Updated 24 February 2016

15 ways to prevent or manage diabetes

Roughly 6% of South Africans suffer from diabetes and many more are at risk. Here are some of the ways you can prevent or manage diabetes.


Three-and-a-half million South Africans - about six percent of the population - suffer from either type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus. According to the 2013 report on mortality and causes of death in South Africa diabetes is the fifth highest cause of natural deaths in the country.

It is estimated that another five million South Africans have pre-diabetes, a condition where insulin resistance causes blood glucose levels to be higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be type 2 diabetes. However, many of these cases go undiagnosed.

It takes on average seven years for a person to get diagnosed with diabetes, as symptoms can be mild and may develop gradually. The result is that about 30 percent of people with type 2 diabetes have already developed complications by the time they are diagnosed.

The Nutrition Information Centre in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) of Stellenbosch University (NICUS) provided the following dietary recommendations.

Read: Gorging on food may lead to type 2 diabetes

15 dietary recommendations to prevent and manage diabetes:

1. The dietary guidelines for diabetic people are based on the guidelines for healthy people without diabetes. Variety means eating different foods within a meal, on different days and preparing food in different healthy ways.

  This ensures that our diet contains sufficient nutrients and that it is more enjoyable.

2. As little as five to ten percent weight loss improves insulin resistance, therefore overweight and obese diabetics should be advised to lose weight. 

3. Eat at least three balanced meals per day.

4. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day.

5. Increase you fibre intake: eat whole wheat bread instead of white bread; eat oats, oat bran, or whole wheat cereals e.g. high-fibre cereal for breakfast; eat lots of vegetables and fruit; eat legumes regularly (peas, lentils, beans and soya), and include barley, samp, brown rice and whole wheat pasta in your diet.

Read: The secret weight-loss ingredient

6. Diabetic patients may benefit from low GI / GL foods as long as they are incorporated into a balanced diet, and the use of high fat low GI food items and a general disregard to portion sizes is avoided.

7. Limit your fat intake, especially saturated- and trans fats (animal fats, full cream dairy products, chocolate, coconut, hard margarine, full cream products, baked goods for example. pies and cookies] and palm oils [e.g. coffee creamers and artificial cream).  Rather include more mono-unsaturated fats in limited amounts in your diet (e.g. use canola oil or olive oil instead of sunflower oil, spread avocado or peanut butter instead of margarine on bread).

8. Eat fish two to three times per week and chicken more regularly than red meat. 

9. Small portions of meat can be eaten daily. Replace meat more frequently with fish, chicken and legumes (peas, beans, lentils and soy and eggs). Polonies, viennas and sausages are not healthy; rather eat beans, eggs, nuts, peanut butter or lentils.

10. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Buy vegetables and fruit in season and try to include as much variety as possible. Eat one fruit at a time and avoid the consumption of more than 125ml fruit juice per day.

11. Aim to eat or drink at least two cups of milk, cottage cheese or yoghurt per day. Low fat is better, it has all the protein and calcium, but less fat.

12. Follow the correct cooking methods:  boil, steam, bake/grill in the oven and "braai" over coals, thus limiting the addition of any form of fat (e.g. margarine, oil, mayonnaise, cream and cheese) during food preparation.

13. Use small amounts of salt in food preparation and avoid the use of extra salt at the table.  Rather use herbs, salt-free spices and flavouring instead of salt.  Avoid processed foods with a high salt content.

14. If you consume alcohol (beer and wine), use it in moderate amounts (one to two glasses a day) and always with a meal.

15. Manage your carbohydrate and sugar intake by limiting or avoiding cake, cold drinks, sweets, cookies, and sugar-sweetened desserts and drinks (including alcohol), which are very high in energy, but low in nutrients.

 Read more:

Avoid diabetes with more protein and more fibre

Extra virgin olive oil linked to lower blood sugar and cholesterol

Fish oil pills may cut diabetes risk

Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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