/ 12 November 2022

Take the guesswork out of meal planning to prevent diabetes

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Obesity is a major cause of diabetes. Photo: Getty Images

The festive season is around the corner and many of us fall into the pattern of “treating ourselves” with decadent meals and snacks, and possibly overindulging on alcohol. 

We use the month of December as an excuse to abandon all the healthy eating and exercising we’ve spent all year trying to get right, and it’s often not easy to get back on the right path by the time January swings around.

Rising food prices, increasingly busy lives, and not knowing what to cook or where to start with meal preparation, are some of the reasons we struggle to eat healthy food. Overeating leads to a calorie surplus and unwanted weight gain, which can increase the risk for insulin resistance and can lead to the development of diabetes.

The facts

According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than 4.2-million South African adults (11.3%) have diabetes, but almost one in two of those who have it may not be aware. The two main types of diabetes are type one, which is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction and often shows up early in life; and type two, which is more common (95% of people with diabetes have type two diabetes), is mainly lifestyle-related. 

Over time, unmanaged diabetes can cause serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Each year, 1.5 million deaths globally are directly attributed to diabetes.

The first step in preventing or managing diabetes is getting tested. Book a health test to get a simple and convenient set of essential health screenings and preventive tests done, including blood glucose and weight status.

With excess weight being strongly linked to type two diabetes, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. Even losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can significantly decrease your risk of developing type two diabetes or help you better manage it. This means, for example, losing 4kg to 8kg for someone who weighs 80kg.

Other important lifestyle factors are exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating healthier. 

A meal solution for everyone

The American Diabetes Association recommends the Diabetes Plate Method, which not only helps those with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels but is also a helpful approach to eating in general because it takes the guesswork out of meal planning.

When dishing up, half of your plate should be filled with vegetables (for example, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, salad greens), one quarter with healthy protein foods (skinless chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, chickpeas, lentils), and the other quarter with healthy carbohydrate foods (whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa). Add healthy fats such as olive or canola oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Top up your glass with water and you have yourself a well-balanced meal.

It’s a simple method, but it works. Research from Discovery’s Data Science Lab has shown the significant effect that small lifestyle changes can have for people with type two diabetes. One extra workout a week and spending R2 000 less a year on refined starches, sugary drinks and sweets is linked to a 7.2% reduction in health claims. Now those are numbers we can be mindful of into the festive season and come out healthier in the new year.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.