National diabetes week: The importance of a healthy lifestyle
November is considered Diabetes Month, with National Diabetes week starting on 9 November 2020 and World Diabetes Day celebrated on 14 November 2020.
Jeanette Coetzee discovered she had diabetes in her early 30s and had to change her lifestyle. Now 50 years old, she says that she doesn’t believe in diets but living a healthy life, which include healthy eating and exercising. While she often craves “something sweet”, she does her best to stick to a healthy eating plan. “I have been a diabetic since my thirties. It wasn’t easy at first as you get cravings and I still get cravings. I try to satisfy my cravings with a healthy alternative. I have learnt to put my health first. We all get cravings, so have something you’d enjoy, but have it in moderation and opt for a healthy alternative where possible.”
Lynn Edas, dietitian at Kraaifontein CHC, says her patients often struggle to curb unhealthy foods. “The biggest challenge in my opinion would be temptation or lack of will power to stick to the healthy eating guidelines, especially when at an event or get together. But I encourage my patients because I want to see them meet the goals we have set together; the patient actually puts in all the effort required to reach their goal.”
On an ordinary day, Jeanette has three meals which she plans ahead of time. She also includes healthy snacks in between her main meals. The Kraaifontein resident regularly receives advice from dieticians at Kraaifontein Community Health Centre. Jeanette also receives medication, adding that following doctor’s orders can improve your quality of life. “As diabetics we need to work together with our health workers by taking our medication, eating well and exercising. It’s very important that we take our medication as our organs rely on it. It is also important that you attend your appointments made at your day hospital.”
Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, has urged diabetics to live a healthy lifestyle. “Lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating are considered major risk factors for a number of adverse (harmful) health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. In the Western Cape, 17-25% of the burden of disease is attributed to non-communicable diseases (NCD). According to the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2 in 3 women and almost 1in 3 men are overweight/obese.”
The Minister has encouraged all communities to join a support group closest to them or enquire on how they can start a group. To join a group, ask your local clinic for more information on their chronic club.
“It is important to equip individuals and communities with the right knowledge and skills to take charge of their own health, and that is why we have come up with Western Cape on Wellness Healthy Lifestyle initiative. This initiative promotes healthy lifestyle movement in the Western Cape by advocating activating physical activity and healthier eating in order to prevent and reduced NCDs.”
The World Health Organization describes diabetes as a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces, attributing diabetes as a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
Warning signs of diabetes includes:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Urine smelling sweet
- Blurred vision
- Poor wound healing
With diabetes taking millions of lives each year, diabetics are urged to maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise and avoid using tobacco products.
Healthy eating tips
While many people believe that eating healthy is expensive, Western Cape Government Health dieticians say you can eat healthy on a budget. Northern Tygerberg Nutrition Coordinator, Natasha Kassen, says a healthy diet is very important for a patient with diabetes, as it helps to keep the blood sugar levels controlled and within their target range.
“Healthy eating does not have to be expensive. We encourage our patients to purchase more whole foods and foods that have not been processed. It is important to include foods that are high in fibre to your diet. Foods to include daily would be foods that are unrefined such as whole grains, like oats and lentils, a variety of vegetables (be mindful of the type of vegetables, they should not be sweetened or covered in sauce), lean meat or beans, limited amounts of starch and starchy vegetables, and fruit (be mindful of the type and size of the fruit).”
Eating well is important for diabetics to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
“This is critical because controlling the blood sugar can help prevent further complications of diabetes. This being said, there are three components to managing diabetes; appropriate use of medication, a healthy diet and behaviour and lifestyle changes i.e. increasing physical activity. Diabetes can be managed well if all three components work together.”
When creating a healthy eating plan, diabetics should consult a dietician.
“It is always best to consult a dietitian because there is no once size fits all plan as every person has individual needs. We advise diabetic patients to eat according to a plate model to ensure portion control.”
Tanja Venter, dietitian at Delft CHC, agrees with Natasha and says a healthy eating plan helps to manage weight and improves insulin sensitivity.
“This regulates glucose levels which is important to maintain normal body function as food has an impact on the entire body. It also helps to reduce the risk of other chronic illnesses.”
She has advised diabetics to make changes to their diet, like increasing physical activity by at least 30 minutes, three times per week.
“They should not skip meals, stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake, while unnecessary snacking and snacking on the wrong foods should be avoided.”
Dietetic services can be accessed at all our primary healthcare facilities, City of Cape Town clinics, as well as our NPO’s via home visits. You can also inquire at your local day hospital about diabetic support groups in your community.