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Managing Your Nutritional Intake When You Have Diabetes
Managing Your Nutritional Intake When You Have Diabetes
19 Nov 2020

Following a healthy meal plan is crucial for people who are living with diabetes. Although every plan will differ from person to person, there are healthy ways to ensure that you eat your way to better weight and blood glucose management.

Our handy guide from the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE) can help you get started.


A good nutrition guide

Seeking nutritional guidance that is suitable for you and your treatment plan is possible by seeing a dietitian who has specialised in the management of diabetes. The intervention of a dietitian guiding you to healthier food choices along with taking the prescribed medication can make this a powerful combination for people who are living with diabetes.   


However, as with everything in diabetes care, nutrition should be individualised and guided by a host of factors including your blood glucose, blood pressure, blood lipid levels, your body fat composition and distribution, your culture, religion, age, finances, likes and dislikes, as well as other health conditions and medications that you take.


Healthy eating doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘diet’

The CDE advises that healthy eating in the context of type 2 diabetes does not mean that you should ‘diet’ – but rather work with your dietitian in your diabetes team to help craft a nutritional approach and eating plan that is tailored to your lifestyle and nutritional goals (e.g. reducing your waist circumference and cancer risk and improving your blood pressure and cholesterol profile.)


Not everyone with diabetes needs to snack

Remember that not every person with diabetes needs to snack in between meals! Your individualised eating plan, which may or may not include snacks in between meals, will be designed in conjunction with the type of treatment that you are on as well as your activity levels. Prevention is better than cure.


People may develop diabetes for various reasons. There is usually an underlying genetic predisposition (which may or may not reflect in family history). Poor lifestyle choices including physical inactivity and unhealthy foods increase the risk of excess adiposity (body fat), especially problematic around the ‘tummy’ area, and subsequently, type 2 diabetes.


Additional modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes include hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidaemia (abnormal cholesterol and fat levels in the blood), previous gestational diabetes or delivery of a baby weighing more 4 kg, and impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance (also known as ‘pre-diabetes’).


The benefits of screening for type 2 diabetes

If you have any of these risk factors, screening could benefit you because type 2 diabetes is a largely silent condition (it often does not present with typical symptoms of diabetes), and may thus remain undetected for many years. As a result, half of the people who have type 2 diabetes in South Africa are unaware of its presence, increasing their risk for complications to develop.


The frequency of screening should be guided by your doctor, but all overweight adults at any age with at least one other risk factor for diabetes should be screened. For all other adults, screening for diabetes should start at age 45 and be repeated at least annually if at high risk and every 3 years if at a healthy weight and low in risk.


By making lifestyle changes like improving dietary choices, increasing regular physical activity, losing any excess tummy fat and stopping smoking, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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