Updated 13 February 2017

Got diabetes? Eat your veggies

Did you know that vegetables are particularly good for people with diabetes?


Are you a diabetic vegetarian? Or are you a diabetic person who simply loves vegetables?  Or, alas, are you one of those people who believes that vegetables are for the rabbits?

We all know the importance of eating our greens - veggies are crammed with essential vitamins and minerals. But, did you know that vegetables are particularly good for diabetic persons?

As most vegetables have a low glycaemic index (GI)  (and if not low GI, definitely a low glycaemic load) - whether raw or cooked - they can help control blood sugar levels and assist with healthy weight management, or weight loss in obese people.

Vegetables, like fruit, are also high in antioxidants which can help protect you against cancer, cholesterol and other lifestyle diseases. Registered dietician Liesbet Delport recommends eating seven to nine portions of vegetables and fruit per day to ensure a high intake of antioxidants.

"This can be easily done by snacking on three portions of fruit during the day, eating a salad or vegetable soup with your lunch and adding three portions of vegetables to your supper."

Plant proteins

The conscious choice of not eating meat implies that you will have to get your proteins from plant sources such as legumes (dry beans, peas, lentils and soya products), nuts and seeds; as well as from eggs and low fat dairy products (unless you are a vegan who cuts out all animal-based foods).

In the latter case you will have to consult a dietician to ensure that you are still eating a balanced diet containing enough protein and you will also have to get vitamin B12 injections regularly, as this vitamin is only obtainable from animal products.

According to Delport, legumes are very effective in lowering the GI of any meal. "They also actively bind cholesterol and can lower morning blood glucose readings in diabetic persons. That's why it's so good to add them to your recipes."

Plant proteins are also especially good as they contain less fat, no cholesterol and plenty of dietary fibre and protective nutrients such as bioflavonoids - all factors that benefit people with diabetes.

And, finally, vegetarian food does not have to be bland and boring. Some of the tastiest dishes out there are based on vegetables. If you need some inspiration, try the Eating for Sustained Energy cookbook series (by dieticians Liesbet Delport and Gabi Steenkamp) - the recipes are not only low-fat and low-GI to help regulate your blood glucose levels, they also taste really good.

(Special note: If you have diabetes and are thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, remember to consult a dietician first, who can help you create an eating plan fit for your individual needs.)

- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, April 2010)


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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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