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Let’s talk about what to eat when you have diabetes

What to eat when you have diabetes is the number 1 question we get asked. And for good reason! Diabetes and food are so closely related. Here are a few thoughts on this hot topic…

What to eat when you have diabetes

Of course, it’s impossible to tell a person what to eat when you have diabetes, because we are all so different.

We all come from different cultures and backgrounds, we all have different foods we like and dislike and – particularly in South Africa – we all have different access to food.

Not only the food we can afford, but where in the country we are and what food is available to us. It’s all very well to tell people to eat half a plate of fresh, leafy vegetables (which we do!) but what if you’re in a food desert and there aren’t any fresh, leafy vegetables available? I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s something we’re working on.

The Healthy Food Guide

Our first step in answering this difficult puzzle of what to eat when you have diabetes is The Healthy Food Guide. We created this printed guide to what to eat and in which portions a few years ago, and have sent thousands of copies around the country. We’ve edited it more times than I can count, when we get feedback from our community, public clinic dieticians and people living with diabetes.

It’s an illustrated guide that shows you which vegetables, fruits, proteins and starches to choose, and how much of each to eat. It also clearly shows which foods to avoid – because they’re too high in salt or sugar. And gives suggestions of how to make the right choices (choose brown bread over white, for example).

The goal with the Healthy Food Guide is to meet people where they are. It’s all very well saying cut out bread completely, but that’s not realistic for many South Afriacns. It’s more useful to say: switch out white bread for brown or wholewheat, only eat two slices rather than eight.

Taking the next step

The trouble with print, however, is that it’s expensive and difficult to distribute. Which is why we’re currently working on the Sweet Life chatbot (find out more here and donate – if you can – here!)

One of the most important problems to solve using the chatbot is how to give truly useful food advice. So we’re turning the illustrated Healthy Food Guide into photographs of real food on real plates, showing what portions of everything to eat. Also showing which foods to avoid, and how to make healthy choices. It’s a big job! Really. The food shoot is this week. Please send strength!

A healthy meal plan

The other thing we really want to do – and I admit this is ambitious – is create a healthy meal plan that people will actually use. We are often asked for meal plans, and we have a whole page full of options to choose from. But I’m not convinced they’re truly useful.

In my opinion (and I would love to hear yours!), for a meal plan to be truly useful it needs to include food that people actually eat, but made healthier.

Of course, in a country as culturally diverse as South Africa, this is a challenge! How do you take the various foods that we all eat – black, white, Indian, coloured, Asian – and try to make one cohesive meal plan? Seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners that tick all the boxes?

I’m not sure. But we’re going to try! No doubt we’ll have to make a lot of changes once we have our community’s feedback, but we have to start somewhere.

The many answers to what to eat when you have diabetes

Now you can see why it’s so difficult to answer this one important question! Guidelines help, I think (here are Sweet Life’s 5 Food Rules), but it is such a personal choice.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

What to read next?

Free Healthy Food Guide: how to eat healthy with diabetes or to lose weight: This Healthy Food Guide shows you exactly which foods to choose (and which to avoid), as well as sharing which portions to eat.

Free low carb 7 day meal plans: Download your free low carb meal plans here!

Healthy eating resolutions: Pick n Pay’s dietician Leanne Kiezer suggests three simple resolutions – and gives examples on how to make them work.

What to read next
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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.