According to the International Diabetes Federation, South Africa has the highest prevalence of diabetes in Africa at 11.3% of our population.
More than 13 million South Africans have impaired fasting glucose (IFG) which puts them at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
In honour of Diabetes Awareness Month, the ADSA presented a group of registered dietitians with ten myth-busting questions on diabetes and food:
1. Do people with diabetes need to eat special foods formulated for them or follow a special diet?
Ria Catsicas: The simple answer is no. This implies that those who have diabetes have the same variety of food options as everyone else. There is no need to purchase pricey or specialty meals marked for diabetics. Whole grains, fresh produce, dry beans, legumes, and pulses can all be found in any grocery store.
2. Do people with diabetes have to avoid eating fruits?
Ria Catsicas: No, people with diabetes do not have to avoid fruit. It is the amount of fruit you eat that matters and it is best to get your dietitian to check how much fruit you can consume as this is an individual recommendation.
3. Is it true that if you have diabetes, carbohydrates are ‘the enemy’?
Ria Catsicas: Starchy foods are not ‘the enemy of people with diabetes’. The type and quantity of carbohydrates consumed affect blood sugar levels. Refined, ultra-processed carbohydrates should be avoided. Foods such as slap chips, ice creams, and fizzy drinks to name a few. Instead consume more high-fibre breakfast cereals, brown rice; baby potatoes and sweet potatoes with skins on, etc.
4. Does having diabetes mean that I will never eat sweet things again?
Nasreen Jaffer: It is untrue that someone with diabetes will never be able to consume sweets again. What matters more is how much and how frequently these items are consumed, as well as ensuring that each food group is represented in a meal or snack. A dietitian can advise diabetics on how to include some snacks while still controlling their blood sugar levels, provided that they do so moderately.
5. Is it true that Type 2 diabetes is a mild form of diabetes?
Ria Catsicas: The idea that type 1 diabetes is more serious than type 2 diabetes is simply a myth. The only difference is in how the types of diabetes develop. Due to an autoimmune condition, Type 1 diabetes typically develops in younger people in a short period, and those who have it are entirely dependent on insulin injections. And type 2 diabetes develops in adults over a long time due to factors like genetic predispositions, abdominal obesity, poor diet, inactivity, and stress.
Some people with Type 2 diabetes also use insulin while others use alternative medicine. Both types are treated using a variety of medications including injections. The worst type of diabetes is untested, undiagnosed, or uncontrolled. This can lead to dramatic health complications including blindness, loss of limbs, and death.
6. Does Type 2 diabetes only affect overweight people?
Nasreen Jaffer: Type 2 diabetes affects people of all weights. However, because they create insulin resistance, being overweight and obese are the main risk factors for developing the disease. Consequently, keeping a healthy weight is crucial for managing diabetes and can delay the beginning of the disease.
7. Are all people with diabetes at risk of losing their legs, or of going blind?
Nasreen Jaffer: These complications set in when the blood sugar levels are not maintained within the targeted levels over an extended time. This is why it is so important to be tested, and if diagnosed, to follow recommended treatment. The onset of complications can be delayed or avoided by maintaining optimal blood glucose control through medical treatment, diet, and physical activity.
8. Should people with diabetes avoid physical activity?
Kgadi Moabelo: People with diabetes should not avoid physical activity unless they are specifically advised by their doctors. Each individual living with diabetes should be aware of their unique glucose response to exercise, and tailor their activities accordingly. Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and supports the control of blood sugar levels. It also helps control weight, protects against nerve damage, and can delay the progression of diabetes complications. The general guideline is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly, such as walking, cycling, and swimming.
9. Are there any natural products that can cure diabetes or support health for people with diabetes?
Kgadi Moabelo: No plants or medicine can cure diabetes. Over 800 plant species may have positive impacts on blood sugar levels, however, it’s critical to highlight that further research is required to establish critical elements like safe dosage and administration. Natural does not equate to safe, as the same plants can be deadly if used improperly or in a different way.
10. If a person with diabetes adheres to their medication, can they eat anything they like?
Kgadi Moabelo: It is crucial for any person living with diabetes to eat a healthy diet even when their blood sugar level is controlled. Moreover, maintaining a healthy body weight is of great importance when managing diabetes.
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