulty goes for a reiki session to see what it can do for diabetics.
At first glance, reiki seems a little odd. How can it possibly help to have someone wave their hands over your body? What could this do for diabetes, really? But if you put your doubts aside for a minute, the effects of reiki can be quite profound.
To understand what reiki is, think back to the last time you stood in line at the bank, and someone came up behind you. Even though you couldn’t see the person, you could sense that they were in your space. This space is your energy field, and just like your body, the energy field becomes blocked from physical, emotional and mental experiences. These blockages can cause you to feel ill, or tired, or depressed – they literally block the flow of energy in your body. Reiki helps to unblock the energy field, which in turn unblocks the body.
So what does it feel like? Deeply relaxing. A reiki session generally begins with a conversation about whatever is bothering you, and then moves to the treatment, where you lie down and the healer moves their hands over your body. You’re fully clothed at all times, and while there may be some light pressing of the hands, it’s not a massage. Some people feel heat coming from the healer’s hands, others just feel relaxed and sometimes even sleepy. It is completely non-intrusive and actually very pleasant.
But what can it do for diabetes? That’s what I asked Debbie Caknis, the reiki healer I visited. “Reiki can help people with diabetes as historically it has been known to heal on the physical, emotional and mental levels of the personality,” she explained. “Therefore disease (or dis-ease, because the body is not at ease) is addressed on many different levels.” It’s not only a physical healing – emotionally you can begin healing stuck energy, and mentally you can learn how to cope with the management of the condition in a more positive way. “Reiki helps people to get to know their bodies and be able to respond to ailments in a conscious manner,” says Debbie.
What’s interesting here is the focus not just on the physical side of the condition, but also on the emotional and mental side. As all diabetics know, there’s a lot more to managing diabetes than just taking your medication, eating right and exercise. Reiki helped me to see my emotions around diabetes in a clearer way, and understand why I react the way I do to high and low blood sugar. It also took away a lot of stress, and we all know how badly stress affects blood sugar.
I left the session feeling calmer, more on top of my condition, and with a burst of fresh energy. In short, I was quite amazed what healing hands can do.
Want to give it a try? Go for a reiki session, or do a once-off course that enables you to do your own treatments at home.
Ask the expert: Ruth Scott, psychologist
“While it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the treatment options out there claiming to ‘heal’ you, many forms of alternative therapy can really help to calm the mind and therefore relax the body. How you feel about your treatment is almost as important as the treatment itself.”
It’s the highest mountain in Africa, but that didn’t stop Neil Rae – a Type 1 diabetic for 50 years – from wanting to climb it. We chat to Neil, 63, about his preparation, the climb itself, and life with diabetes.
How long have you been diabetic?
I was diagnosed on the 13th December 1964: over 50 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes for diabetics in my time – there’s a lot more we can eat, the technology to monitor blood sugar levels is a lot more advanced and the insulin pen sets are much more convenient. We’ve come a long way since the gas cylinder with a tin cup that I used to sterilise my glass syringes when I was at university!
What made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?
I grew up in Lesotho and I’ve always had a love for mountains. I don’t know how many decades ago, I said to myself I wanted to set a goal for my diabetes: to climb Kilimanjaro when I’d lived with it for 50 years. About 18 months ago I contacted Novo Nordisk, the people who manufacture my insulin, to ask if they’d like to partner with me. They were very excited to join the challenge. As you can see it’s been a long-term goal of mine…
What did you do to prepare?
I’ve always been a relatively fit person, and I do a lot of walking with my wife Shaye, in and around the streets of Johannesburg and in the Drakensberg. I was walking between 30 and 40km a week and over weekends doing long walks in Westcliff – they have a flight of 222 stairs built into the rock face, and with a heavy rucksack on your back it’s good training! I did the climb with my doctor, Dr Bruce Ilsely and David Broomfield from Novo Nordisk so as a team we were well prepared.
How did you know what to eat and drink while climbing, and how to balance your blood sugar?
Balancing blood sugar was obviously going to be a challenge – spending between 7 and 8 hours a day climbing up and up and up all the time. It was tricky to balance that amount of exercise with the food supplied by the people who organised the walk – we didn’t take any food with us. Normally my sugar is very well controlled, so the plan was to do very regular checks of my blood sugar levels, see what we were going to be given to eat and then decide how much insulin to take. It turned out that I didn’t eat very much – I became nauseous quite early on, once we were over 3500m.
What was the hardest part of the climb?
The hardest part for me were the ascents and descents because you had to climb up mountains and then down into valleys, and there was a lot of very rocky pathways – walking from rock to rock. Some days we went up and down two or three times in a day. We left Moshi on the Monday and we summited on the Thursday night/Friday morning. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the summit – I got up to about 5000m and my altitude sickness was so bad that Dr Bruce said to me, “If you carry on, you’re going to die”. Once I got back down to the base camp at 4600m, then I was fine: it wasn’t diabetes related at all.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
In my opinion, every diabetic who’s struggling has got to develop a lifestyle routine: get up in the morning, check your blood sugar, decide how much insulin you need and what you’re going to eat for the day. You have to have a definite lifestyle routine, and stick to it every day. Discipline is so important to a diabetic. If you don’t have the routine and don’t have the discipline, you’re not going to live with it for 50 years!
What makes your life sweet?
I’m very fortunate: I’m married to a lovely lady and I have two daughters and four grandchildren now. My family, my life and everything in it makes my life very sweet.
Type 1 diabetes used to be diagnosed in the young; Type 2, mostly in older people. But the picture is changing. Why? And what can we do about it? Carine Visagie asks the experts.
Since the 1980s, diabetes has rapidly increased – so much so that the global prevalence has nearly doubled since 1980, rising from 4.7% to 8.5% in adults. Over the past decade, Type 2 diabetes has become a massive problem in low- and middle-income countries and, for the first time in history, it’s a significant problem among the world’s children. What’s more, Type 1 diabetes is also on the increase.
It’s estimated that about 1.396 million of South Africans with diabetes remain undiagnosed, which makes it hard to judge the scale of the problem here. “But diabetes certainly is on the increase here, too,” says Johannesburg-based paediatric endocrinologist Prof. David Segal.
While the worldwide increase in Type 2 diabetes can be explained by unhealthy, modern lifestyles, rapid urbanisation (linked to inactivity and unhealthy eating patterns), a wider spread of the genes linked to the disease, and an ageing population, the reason for the increase in Type 1 diabetes is less clear.
To complicate matters, an increasing number of adults are presenting with latent autoimmune diabetes (LADA) – a form of Type 1 diabetes in which the progression of the disease is slow. As such, many adults with LADA are misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes in adults and the very young
At the start of the 20th century, diabetes was rare in children. By the end of the century, it increased substantially in many parts of the world and, right now, many countries are documenting higher numbers of Type 1 diabetes than ever before. Plus, the profile of patients is changing.
Across the world, this autoimmune disorder now often strikes at a younger age. And while similar research hasn’t been done locally, research shows that 50% of people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the United Kingdom are over 30. This turns the long-held belief that Type 1 diabetes develops only in childhood on its head.
It’s long been known that both environmental and genetic factors contribute to Type 1 diabetes, but the exact triggers remain unknown. One of the theories, according to Johannesburg-based endocrinologist Dr Zaheer Bayat, is the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that exposure to a variety of pathogens during early childhood might protect against Type 1 diabetes. A second theory suggests that certain viruses may initiate the autoimmune process involved. Another is that vitamin D deficiency plays a role. And a link between Type 1 diabetes and early exposure to cow’s milk is being explored.
According to Segal, being overweight or following the lifestyle of an obese person (being inactive and following an unhealthy diet) may also be a trigger. The “accelerator hypothesis” argues that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are in fact the same condition, distinguished only by the rate at which the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed, and the triggers (or “accelerators”) responsible.
Type 2 diabetes still on the increase
In South Africa, Type 2 diabetes remains a massive health problem that accounts for more than 90% of diabetes cases. This condition, in which the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t use it effectively, still predominantly occurs in adults. “But, for the first time, we’re also seeing young adults and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes,” says Bayat.
Ethnicity, family history and gestational diabetes combine with increased age, overweight/obesity and smoking to increase a person’s risk. In this country, the high incidence of Type 2 diabetes is also closely linked to the rapid cultural and social changes we’ve experienced over the last 20 to 30 years. With them came physical inactivity and unhealthy eating – both important risk factors.
According to Fiona Prins, diabetes specialist nurse practitioner, researchers are also currently investigating how, genetically, some of us store fat differently – a factor that could play a role in diabetes risk and management. “Some people may have ‘thrifty genes’, which would allow them to cope better on meals that are eight hours apart,” she says. “But this goes against all our messaging of eating three meals a day (or six, in the case of diabetics).”
Part of the problem, adds Segal, is that many of us don’t quite know what obesity is – we think we’re just overweight when, in fact, we’re obese. His advice is clear: “You have to lose weight to halt the progression to diabetes. It’s the only way.”
Jenny Russell, support group expert, adds: “Go and see a dietician who specialises in this field. They can do a thorough history and advise on an eating plan that suits you. Then simply get moving – every bit of exercise counts.”
From our community: “I know that as a diabetic I should always try and be good, but sometimes it’s hard… What can I snack on without feeling too guilty about it (but that will also be a treat)?” Charne Smith.
A treat is something that tastes great, is normally high in fat and refined carbohydrate, and is eaten to either celebrate or make you feel better… But how do you have your treat and prevent it from totally messing up your blood sugar levels for the day?
Treats are not forbidden, but they should not be too often or too big. It all comes down to self-control and portion control. The occasional block or two of chocolate should not mean disaster for your blood sugar: it’s when you eat the whole slab that things spiral out of control. Everything in moderation is the key.
If you battle with cravings, you need to understand that the last bite never tastes as good as the first bite. The feel good rush you get from the first bite of a treat starts to fade as you continue eating, but your blood sugar levels start to increase.
What does this mean? You only need a small amount to feel like you’ve had a treat. You don’t need the whole slab, packet, bowl or slice…
How to cheat:
- Split a dessert with your partner. It might drive them nuts, but it will keep your blood sugar and weight down. Better yet, plan ahead and choose a light main course so that you can have a small dessert on those special evenings out.
- Choose biscuits and cakes that don’t have icing, or remove the icing and jam from cakes. Icing has twice the amount of sugar as the cake or biscuit.
- Choose a dessert like apple crumble (without the ice-cream or cream) or two small scoops of ice-cream. Just remember to keep portions small.
- Spoil yourself with some good diabetic-friendly ice-cream (low fat/low sugar), lite custard and diabetic friendly puddings.
- Opt for small “bite” sized chocolates or chocolates with wafer inside (e.g. Kit Kat Fingers).
- Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa is better for you as it is higher in antioxidants. Dark chocolate is also bitter so people tend to eat less of it: usually a block or two is enough.
- Salt and vinegar popcorn instead of crisps will keep your fat content low and help with salt cravings. When going to the movies, choose a small popcorn and a diet drink.
Remember: Spoiling yourself on the odd occasion is allowed. Always test your blood sugar levels to see how they react and you will learn to better control these situations.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What advice would you give a newly diagnosed diabetic?
Get as much info as you can. Prepare to make lifestyle change. Respect the illness and it won’t control you
Don’t think you are any different from any other human. Carry on and enjoy yourself: everything in moderation. Exercise a lot and eat well – no problem!
Vat een dag op ‘n slag. eet gesond en doen oefeninge. en als wat ‘n nie-diabeet doen kan diabete ook doen!
Cut out anything white (sugar, flour, bread, chips, etc) and start an exercise program.
Don’t dwell on it too much. My Type 1 diabetic son of 8 understands his illness yet just gets on with life. He is a happy child and a true inspiration to the people around him.
Relax – it’s not the end of the world. It can be so overwhelming at first, but remember you have a manageable condition (note, not disease) God bless you!
We chatted to community inspiration Veronica Vember about how she changes lives, one step at a time.
What got you interested in diabetes at first?
It all started whilst working in the vascular unit at Kingsbury Hospital. I realised that most people are not informed about managing diabetes after being diagnosed. So I became passionate in the control of potential complications, and Kingsbury management identified my passion and allowed me to do the vascular course in London as it’s not offered here. On my return, I did two presentations at the doctors academic meetings. At the time my husband had a myocardial infarction and had been diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes. The entire experience stimulated me to get involved with my community. Now my husband is one of the volunteers. I then started doing motivational talks at schools, groups, on radio and at our nursing college.
How did you start your community group?
I joined the Strandfontein Health Forum and offered to do the diabetes awareness events as there was no project as such. With the awareness held at the Strandfontein Clinic I handed out questionnaires and a suggestion box. The community asked for a diabetic support group: that’s what started it.
What keeps you inspired?
The positive attitude and enthusiasm of the volunteers, and noticing the excitement of the attendees. When we take a break, people want to know when we’ll be starting again. The continuous support of ‘diabetes life’ (a diabetic clinic at Kingsbury hospital) under the management of endocrinologist Dr May, Dr Tracy van Rensburg and nurse educator Sr. Dee Ferguson (my mentor). Positive feedback from the doctors at the day hospitals where the clients attend also keeps me going.
You were voted one of the Western Cape’s Lead SA heroes – how did this make you feel?
Surprised, shocked, emotional, confused and thankful towards the responsible person for the recognition. I’m very proud of the team of dedicated volunteer attendees as I can’t do this alone. It’s a team effort – unity is strength.
What advice do you offer your support group members when they are struggling?
To persevere, not to give up, not to give in, to be compliant, to attend the support group regularly. We do individual counselling and have a communication box available for constructive comments and replies.
How do you make diabetes inspiring?
We create a harmonious atmosphere: a safe environment with easy accessibility, clean, functional equipment and competent staff. We vary programs, presentations, literature, topics and menus (soup in winter and tea and a snack in summer). We also combine our decision making with the volunteers.
What makes your life sweet?
Carrying out our mission, vision and outcome.
S – be sensitive towards all
W – warn people about the consequences of not being compliant
E – educate people regarding a healthy lifestyle and change of mindset
E – be empathetic and empower people with knowledge
T – to be trained, to train others
To ensure that all community members are well informed, and reach and maintain normal glucose levels.
Get in touch with Veronica: Strandfontein Diabetic Support Group on Facebook
We all know that more and more people are now living with Type 2 diabetes. It used to be seen as a condition for the wealthy, but today it’s increasingly common in every community – rich and poor. Nicole McCreedy takes a look.
Diabetes in South Africa is often associated with the Indian community among whom – compared with other cultures – it is more widespread. According to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council and Medical Research Council, 61% of South African Indians over the age of 45 have pre-diabetes, and are more likely, with age, to develop Type 2 diabetes.
But the Indian community is no longer the only group facing the diabetes challenge. It is now being reported as one of the leading causes of death in areas where diabetes was once unheard of.
The rapid rise in diabetes
There are a number of factors that put a person at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. A family history of the condition, your lifestyle – what you eat, whether you smoke and how often you exercise – as well as your environment all play a role.
In the past, the Indian and white population in South Africa were more likely to be urbanised and wealthier, while Africans lived in the rural areas. Living in an urban environment often means longer hours at work, commuting and easy access to cheap fast foods. This type of lifestyle is linked to higher levels of overweight and obesity, and in turn diabetes. A study from 2005 found South African Indians ticked all the boxes: a diet low in fibre and high in unhealthy fats, physical inactivity, and insulin resistance.
However, in recent decades, South Africa has undergone both political and economic change. As a result, many people living in rural areas, especially Africans, have moved to cities for work and better opportunities. Being less physically active and eating a more Western diet (high in carbs and fats) is contributing to the growing diabetes burden in the African and coloured communities.
South Africans are fat
The relationship between overweight/obesity and Type 2 diabetes is critical. An unhealthy diet and not enough exercise can lead to being overweight or obese. Carrying extra weight, especially belly fat, is bad for your health, specifically leading to insulin resistance, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. All of which are damaging to long-term health.
What’s scary is that in South Africa, 7 out of 10 women and 4 out of 10 men have significantly more body fat than is healthy. The issue of overweight and obesity is emerging as a particular health concern among black women living in urban areas where there is a high rate of HIV. Weight gain, especially among black women, has always been seen as a sign of wealth, health and success in traditional African society, while being thin is associated with being HIV-infected. But overweight and obesity is also linked to diabetes. In a study on body perception among urban-dwelling black women, as many as 90% were overweight and obese, while almost three-quarters had diabetes.
The next generation
Your lifestyle not only affects your own health; it can also impact the health of your children. High blood sugar levels in pregnancy impact the unborn baby’s genes, making them more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes later in life. Babies exposed to high blood sugar in the womb may have a higher birth weight and this can continue into adulthood with serious effects on their long-term health. Among South African Indians, where high blood sugar has been a problem for much longer, diabetes is now showing up at a much younger age than ten years ago – as early as between 25 to 45 years old.
Ignoring the problem
For many individuals, diabetes is a problem they don’t want to acknowledge. “A big concern is that people with diabetes are not taking their condition seriously enough,” says Jenny Russell from Diabetes South Africa’s Durban branch. “They want to swallow their tablets and carry on their unhealthy lifestyles.” According to Jenny, “in the Indian community, it is almost accepted as ‘normal’ that if you have diabetes, you will have diabetes-related complications: limb amputation, blindness or needing kidney dialysis.”
Others struggle with feelings of guilt. But whatever your culture, as Jeannie Berg, a pharmacist and diabetes educator in Mpumalanga, says:
“Diabetes is the same for everyone. Don’t let it define your life: it is not who you are, it is a part of your life you need to manage.”