Diabetes is on the rise in South Africa. Last year there were more than 1,8 million cases diagnosed in South African adults (or 5,4 percent of the adult population). Currently, 16 million people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from diabetes. By 2045, that figure is expected to jump to 41 million. Wheelchair users are particularly vulnerable to contracting diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form contracted later in life, can be managed or prevented with a few lifestyle changes. These may be as simple as eating less meat or substituting meat with plant-based alternatives.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to produce the hormone insulin, or when the body can’t properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin converts glucose (or sugar) to energy and transports it to the muscles and organs. Without insulin, cells can’t use glucose, and the glucose levels in the blood rise (a condition known as hyperglycaemia).
This can cause all kinds of damage to vital organs over the long term and affects blood vessels, nerves and organs. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination (especially at night), extreme thirst, increased hunger, unexplained weight loss, tiredness and loss of concentration, blurred vision and slow healing of wounds and bruises.
Types of diabetes
There are two major types. Type 1 occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. This type is most often seen in children and young adults, and requires daily insulin injections to offset the blood glucose build-up.
Far more common is Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces or simply no longer produces enough. Type 2 is often, but not always, associated with being overweight or obese, and is typically seen in adults. Family history of the disease may also increase the risk of developing the condition.
Type 2 diabetes is also linked to poor lifestyle choices. Regularly grabbing a high-calorie takeaway via the drive-through on the way home, or indulging in a whole box of doughnuts, not only compromises your waistline; it increases the risk of diabetes. For wheelchair users (especially those who have no exercise routine), this condition is even more dangerous.
Preventing Type 2 diabetes
There are steps you can take to avoid Type 2 diabetes. This applies even if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, during which the blood glucose levels are high and there is a form of insulin resistance. The American Diabetes Association recommends the following changes to safeguard your health, even if you’re pre-diabetic.
Maintain a healthy weight
Losing just five or ten percent of your body weight can slow or even reverse pre-diabetes. If that sounds like a lot to ask, take it one step at a time. Make small changes to your diet and level of physical activity, and set realistic goals over a period.
There is no need to go overboard and possibly get discouraged. Start with pushing your chair around the block in the evenings for a little exercise or do some resistance training. Consult your doctor or physiotherapist on the best exercises to do and bear in mind your abilities – keep the exercises simple rather than injuring yourself.
Make healthy food choices
Start by adjusting your portion sizes. It’s an effective way to manage body weight and blood glucose levels. Also, consider what you consume. Reduce sugar intake (including sugar in coffee or tea, sweetened beverages, juices, sweets, desserts or baked goods). Pick wholegrain starches with higher fibre content.
Time to go vegan?
Another adjustment to your diet that can help fight diabetes is consuming less meat and more plant-based forms of protein. Researchers behind the Adventist Health Study found that meat eaters had more than twice the prevalence of diabetes compared with lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans.
Try a vegan meal once or twice a week or opt for food-based alternatives like mushroom patties. There are a number of brands that offer delicious alternatives if you don’t feel like a bowl of salad. Fry Family Food Co has provided an example of a menu if you are interested in eating more vegan meals. (Visit www.fryfamilyfood.com/za for a selection of recipes and a list of stockists.)
Again, consult a doctor or dietitian before making any major changes to your diet.
Kasha cereal with berries
|Add 40 g (four tablespoons) of vanilla and Kasha high-protein instant cereal with half a cup of unsweetened almond milk. Served with a handful of blueberries (one portion is ¾ of a cup)
Quinoa and edamame bean salad with an Asian ginger and soy dressing
|120 g of steamed edamame beans (shelled) added to half a cup of cooked quinoa and half a cup of whole kernel corn. Bulk up with salad ingredients, such as grated carrot, sliced spring onion and bean sprouts. Dress with a tablespoon of Asian and soy dressing.
Cracker with a spread of hummus and vegetables
|A rye crisp bread and a tablespoon of hummus with vegetable crudité (Rosa tomatoes, mange-tout peas and cucumber sticks)
Fry’s Traditional Burger on a Portobello mushroom topped with salad ingredients
|One Fry’s Traditional Burger based on a Portobello mushroom. Layer with lettuce, sliced tomato, grilled onions, sliced gherkins and sliced avocado pear.|