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May 2021 2nd edition

Managing diabetes

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

Diabetes is one of the most prevalent non-communicable diseases in South Africa. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) an estimated 3.85 million South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79 years have diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease caused by one’s pancreas no longer being able to produce enough insulin to process the sugar in their bodies. The disease is classified into two categories: Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is often caused by the destruction of the sugar processing cells; genetic and environmental factors. Type 2 diabetes is more common in older people, obese people, those with a family history of diabetes and people who are physically inactive. The development of diabetes can be caused by one’s diet which may include excessive eating of foods high in sugar, fats and starch as well as pregnancy. 

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss and extreme hunger, among others.

There is no known cure for diabetes but it can be managed by taking medication such as insulin; doing physical activities and exercise; eating food with plenty of fibre and less carbohydrates as well as eating whole grain foods.

Diabetes can be managed effectively with lifestyle changes and medication.

Healthy eating, physical activity and insulin injections are the best treatment for Type 1 diabetes. Healthy eating, physical activity and blood glucose testing are the basic treatment for Type 2 diabetes. In addition, many people with Type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both, to control their blood glucose levels.

A person with diabetes must eat a lot of vegetables and fruit on a daily basis. Vegetables such as dark green leafy vegetables and yellow or orange fleshed vegetables are good foods for diabetic patients.

People who have diabetes are prone to having problems with their eyes, heart, kidneys and general circulation if they do not manage their diabetes well.

Diabetic people must use salt sparingly, limit the use of seasoning salts, stock cubes, soup powders and commercial salad dressings. Instead diabetic sufferers can use herbs, curry powder, ginger and garlic for flavouring.

It is also important to use small amounts of fats when cooking and be mindful to choose healthy oils such as sunflower, canola or olive oil. Too many high fat foods can result in weight gain and make diabetes more difficult to control and increase the risk of heart disease.

If you suspect that you might have diabetes, visit your nearest health facility.

This information was supplied by the National Department of Health.