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Healthy Eating with Diabetes


1. Enjoy a Variety of Foods

A variety of foods will provide our bodies with all the vitamins and minerals that we need. It is recommended that you eat 3 meals consisting of a variety of food per day. If some people are hungry in between meals, then they may eat small snacks such a fruit or something small like 3 crackers. However, this is only if people are not overweight i.e if their BMI is over 25kg/m2.

2. Make Starchy Foods the Basis of Most Meals

Starchy foods such as bread, porridge, cereals, rice, potatoes, samp, mielies, sorgum and pasta should form a large part of each meal. People with diabetes should eat starches high in fibre such as oats porridge, provita brown, or whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and unsifted maize meal. Below is an example of a plate that helps give people an idea of portion sizes, especially for starch as it has been found that people often have starch portions that are more than half of their plates.

3. Eat Plenty of Vegetables & Fruit Daily

Vegetables and fruit have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them that help keep the immune system strong. We encourage people to eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day (2 fruit and three vegetables or 3 fruit and 2 vegetables everyday). We also encourage different colours of fruit and vegetables everyday and we use “the robot” to remember this e.g they should have one red, one orange and one green fruit or vegetable everyday. One portion of fruit is the size of a small fist or a tennis ball e.g. a small apple. One portion of vegetables is 1 cup of cooked vegetables or ½ cup of raw vegetables. People with diabetes should eat fruits and vegetables with skin as they are high in fibre and this fibre helps keep the blood sugar level. Good examples of these are apples and pears. People with diabetes should not eat their fruits one after another as they are high in natural sugars so having them as a mid morning or mid afternoon snack helps to space them out.

4. Chicken, Fish, Meat, Milk & Egg s can be Eaten Daily (Animal Protein)

These are good sources of protein which is important during illness as they help keep the muscles strong. Different examples of animal protein include beef, mutton, pork, chicken, fish, liver, eggs, milk, maas, yoghurt, milk powder (not coffee creamers such as cremora or ellis brown). It is important for diabetics to eat lean or low fat options.

Eat Dried beans, Peas, Lentils and Soy products Regularly (plant protein)

These legumes also have protein and other nutrients needed to keep muscles strong and improve the immune system. We encourage people to eat the animal and plant proteins together but it is also good if they eat a plant or animal protein at least once every day. These foods are also high in fibre which helps keep the blood sugar level.

6. Include Sugar, Fats & Oils in Meals

These foods increase the energy of food and they also make the food taste good. However, they should not be eaten in very large amounts as they can cause weight gain and this makes your blood sugar more difficult to control. We advise people that they are allowed one teaspoon of fat or oil per person per meal. A 750ml bottle of oil should last a family of 4 one month. Soft tub margarine is better than hard brick margarine and other animal fats such as butter, ghee or lard (holsum).

7. Use Salt Sparingly

Too much salt can cause or make high blood pressure worse. It is better to add salt when cooking a meal instead of adding it to meals at the table. Avoid foods high in salt such as knorrox (stock cubes), polony, viennas and bacon.

8. Drink Lots of Clean, Safe Water

People should be drinking 8 glasses (2 litres) of water per day and up to 10 glasses per day if they do a lot of exercise or if they sweat a lot. It is important to get clean water from a tap or if this is not possible you can sterilise water by adding 1 teaspoon of bleach to about 25 litres (1 bucket) of water.

9. Other Beverages

Juice – people with diabetes should avoid drinking squash juices that contain sugar and they should rather drink juice with sweeteners such as Daly’s Diet juice. These, however, should be drunk in moderation (up to 500ml per day). Fresh fruit juice and sweetened fruit juice are best diluted with water (½ juice and ½ water).

Coke and other minerals – diabetic people should not drink Coke, Fanta and Sprite but if they feel the need, rather drink Coke Zero, Fanta Zero, Sprite zero or Tab in place of the others with high sugar content.

Tea & Coffee – these are very high in caffeine and they can keep people awake (caffeine causes insomnia). Rooibos tea and decaffeinated coffee do not have caffeine and diabetic people can drink these freely on condition that they do not add sugar to them.

10. Do Not Drink Alcoholic Drinks

Alcohol is not good for diabetic people as it is high in sugar and energy. Far better then to avoid it altogether but, if you are going to drink, then you should avoid drinking sweet wine, sweet sherry and liquors. Never drink on an empty stomach as alcohol lowers the blood sugar, rather have alcohol with a meal or have a starchy snack after drinking alcohol. Some examples of alcohol include beer (including home-brewed and sorghum beer), ciders, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, cane and even some cough medicines.

11. Be as Active as you can

It is important for people to be as active as possible, e.g. at least 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week. Working in the house and regular walking help to increase activity and keep the muscles strong. Please consult your doctor first and always have a small starchy snack before doing exercise.

By Melissa Pyle, BSc. in Dietetics, Registered Dietician (SA)

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