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Diet & Diabetes


Nutritional tips to support the management of diabetes.


During digestion, the carbohydrates or starchy foods you eat are broken down into glucose, a type of sugar. This glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream, and becomes known as your blood sugar or blood glucose. Your pancreas then releases the hormone insulin into the blood, which transports the glucose from the blood to the body cells, to be used for energy. The insulin helps to regulate your blood glucose levels.

Diabetes is caused when there is too little or no insulin, or the insulin cannot be used properly by the body. This means that the body cannot control blood glucose levels normally, or use the energy from foods effectively. Instead of feeding the cells with energy, the glucose accumulates in the blood, causing blood glucose levels to rise and, over time, causing damage to the kidneys, eyes, nerves and heart.


Accounting for 5 – 10% of diabetes cases, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease ‘caused’ by the inability of the pancreas to make insulin. A combination of daily insulin, a careful eating plan and physical activity is required for its management.


Accounting for 90 – 95% of cases, Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the pancreatic cells do not produce enough insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to insulin normally. Occurring most often in people who are overweight, this type of diabetes can often be managed through food choices, weight control and physical activity alone. Glucose-lowering medication may help the body to produce more insulin, or better use the insulin the body makes. Insulin injections may be needed too.

You've been diagnosed, what now?

The good news is that by taking responsibility for your health and well-being, diabetes can be managed. The first step is to develop a treatment plan with your lifestyle in mind. Whether you choose to do this with the help of a doctor, diabetes educator or dietitian, your treatment plan needs to take four key factors into account: medication, nutrition, monitoring and exercise.

  • In South Africa, 20.7% of people have a family history of high blood sugar
  • Around 18% of people are pre-diabetic
  • 9.5% of people have been diagnosed with diabetes


Did you know that a diabetic diet isn’t just for people with the condition? In fact, dietary guidelines recommended for people with diabetes are the same as those recommended for the healthy population. So rather than preparing separate meals for yourself, encourage your family to adopt these healthy habits.

Timing is everything

Eat three regular meals per day to help control your blood glucose, energy and hunger levels.

Size matters

It is best to consult with a registered dietitian to learn what portion size is the right fit for you and your health. To find a registered dietitian in your area, visit www.adsa.org.za.

You are what you eat

The nutritional quality of the carbohydrates, proteins and fats you eat has a direct impact on your blood sugar and your ability to control it. Use this leaflet for tips on how to spot foods of higher nutritional quality

Balanced Breakfast

To build a balanced breakfast meal, choose one food from each of the following food groups to build your plate:

  • 1/4 High-fibre carbohydrates
  • 1/4 Lean proteins
  • 1/2 Vegetables and fruit
  • Small amount of healthy fats

Food examples of each group