What you need to know about managing diabetes in the family
As the rates of Type 2 diabetes continue to rise in South Africa, more and more South African families are meeting the challenges of living with the condition. A diagnosis of diabetes in the family is a life-changing event, but it is important to remember that diabetes can be managed. If you, or a family member has been diagnosed with diabetes, the first step is for you to completely understand the condition and how it impacts the body. You are empowered to take charge of the condition by diabetes education. So if you feel that you don't fully understand diabetes, you must ask your local clinic or a community dietitian or a healthcare practitioner to give you more information and help you understand the condition fully.
Diabetes can be managed by medication combined with healthy eating, exercise and monitoring your blood sugar. Registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, Neo Mongoegi says, “You need to understand the symptoms of high blood sugars, which is hyperglycaemia, and the symptoms of low blood sugars, which is hypoglycaemia. You also need to understand the impact that food has on blood sugar levels. This awareness enables you to identify any symptoms and then manage them.” Neo is the Head of the Dietetics department at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. She explains, “It is important to know that diabetes is a manageable condition and not a death sentence. However, it is a progressive disease and has to be managed properly through a lifestyle change and compliance to medication. This lifestyle change is essential, and it involves the whole family, not just the person who has been diagnosed. We know that compliance with your healthier lifestyle and new medication routine is improved when the whole family adopts healthy eating and exercise habits.”
Type 2 diabetes disproportionately affects people living in lower income communities where making the necessary lifestyle changes can be challenging due to harder access to healthcare services and diabetes education. Sometimes, access to fresh fruit and vegetables is less easy, and in neighbourhoods with high crime and less recreational space it can be more challenging to develop sustainable exercise habits. No matter the challenges you face, it is important to know that solutions can still be found. This is the advice from another registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Carla Boshoff who works in low income rural communities. She says, “Some small lifestyle changes can be made immediately. Don’t start with what you don’t have, but with what you do have available. Start adding less sugar to foods and drinks, and work towards avoiding it completely. Swop sugary cold drinks for water. Stop adding unnecessary fats or spreads to food and start eating a smaller portion of the carbohydrates that form part of your current daily diet. Start harvesting seeds from available vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins and peppers, and start planting. Invest in planting spinach, whether you have a garden, an old bucket or old car tyres, so that you always have access to green leafy vegetables. Many people discover that they love food gardening and that there’s great satisfaction in growing your own healthy food. Ask your neighbours and friends to share the costs of seeds with you, and you can all start planting. Join others in community food gardening so that you can share resources, trade vegetables and even sell some for extra income.”
These are Carla’s top 6 tips for people affected by diabetes who live in low-income communities:
You can also find a dietitian in your area by visiting https://www.adsa.org.za/find-a-registered-dietitian.