As November, which is Diabetes Awareness month, almost draws to a close, INMED South Africa, a registered non-profit focusing on food security and adult and child health outcomes, reminds us of the importance of good nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Dr Sandra Pretorius, Programme Manager for INMED’s Health in Action Programme, an innovative school and community programme designed to reduce obesity rates and promote healthy lifestyles, spends her days educating children, teachers and parents about the importance of good nutrition and healthy lifestyles and says it is crucial to promote awareness on the prevention and the management of diabetes.
According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes in South Africa has skyrocketed 137% since 2017. Even more alarming is the number of people who are undiagnosed, living blissfully unaware, while diabetes remains in hiding. The limited data suggest that there upwards of 2.394 million people with undiagnosed diabetes.
“One of the biggest things to come to terms with when receiving a diagnosis of diabetes is that it is a condition you will have to manage for the rest of your life,” she says. “Hopefully, that life will be a long, happy and healthy one, and the more you can do to keep blood glucose under control, the more likely that outcome will be.,”
Making key lifestyle changes is key to controlling diabetes, says Pretorius, who lists the following six lifestyle changes that can really have a positive impact:
- Healthy eating. This is crucial when you have diabetes, because what you eat affects your blood sugar. No foods are strictly off-limits. Focus on eating only as much as your body needs. “Eating three balanced meals per day with healthy snacks in between is preferable. If possible, consume the greater portion of kilojoules during the morning and midday, leaving a lighter meal at the end of the day. If you have your main meal in the evening, eat it early evening. This way, energy intake is proportional to natural energy expenditure and therefore, improved energy balance.
- Eating healthy snacks in between meals helps to control blood glucose levels throughout the day and to maintain energy levels, keeping you satiated for longer.
- Eat at least 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. “You can eat a variety of whatever is in season to achieve an optimum intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals for heart health and reduced cancer risk,” says Pretorius.
- Limit your intake of red meat and saturated fat and include more fish and plant-based protein in your diet.
- Limit your intake of salt by preparing meals from scratch and using herbs (fresh/dry) and spices when cooking.
- Remain Active.If you are not active now, it’s time to start. If you don’t have to join a gym and do cross-training, walking, riding a bike or working in the garden are also great for exercise. Your goal should be 30 minutes of activity that makes you sweat and breathe a little harder most days of the week. An active lifestyle helps you control your diabetes by bringing down your blood sugar. It also lowers your chances of getting heart disease. Plus, it can help you lose extra pounds and ease stress.
- Visit you doctor or clinic regularly. Diabetesraises your odds of heart disease. So, learn your numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure, and A1c (average blood sugar over 3 months). Get a full eye examevery year. Visit a foot doctor to check for problems like foot ulcers and nerve damage.
- Live mindfully and manage stress.When you’re stressed, your blood sugar levels go up. And when you’re anxious, you may not manage your diabetes well. You may forget to exercise, eat right, or take your medicines. Find ways to relieve stress through deep breathing, yoga, gardening or hobbies that relax you.
- Stop smoking.Diabetes makes you more likely to have health problems like heart disease, eye disease, stroke, kidney disease, blood vessel disease, nerve damage, and foot problems. If you smoke, your chance of getting these problems is even higher. Smoking also can make it harder to exercise.
- Limit your alcohol intake.It is easier to control your blood sugar if you don’t consume too much beer, wine, and liquor. So, if you choose to drink, don’t overdo it. The American Diabetes Association says that women who drink alcoholshould have no more than one drink a day and men should have no more than two. Alcohol can make your blood sugar go too high or too low. Check your blood sugar before you drink, and take steps to avoid low blood sugars. If you use insulin or take medicine for your diabetes, eat when you’re drinking. Some drinks — like wine coolers — may be higher in carbs, so take this into account when you count carbs.
“While diabetes management can seem like a burden, there are many ways to transform it into a therapeutic and even fun activity,” concludes Pretorius. “And by introducing a healthy balanced diabetic eating plan you will be able to better manage your glucose and even stress levels.” BOX
Best vegetables to choose and easy to grow from scratch in your garden:
These vegetables are excellent to incorporate into your 5 portions a day—and are also easy to grow in your garden: asparagus, avocados, beet greens, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, cucumbers, fennel, green beans, kale, mushrooms, mustard greens, olives, romaine lettuce (and other lettuce), spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnip greens.