Managing diabetes

2014-11-20 00:00

NOVEMBER is diabetes awareness month with World Diabetes Day falling on November 14. Despite the facts that diabetes is so prevalent in our nation and most people know of someone who faces the ramifications of this disease daily, it is still shrouded in misunderstanding and misperception.

It is estimated 3,5 million South Africans currently live with diabetes. Tragically, many of these cases go undiagnosed, leading to worsening complications and poor health that could otherwise be avoided. Symptoms are often mild or difficult to recognise, developing gradually. Diabetes South Africa says it takes on average seven years for a person to be diagnosed with diabetes for the first time. This delay means 30% of people with type two diabetes have already developed complications by the time they are diagnosed. These complications include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure.

Earlier diagnosis and implementation of treatment can avoid these complications entirely. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes worldwide is increasing exponentially — and the vast majority (90%) are type two diabetes linked to the obesity epidemic sweeping our country.

Know your risk status. Your risk for type two diabetes increases with the presence of each of the following risk factors:

• age 35 or older;

• being overweight and/or having high blood pressure;

• exercising less than 150 minutes (2½ hours) per week;

• carrying excess fat weight around your middle — the typical “apple” shape;

• family history of obesity or type two diabetes;

• eating a diet high in fats and excessive sugar; and

• Indian descent (the population group with South Africa’s highest prevalence).

Many diabetes symptoms are vague and could be attributed to a variety of other causes. If you have any of the above risk factors, you should visit your doctor as soon as you become aware of any of the following symptoms:

• excessively thirsty and passing excessive urine;

• blurred vision;

• skin irritation and infections;

• frequent bladder infections;

• constantly hungry; and

• feeling tired and lethargic.

The good news is even if you are at risk for type two diabetes, you can avoid becoming a statistic.

Making long-term adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits can not only delay, but also prevent, the condition from developing. These healthy adjustments are the same changes a person with diabetes should employ to manage his or her condition better and prevent complications.

Stay active! A good dose of exercise every day has innumerable health benefits, not least of all improving the body’s insulin response to meals. If the weather interrupts your outdoor schedule too often, try downloading any number of online dance or fitness programmes. There are so many available you could never cry “boredom”!

Ditch the highly refined, high-fat snacks and meals. Practise preparing meals with as little oil or butter as possible and adding as many vegetables as you can to every lunch and supper. Increasing salads and vegetables make the meal more satisfying and give a good dose of health-improving fibre.

Choose foods containing natural sugars (such as fruits) to appease your sweet tooth rather than convenience foods easily overeaten.

Maintain a healthy weight. Fad diets and promises for quick weight loss never offer the long-term solution that improves health. Slowly losing extra weight by eating a balanced diet and being active is the lifestyle change that will still reap benefits in 10 to 20 years’ time.

This increasingly common condition can be successfully managed if it is not ignored. Visit for comprehensive and helpful assistance in living healthily with diabetes.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@

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