Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
When someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, it’s helpful to start with very simple dietary advice as they come to terms with the necessary lifestyle changes. The spectrum of food choices for diabetics involves “good choices” on one end and “bad choices” on the other. In the middle lies ‘moderation’, which can be adapted to the individual depending on personal factors and other conditions like blood pressure or cholesterol.
Here, we’ll break down what good and bad choices look like in each of the food groups – proteins, starches and sugars, vegetables, fruit, fats and oils, and drinks.
Proteins: meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy
- Fish more frequently (especially fatty fish like salmon, trout and mackerel)
- Eggs, especially boiled eggs
- Plain yoghurts, milk and cottage cheese
- Plant-based protein options like beans, lentils and chickpeas, instead of meat
- Using chicken that has skin removed (preferably grass-fed)
- Game meat that is very low in fat
- Deep fried meat, chicken and fish
- Very fatty red meats and processed meats
- Diary that has been sweetened, like ice cream
- Imitation cheese and coffee creamers
Starches and sugars
- Unprocessed, high fibre starches like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley.
- Items made with wholegrain flour with little or no added sugar such as wholegrain bread, crackers and cereals.
- Any food item that has a lot of sugar added, like sweets, chocolates and biscuits.
- Refined flours that have been processed and bleached white such as white flour, white breads, white crackers, white rice and refined cereals (especially if the cereals have sugar added).
- Deep fried starches such as doughnuts, koeksisters, vetkoek, fried potato chips and crisps.
- Homegrown, fresh or even frozen vegetables with emphasis on lots of different colours. Try to eat a rainbow of vegetables. Eat them raw, juice them, steam them or bake the root vegetables for maximum nutrient retention.
- Fresh herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mint, rosemary and coriander.
- Vegetables that have been boiled
- Vegetables with thick sauces
- Canned vegetables which are higher in salt (for those people who need to watch their salt intake)
- Fresh fruit in season
- Fruits with a naturally lower sugar content, such as berries, apples and citrus
- Fruit juices
- Dried fruit with sugar coating
- Fruit canned in a thick syrup
Fats and oils
- Foods that are naturally high in fats like olives, avocado, nuts and seeds
- Good quality oils such as extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
- Foods that are high in trans fatty acids and hydrogenated vegetable oils (read the food labels to spot these words).
- High quantities of plant seed oils like sunflower and canola oil (usually deep fried products).
- Filtered water flavoured naturally with lemon or mint
- Herbal teas
- Sugary drinks such as sports drinks, fizzy drinks, iced tea, flavoured water.
- Alcoholic beverages that are high in sugar, such as cocktails, dessert wines and fruity mixed drinks.
It can be hard when you’re just diagnosed with diabetes and wondering what you can and can’t eat. Hopefully this list will help. If you have any other questions, you can ask on SA’s favourite diabetes community, Diabetic South Africans on Facebook.