Updated 24 February 2016

8 things you need to know about diabetes

The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, Ria Catsicas tackles 8 common diabetes issues that could cause people to avoid health testing or treatment.


1. Do people with diabetes have to follow a special diet or eat special diabetic foods?

People with diabetes do not have to follow a ‘special’ diet.

People with diabetes need to make the same healthy eating choices as everyone else. 

We all need to eat healthy unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats and poultry; low fat milk and dairy products; seeds, nuts, legumes and plant oils.

Everyone needs to avoid or limit eating processed foods such as fatty red meats, processed meats, all foods made from white flour and foods with a high sugar content.

 2. As a diabetic, isn’t my food is going to be more expensive?

It is not necessary to buy expensive foods marketed to diabetics. Healthy eating can be economical, and is often cheaper than buying unhealthy treats. Buying seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables is cheaper than buying processed fruit juices and soft drinks.

If you replace sweets, chocolates, crisps, puddings and cakes with fruits and salads as your snacks and desserts, you’ll find you will save money. Legumes, such as lentils and beans, are cheaper alternative to red meat and high fat hard cheeses.

Read: What is diabetes?

3. Is it true that people with diabetes cannot eat carbohydrates?

No, this is not true.  There are healthy types of carbohydrates that you do want to include in your eating plan.

The type and the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat at a meal will affect your blood glucose levels afterwards.

Therefore, for optimal blood glucose control it is important to control the quantity, and be aware of the type of carbohydrates you are going to eat.

4. Should people with diabetes limit their fruit intake?

Yes, too much fruit can contribute to an increase in blood glucose levels. However, portion control is important. It is recommended that you consult your dietitian to calculate the amount of fruit that you should include in your daily diet.

Read: 6 diabetes myths debunked

5. Should people with diabetes be on a high-fat diet?

There are currently several high-fat diets that are being promoted as ‘latest’ weight-loss regimes. 

It’s important to consider the research, and there is no scientific evidence to date that proves that a high-fat diet can contribute to either weight loss or improved blood glucose control.

In fact, research has shown people find it very hard to adhere to diets that promote extreme macro-nutrient manipulation, such as low-carb/high-fat.

The key to an effective weight loss regimen is to follow an eating plan you can stick to over the long-term.

6. Is it true that there are no proven health dangers of consuming too much saturated fat?

It is well-established that a high intake of saturated fats can contribute to increased LDL cholesterol levels in some individuals.

The reason it has not been proven that increased LDL cholesterol levels contribute directly to cardiac events is because there are numerous compounding factors trigger a heart attack.

On the other hand, atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition and a high intake of saturated fats in a nutrient poor diet can aggravate inflammation. 

It has been proven that a high saturated fat intake in a nutrient poor diet can also contribute to decreased sensitivity of the body cells to the action of insulin. 

Read: Diabetes: blind to the dangers?

7. If one of my parents has diabetes, am I going to develop diabetes no matter what I do?

If you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, you have all the reason you need to embrace a healthy lifestyle. While genetics may contribute 30 to 40% to the development of any condition, including diabetes, environmental and lifestyle factors may have a 60 to 70% impact.

If you maintain a healthy body weight, stick to a healthy eating plan, manage your stress and get regular physical exercise, you have a very good chance of not developing diabetes.   

8. Should I avoid exercise if I have diabetes?

On the contrary, diabetes is a compelling reason to exercise regularly.  

The reason for this is that physical activity plays a very important role in lowering blood glucose levels.

Exercise also predisposes your body cells to being more sensitive to insulin, and of course, it helps to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

If you use insulin it is important to check your blood glucose levels before and after physical activity.

If you get results below 6 mmol/l it is recommended that you lower your insulin dose or eat a healthy snack to prevent a hypoglycaemic attack during or after exercise.

Read more:

Symptoms of diabetes 

Diagnosing diabetes

5 tips for dating with diabetes                                                                                          


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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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