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Understanding gut health and diabetes

What do you know about your gut health, and how it might be affecting your diabetes? Gut health is the balance of bacteria in your gut. If they’re in balance, you can eat and digest food without discomfort. But aside from that, I didn’t know much. Which is why I was so delighted to ask dietician Mpho Tshukudu to explain a few things to us.

gut health and diabetes

Why should diabetic South Africans care about gut health?

A healthy gut is characterised by a balanced microbiome. This ensures that food is well digested and nutrients are well absorbed: that the food you are eating is nourishing your body in the right way.

How might gut health affect diabetes and blood sugar control?

If the gut is not functioning well, processes like blood sugar control may not be functioning as well as they should be.

What are some of the cultural and dietary behaviours that affect South African gut health?

South African diets have moved from more rural and traditional whole foods to highly processed Western foods. These Western foods have less fibre, fruits, vegetables and legumes and more refined flours, sugar, processed oils and animal protein. As a result, South African gut health is something we should all be paying attention to.

What are some simple changes South Africans can make to improve gut health?

  • Eat a variety of foods from whole food sources. This means lots of different kinds of foods as they were created, not processed and pre-packaged.
  • Include colourful vegetables and fruits. They are high in polyphenols, fibre and prebiotics. Prebiotics are particularly good for gut health. Some spices such as black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, oreganum and rosemary also contain prebiotics.
  • Legumes (beans and lentils) and nuts are good sources of fibre and plant proteins.
  • Fermented dairy (like buttermilk and maas) and yoghurt are a source of protein and are ideal for those with lactose intolerance.

Which foods to choose for gut health

Some South Africans self-medicate with laxatives, herbal preparations and enemas as a first-line approach, which can be harmful long term. It’s a better idea to choose familiar, heritage or traditional foods for gut health.

Here are some ideas:

  • Onion, ginger, garlic, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric are prebiotics that support gut health.
  • While beans and legumes get a bad rap for causing bloating and flatulence, if you sprout, soak and ferment lentils and beans (as well as grains and other vegetables), you can avoid these issues.
  • Fruits like pomegranates, figs, blackberries, and baobab grow in rural areas, and can be added to smoothies, baking and dressings.
  • South Africa has a wealth of traditional and nutritious cooking leaves. Morogo, for example, is rich in nutrients and fibre. It is good for pesto, salads and added to smoothies.
  • In South Africa, a lot of meat is eaten, partly because plant proteins (beans and legumes) are considered poverty foods. But a good balance of meat and plant proteins is a healthy choice.

About Mpho Tshukudu

mpho tshukudu

Mpho Tshukudu is a registered dietician, pilates instructor and breath-work practitioner. In her practice, she uses food and its nutritional compounds, stress management, sleep and exercise to promote optimal health. Mpho is interested in food and its relationship to health, emotions, culture, heritage, spirituality and sustainability.

Mpho co-authored a self-help recipe book Eat Ting, with Anna Trapido. Eat Ting answers the unaddressed need for South African specific nutritional guidance. Readers will lose weight, gain health, and laugh and cry at the inspiring narratives of those who shared their personal stories.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

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One Comment

  1. Salih hendricks Salih hendricks

    Flushing your gut 1 or 2 times a year can do wonders for your diabetes

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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.