Diabetes lifestyle do's and don'ts

Healthy diet and lifestyle choices form the basis of managing diabetes. We take a look at some habits to use – and lose!

13 April 2015
by Wendy Maritz

1. Do have an eating plan

“Diabetes highlights the importance of a well-balanced eating pattern,” explains Diabetes SA. The benefits of a nutritionally sound diet are:

  • Achieving and maintaining control of your blood glucose levels.
  • Helping to regulate body weight.
  • Preventing or delaying the onset of long-term complications of diabetes.

2. Do familiarise yourself with the glycaemic index

The glycaemic index (GI) rates food based on how quickly our bodies turn it into energy. Foods high in simple sugars, such as processed cereals or refined white bread, convert to energy quickly, which means your blood glucose levels spike suddenly. Unfortunately, this sudden spike in energy won’t last, leaving you feeling tired or hungry soon after you’ve eaten them.

On the other hand, foods high in fibre tend to take longer to digest, and therefore release energy slowly, allowing for a more stable amount of glucose into the bloodstream resulting in more sustained energy. The bulk of your eating plan should be made up of wholegrains, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Visit www.gifoundation.com for a comprehensive list of foods and their ratings.

3. Do eat regularly and don’t skip meals

The newer generation of insulin and other diabetes medications allow more flexibility with regards to the timing of meals and snacks. Diabetes SA recommends three regular meals a day, with a bedtime snack.

Regularly missing meals can cause your blood glucose levels to drop too low, which may cause you to overcompensate on the next meal. If necessary, a registered dietician can work out a daily eating plan based on all of these factors.

4. Do exercise

Regular exercise is important for diabetics as it helps to lower blood glucose levels, promote weight loss and reduce stress. You may need to test your blood glucose levels before exercise (and during should you feel any adverse symptoms). Take a snack along just in case. Always discuss exercise with your healthcare provider, especially if you have been inactive.

5. Don’t smoke

High blood glucose levels and smoking can damage artery walls, increasing the likelihood of fatty deposit build-up and the narrowing of blood vessels supplying blood (and oxygen) to the heart. This increases the risk of heart disease, including heart attack. Similarly, anything that limits blood flow to the brain can result in a stroke. It works the other way around too – genetics, smoking and obesity are all risk factors for insulin resistance (when the body can’t use insulin properly to convert food into energy), which may lead to diabetes.

6. Avoid alcohol

Your liver processes both alcohol and blood sugar, however, when you drink alcohol the liver gives preference to alcohol. In his book, Diabetes and you: A comprehensive, holistic approach, Dr Naheed Ali, MD, explains that because of the preference that the body gives to the processing of alcohol, existing high blood glucose levels stay up when alcohol is present in the system, putting the body’s other systems under unnecessary strain. When you do drink alcohol, do so moderately, and eat something nutritious at the same time. This can help to offset blood sugar swings.

Keeping your weight consistent, not skipping medication, getting enough sleep and moderating your stress levels are also important factors in managing diabetes.

Visit Diabetes SA and your closest Clicks Clinic for more information.

Read More: Diabetes Super Section