Updated 09 February 2017

Dishing up the facts on diabetes

The number of people developing diabetes is steadily increasing, but the good news is that certain lifestyle choices can dramatically decrease one’s risk of developing the most common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes affects an estimated 8-10% of the South African population, according to the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology. The number of people developing diabetes locally and globally is steadily increasing, but the good news is that certain lifestyle choices can dramatically decrease one’s risk of developing the most common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition where the body has difficulty controlling the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The body either does not make enough insulin or the insulin that is produced doesn’t work properly. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting 85-90% of people with diabetes. It usually affects older adults, but younger people and children are also developing type 2 diabetes due to unhealthy eating habits.

Unlike type 1 diabetes (usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence) and gestational diabetes (diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born), there are lifestyle factors you can adopt to lower you risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“If you have diabetes you may find that selecting low glycaemic index foods improves your blood sugar control,” says Naazneen Khan, nutrition, health and wellness manager at Nestlé South Africa. “You also need to take care of your diet if you have high cholesterol or triglyceride levels or high blood pressure.”

Here are Naazneen’s top tips to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Downsize your waist to less than 102 cm (men) or 88 cm (women).
  • Exercise for at least 2.5 hours per week.
  • Eat more vegetables and switch to high fibre, whole grain cereal products.
  • Reduce your fat intake and switch to  monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega 3 fats such as canola and olive oils, sunflower oil
  • Drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid a day: mineral water and sugarless tea and coffee are good options.
  • Enjoy normal sugary foods in moderation: A maximum of 10% of your daily calorie intake should come from sugary foods. Eating a bowl of sweetened yoghurt, 2 blocks of chocolate and even a thin slice of cake can still be a part of your diet.  Ask our expert by visiting and click on the Nutrition, Health and Wellness tab, or take the WelnesIQ challenge to learn more.

“Nutrition is important for everyone,” says Khan. “Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active most days and distributing small meals and snacks throughout the day without skipping meals are good for everyone's health.”

Symptoms common to all types of diabetes

  • tiredness
  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • headaches
  • leg cramps
  • increased hunger

Get regular blood sugar tests

You don't have to see a doctor to test your blood sugar – chemists offer this service too. Using a device to measure your blood sugar and a tiny amount of blood from your fingertip, you can discover the result in a few seconds. If diabetes mellitus runs in your family, you are suffering from typical symptoms or are overweight and an annual blood sugar test is recommended.  Tell your health care professional if diabetes runs in your family, and discuss your blood sugar levels with him or her. Treatment can then be started in good time and your health is protected. Remember to consult a dietitian for tailor made advice.

Did you know?

An average of four to six years passes before people with type 2 diabetes discover the true cause of their ailments and are diagnosed.

For a guide on low glycaemic index foods and other helpful tips on how to adopt a healthy diet, visit the Nutrition, Health & Wellness tab on Nestlé’s website.

(Photo of woman deciding between apple and hamburger from Shutterstock)


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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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