The World Health Organisation has marked today as World Health Day, with a large focus on the prevention and treatment of Diabetes. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my research on diabetes with you. For the purpose of this article, I will be discussing predominantly Diabetes Type 2.

Diabetes has always felt to me like something that only happens to overweight, older, unhealthy people. The truth is, the numbers of those diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise. The options out there for quick fix dinners, lunch-box add-ins and ‘healthy’ low-calorie juices are growing exponentially and who can blame you for choosing them?

I am sure you will agree that it’s time to get educated on the subject of Diabetes?

Know the facts

In 2014, Diabetes was recorded to affect 29.1 million Americans. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). In 2011, this center recorded that by 2050, the prevalence of Diabetes is expected to rise by 165%. It is interesting to note that diabetes participants in a particular study showed lower levels of dietary education compared to those with normal glucose levels. Diabetes participants also had greater waist circumference. What does this tell us? It tells us that education around dietary choices is a preventative measure and can surely assist in preventing more people developing diabetes.

I have heard of it, but what exactly is Diabetes?

Carbohydrates in the diet are converted to glucose, which is a fancy word for sugar. An increase in blood sugar levels signals the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is an instructing hormone that instructs the cells to soak up the glucose and convert it to energy to be used in the body. Diabetes occurs when the body stops responding to insulin.

When you are constantly eating carbohydrates and sugary foods, your blood sugar levels remain high, constantly signaling for insulin to be released. In Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas stops producing Insulin, leaving the glucose to remain in the blood stream. In type 2 Diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the cells stop responding to it. Therefore, the cells are not absorbing the glucose. Since your body is not making energy, you will start to feel fatigued. Your cells will not be able to rejuvenate as quickly and you may get wounds that take a long time to heal. Your immune system will be compromised, resulting in a number of other complications. Type 2 diabetes is a result of a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, but can be reversed unlike type 1.

The development of Diabetes holds many complications. By developing Diabetes type 2 at a younger age, you may be in greater risk of age-related complication. Complications may occur if Diabetes is not managed properly. A few of the long-term, serious complications include blindness, heart attack, kidney failure, amputation and certain pregnancy complications. The immune system will also be under pressure which may cause the body to be easily affected by viruses and bacteria. These are some of the noticeable and proven complications, but having diabetes may also affect your social life and self-esteem. You may no longer be able to indulge at parties or special occasions. You also may not be able to partake in certain activities due to related health risks. However, if Diabetes is managed through a healthy diet and lifestyle, these risks can be avoided.

Diabetes in Children and Adolescents

Type 1 diabetes is most common in children; however, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has increased in recent years. This is thought to be mainly due to the modern sedentary lifestyle. An earlier age onset of the disease may lead to patients being at more risk of early age complications. It is very important to prevent diabetes, rather than manage it, by focusing on a healthy diet and lifestyle.  

Look out for the following signs and symptoms

These are some of the symptoms indicating that you may have Diabetes. If you show any of the below symptoms, or if you are overweight, it is a good idea to be tested. Ask your GP to do a blood test to analyse the sugar levels in your blood. The older you are the more risk you will be at since years and years of loading your body with the wrong foods does take its toll! This leads to my reasoning of keeping the family healthy from a young age. Kick those bad habits right out the back door!

Physical Activity and Diabetes

You don’t need to enroll the family in a boot camp and yoga retreats. Just get them outdoors. Physical activity plays an important part in any family household. Not only is it a way to bring the family together, but it has also been linked to Diabetes. Studies have shown that diabetes participants have a significantly lower total activity count compared to participants with normal blood glucose levels and pre-diabetes. Findings from this study have concluded that diabetes participants could benefit from increasing their physical activity throughout the afternoon, and that all participants should be encouraged to increase weekend activity.

Some suggestions to get the family involved in an active lifestyle:

  • Walk the dog around the block in the evenings when everyone is home,
  • Find a sport that the family can all participate in, like tennis,
  • Stubborn teenager? Not a problem, school sports are a great way to socialise. Encourage your children to participate in a school sport.
  • Go to the beach to swim/surf/walk/play beach games like cricket
  • Weekends walks on the mountains/forest/beach
  • Ice skating/bowling

Diabetes and Nutrition

A combination of diet and physical activity can reduce the risk of Diabetes in children, adolescents and adults. It is also advisable to follow a healthy lifestyle in order to manage diabetes. The following can be used as a guideline to get you and your family started on the right track.

Foods to include Foods to avoid Portion Sizes
Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, cous-cous and oats


White, refined grains like bread and pasta. Baked goods including pies, pastries and doughnuts. ¼ of your plate per each meal
Non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, salad greens


Eat starchy vegetables in smaller portions. These can be counted as a carbohydrate/grain on your plate.  ½ of your plate. Make the meal look as colourful as possible
Dairy products like ricotta cheese, plain, unsweetened yogurts and skim milk


Processed dairy products, including ready-sliced cheeses, cheese spreads and flavoured yogurts and milks. 1 cup per day
Lean sources of animal protein, grilled, broiled or baked. This includes fish, lean beef, chicken breast and lamb. Fried or deep fried, fatty meats. Processed meats like bacon, deli hams and other cold-cuts. ¼ of your plate

Try to include Fish 2 times per week

Water and herbal, unsweetened teas. Freshly squeezed vegetable juices. Caffeine drinks, energy drinks, and any flavoured drinks. High fat milk coffee and flavoured lattes. Box juices and any carbonated drinks. Water: At least 1.5l per day, depending on activity level

Herbal teas: unlimited

Freshly squeezed vegetable juices: ½ – 1cup

Healthy sources of fats including nuts and seeds. Oils such as coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil. Vegetable oil and other saturated fats. Any oil used for deep frying or heated to high temperatures. Eat small amounts daily

Ie. ¼ cup nuts and seeds, 1T olive oil over salad

Dark chocolate and sweeteners such as zylitol.   Artificial sweeteners, high-sugar deserts, milk or white chocolate, processed candy sweets, baked goods and fried/baked chips (crisps) Eat sparingly


It is important to focus on smaller portion sizes as big portions will lead to a spike in blood glucose levels. By eating small portions more often, blood glucose levels are kept more constant. Aim to eat 3 meals a day, and include 2 snacks in between.

Some Snack Ideas

1/4 cup nuts and seeds mix + ¼ cup fresh blueberries or a small apple

5 baby carrots + 2 Tbsp homemade hummus

10 celery sticks + ¼ Avocado

1 muffin frittata

Family Communication

A study conducted by Patient Education and Counselling concluded that promoting family communication and education about diabetes might improve the prevention of diabetes in high-risk families. It is advisable to have an open and supportive communication with your family and educate them on the subject of diseases such as diabetes. Since the risk of diabetes is on the rise, and the age of obtaining it is decreasing, it is more the reason to educate your family as early as possible.


It makes sense to take the approach of Diabetes prevention rather than managing the disease. Take responsibility for the health of your family today by taking the first simple steps. Educate, implement and most of all, have fun doing it!

For more information on Diabetes, visit the Diabetes SA website and sign up to attend any one of their support groups or awareness seminars and events.