9 ways to eat healthily with diabetes

Being diabetic adds another dimension to the challenge of healthy eating when there is a celebration. Follow these great tips.

01 November 2010
by Joanne Lillie

Eating well as a type 2 diabetic

Joan Baker is a retired hospital matron living in Cape Town. She is also a type 2 diabetic. She also knows that following a diabetic diet doesn’t mean denial and deprivation.

“Intellectually, I understand diabetes, having been in the medical profession, but I am not as compliant as I should be,” admits Joan. Keeping a watch on diet can be particularly difficult when there is a celebration that involves plenty of unhealthy foods.

Joan says that during such times, it helps to have family members who understand her condition and who keep an eye on what she is eating too, even reminding her to be careful about the choices she makes. “My two grown-up children are my biggest policemen,” she says.

“The most difficult thing about a diabetes journey is being honest with yourself and being realistic. As my dietician, Carolyn Boyes, says, you have to acknowledge, and accept diabetes, and try to make better choices consistently – but changing behaviour is hard.”

Joan has a few useful strategies for those big family gatherings.

“You can still have the chicken and turkey and so on, but miss the potatoes, and have some roasted vegetables instead. That way your plate looks the same as everyone else’s, and you don’t feel different or deprived. And when it comes to pudding, offer to bring a big fruit salad that everyone can enjoy and then you don’t have to miss out.’

Stay healthy as a type 1 diabetic

Zaheer Ismail is a systems analyst living with type 1 diabetes. He was diagnosed when he was five years old. Knowing how crucial his diet is to his health, he explains how he has learnt to handle it, especially when holidays come around.

“I have learned to be disciplined about what I eat, but I don’t let it take any of the fun out of celebrations,” he says.

“The most important thing is to control your intake. The greatest challenge for me is abstaining from lovely rich foods like desserts, and those dishes containing lots of potatoes and gravy, as well as sugary canned beverages at year-end functions,” says Zaheer.

“I avoid rich foods, and take more insulin when necessary, which gives me grace should I want to ‘cheat’ a little or have a treat.

“I focus on the meat, fish and vegetables at functions, and most importantly, substitute drinks with water, tea or coffee. Herbal teas are best,” he says.

Zaheer also recommends focusing on a high protein diet and includes meat, fish, and eggs, as well as oats, cereals, wholegrain products, fruits and vegetables, and legumes such as dried beans, peas, and lentils as often as he can.

“You’ve got to exercise too, which is very useful for managing stress (which can push blood sugar levels up). But you can still go on holiday, and do whatever you want to do, with diabetes,” he says.

“The most important approach to a diabetic diet is realising that it’s not a diet, but a healthy way of living,” says dietician and president of the Dietetic Association of South Africa, Rene Smalberger. “

“If your blood glucose levels are well controlled you’ll be able to add a few ‘cheat foods’. The key is moderation,” says Smalberger.

Healthy eating tips to follow

By making healthy choices, and eating food in the right proportions, people with diabetes can still enjoy all the festive season has to offer:

  • Aim for a balance of food on your plate. The easiest way to do this is to put salad and veg on half the plate, starch on one quarter of the plate, and protein on the other quarter.
  • Fats should be very limited, suggest Genevieve Jardine and Dr Kathryn Wiseman in their book, Your Journey with Diabetes (Reach Publishers).
  • If you’re visiting family and lunch or dinner is delayed, don’t be shy to ask for a snack, otherwise blood glucose levels can fall too low, making you feel shaky or lightheaded.
  • Opt for dishes with minimal sauces or dressings, says Diabetes SA.
  • Ask about ingredients in unfamiliar dishes, and learn to read food labels.
  • Give pastries, deep-fried, crumbed or battered foods a miss.
  • Remove any visible fat from food, including chicken skin.
  • Keep a glass of iced water nearby, and avoid the temptation of sugarladen drinks and alcohol.
  • Enlist a diabetes-specialist dietician to help you navigate the minefield of food choices.
  • An occasional indulgence won’t affect your overall diabetes control.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics will help you prevent, identify and manage diabetes with their wide range of screening tests and health assessments. These include:

  • Glucose Screening with Consultation
  • Urine Test (tests for blood, protein and glucose)
  • Blood Pressure Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Foot Screening Consultation (to check for diabetes-related foot problems)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan).

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online

For more info

Diabetes South Africa

Read More: Diabetes Super Section