Updated 16 February 2017

Handy hints for all diabetics

Are you or a family member diabetic? Here are some tips on making your life easier.


There is a lot that you can do to control your diabetes and make your life a lot easier.

Be a factfinder. Knowing as much as possible is your best defence against diabetes. Find out how your body uses food and what role insulin plays in this process.

Do it three times a day. Never skip a meal or eat much later than usual. This can cause your blood sugar levels to drop and cause many unpleasant symptoms, the worst of which is a diabetic coma. Small, regular meals are preferable to one large one.

Get a grip on your weight. Remember that diabetes cannot be cured, but that you can control it very effectively. Having the correct weight goes a long way to making this condition manageable. Consult your doctor about healthy weight loss diets. Remember that a crash diet can be fatal.

Watch out for your eyes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people between 25 – 74. Diabetic retinopathy is a disease affecting the blood vessels in the retina (the back layer of the eye). Have regular eye tests and stick to your medication, diet and exercise routine.

Don’t leave home without it. If you have Type 1 Diabetes and are insulin-dependent, you need to have insulin injections with you at all times – even if you are just going down the road to buy a loaf of bread. You also need to show friends and family how to inject you if you should become unable to do it yourself. Always have spare supplies if you are traveling.

Become a snackpacker. To correct low blood sugar, you should always carry something sweet with you wherever you go. Raisins, fruit juice, soda (not sugar-free) or hard sweets like toffees, are good for this purpose. All of these should be taken in small amounts.

Become tagged. Wearing a medic alert bracelet is essential for all diabetics – it could save your life if you are in an accident of some sort or if you go into a diabetic coma.

Fat happens. Beware the hidden fats in things like sauces, stews, fried foods and pastries. Get into a habit of using low-fat or fat-free dairy products and vegetable oil spray rather than butter or margarine.

Become a regular with your GP. See the doctor frequently so that your condition can be monitored regularly. There is no point in taking chances with your health.

The test is best. Invest in a blood glucose monitor, a test strip and a lancing device. Use it regularly and you will always know how your body is coping. In this way you can always adjust your diet or your medication (with your doctor’s permission of course) before things get critical. In the case of diabetes, prevention is always better than crisis management, as it prevents complications on the long run.

Don’t hit the bottle. One glass of wine or one beer a day shouldn’t do too much harm, but remember that alcohol is generally high in sugar content and that having one too many can play havoc with your blood sugar levels. A tot of whiskey is probably the best as it contains no sugar.

Chew on this. Have your teeth checked regularly. Diabetes can compromise your immune system, which fights off viruses and bacteria. Your mouth is a haven for bacteria and hence your teeth are at risk if you are diabetic.

Go nuts with fruits and vegetables. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. When cooking vegetables, grill them and sprinkle them with spices, vinegar, garlic or lemon juice. These add almost no fat or calories to the meal. Strawberries and bananas are both good fruits to choose.

Get a move on. All diabetics need regular, fairly moderate exercise. It is much better to walk for half an hour every day than to do a once-a-week marathon gym session. The latter could in fact be harmful to your health.

Feet first. Choose the type of exercise that isn’t hard on your feet. Blisters, cuts and foot infections can spell serious trouble for diabetics. Swimming is good, as is cycling, or even gentle walking.

If the shoe fits. Make sure that your shoes fit properly and that they are comfortable to walk in. The last thing a diabetic wants is an injury from an ill-fitting shoe. Infections or cuts in your feet can start off a chain reaction that can have serious longterm effects. Invest in well-fitting shoes, even if they are costly.

Go GI, Jane. The Glycaemic Index (GI) involves a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI (“slow-release”) do not overstimulate the pancreas to produce too much insulin. These foods include low-fat yoghurt, cereals, whole-wheat bread, fruit and vegetables and should be included in your diet regularly. Keep these in mind constantly.

What goes round need not come round. Many diabetics are very susceptible to viral infections, so have those flu shots before the winter sets in. Immunisations against other infections doing the rounds are also advised. Don’t ignore that nagging cold that won’t go away – take it to the doctor.

Chill out. High stress levels can cause hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar). A healthy diet and regular exercise can help to control this, but it might be wise to see a therapist and do some yoga classes in addition to this. Learn some de-stressing techniques.

Become your own lifesaver. Don’t forget that you are dealing with a potentially dangerous disease here. Take your medication as instructed and don’t skip meals or eat the wrong type of foods. By sticking to these things daily, you can control the disease instead of letting it control you.

Danger zone – sample only. Foods that have a very high sugar or fat content must be avoided. Only very small amounts of foodstuffs like nuts, chocolates, fried chicken, oily fish, shellfish and creamy desserts and cakes should be eaten.

Listen to your body. Learn to read the signs of dangerous blood sugar fluctuations – these include excessive thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, inexplicable moodiness, weakness and fatigue, nausea (Type 1 Diabetes) and in the case of type 2, all of the previous symptoms, as well as skin, gum and bladder infections, blurred vision, itching and tingling in the hands and feet.

Go the wholewheat way. Learn to eat lots of grains and wholewheat bread and carbohydrates in general. Stay away from fried starches such as potato chips.

Where there is smoke. Smoking generally increases your blood pressure. If you are diabetic, this could mean long term circulatory problems could become more likely. Take steps to quit, however difficult it might be.

QUIZ: Am I eating correctly to manage my diabetes?


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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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