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Food fight for health

In South Africa, diabetes is alarmingly on the increase and more and more people are finding themselves in the "high-risk for diabetes" category.

However, what many people do not realise is that diabetes can be prevented by following a healthy eating plan, avoiding excessive weight gain and exercising regularly. The key to following a healthy eating plan is knowing what to look for on the grocery shelf.

Teresa Harris, Dietician: Corporate Food at Pick n Pay, says, “What makes diabetes different from all other chronic conditions is that the blood glucose level affects every system in our bodies and therefore affects all our bodily functions. By understanding how these blood glucose levels are influenced by the food you eat, you will be better able to manage it successfully and avoid the long term degenerative effects of the disease.”

According to Harris, establishing the correct healthy eating plan starts with knowing how to shop correctly. Harris has recently hosted a number of guided diabetes shopping tours for Pick n Pay customers, where she provides shoppers with on-the-spot advice on the best products to buy for a balanced diabetic-friendly diet.

“People are often surprised at how simple buying good, healthy food can be when you know what to look for to suit your individual needs,” she says. “Remember, people with diabetes do not need any special, more expensive foods; they simply need to plan more carefully. In fact, many so called ‘diabetic’ products, although they contain no sugar, are often high in fat and may contain high levels of fructose. For this reason, it’s really important to check the labels on products carefully before assuming they are appropriate for a diabetic diet – or any diet for that matter,” says Harris.

Her shopping advice for a diabetic-friendly diet guides shoppers to fill their basket with more vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, low fat dairy products and healthy fats, and to choose fewer unhealthy fats and foods high in sugar and energy.

“For example, include more carbohydrates rich in fibre such as brown rice, rolled oats, seed bread, rye bread and, where possible avoid the more refined, low fibre carbohydrate foods such as brown and white bread, white rice, sweetened cereals, rusks and rice cakes,” she says.

For low-fat sources of protein, Harris recommends red kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils. “Eating protein enables you to consume smaller portions of starch, which greatly helps you to achieve better blood sugar control,” explains Harris.

Interestingly, fats play an essential role in a diabetic diet. “The best kinds of fats that increase the insulin sensitivity of the cells, are found in fatty fish such as sardines, pilchards and salmon. We should all be aiming to eat two to three servings of these fish each week,” explains Harris.

Importantly, when shopping and preparing meals for preventing diabetes, Harris urges shoppers to ditch the diet mentality. “Do not see it as depriving yourself of anything. Rather, focus on making permanent lifestyle changes. Select an eating plan that offers a variety of foods to choose from and allows you to exchange one food for another. This will enable you to make up menus that fit both your own and your family’s lifestyle.”

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