World Diabetes Day 2021 – What’s the deal with diabetes?

Diabetes Awareness Day marks one of the most important days in The Noakes Foundation calendar. The Noakes Foundation is pleased to recognise World Diabetes Day this year and to create awareness surrounding diabetes management, while supporting under-resourced communities in the process. We empower them through nutritional education programmes to eat better, to get better. One of the key goals of the Foundation is to help combat diseases of lifestyle through a healthy diet and regular exercise, rather than relying on expensive, and usually useless, medication. The sad reality is that millions of South Africans struggle daily with their lifestyle choices and are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, due to inadequate living situations, which has an impact on their diet and sedentary lifestyle. The situation for plenty of people is that they follow unhealthy lifestyle choices, like excessive carbohydrate and sugar intake, smoking, alcohol intake and little to no exercise. Unfortunately, they continue on this path of bad habits and their health steadily declines, until suddenly, they’re facing obesity – with the possibility of developing Type 2 diabetes or another condition, such as cardiovascular disease or hypertension, in the long-term. Once receiving the bad news of “you have diabetes”, a person feels that they have no choice, but to just live with the disease and that there’s nothing they can do to turn their health around. This is, however, a complete misconception.

Jayne Bullen (COO of The Noakes Foundation, MD of Nutrition Network, Co-founder of Eat Better South Africa) says that “the current consensus that diabetes is a progressive and, in effect, terminal disease is the biggest ethical injustice of our time! It is one that we owe our children to address actively so they do not suffer from the same degree of misinformation and are not dished out a life trajectory of pharmaceutical treatment for a dietary problem.” 

The current research available is indicative of the relationship between diet and diabetes and should be considered as a forefront method in managing the symptoms and onset of the disease. Antidiabetic medication should only be incorporated as a last and necessary resort to manage symptoms of the disease should the patient be of high risk, and only be considered once healthy lifestyle choices have been practiced. Prof. Noakes has been quoted in saying “The key point is that the progressive decline of physiological and metabolic function is reversed. That’s what is important.” It is essential to prevent the further decline in normal bodily processes in diabetic patients in order to prolong life expectancy and reduce the occurrence of premature death in patients. It has been observed that a diet high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates and sugars has a positive effect on the overall metabolic profile of diabetic individuals. By incorporating foods such as unprocessed meat, poultry, full fat dairy and non-starchy vegetables into your diet you can significantly decrease your risk of developing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

We have seen amazing results from past studies conducted by The Noakes Foundation, more specifically, that of PhD researcher, Georgina Pujol-Busquet. Eat Better South Africa (EBSA), the community outreach branch of The Noakes Foundation, along with Georgina, sought to ascertain the Effect of a low-carbohydrate nutrition education program on dietary choices and metabolic health in women from low-income South African communities. A total of 32 participants were recruited for the study in July 2019 and took part in the EBSA program from the end of August to the beginning of October 2019. Data was collected to compare the health status of participants from before and after the Eat Better South Africa program and also follow up data from March 2020. The data was collected through blood tests, body measurements, blood pressure, diet assessment (food frequency and three 24-hours food recall), accelerometers (activity monitors), and several questionnaires such as demographics, household characteristics, medical conditions, chronic diseases’ risk factors, and food insecurity. Georgina’s findings showed that the women involved had significant improvements in waist circumference, BMI, blood pressure, HbA1c and triglycerides levels.

Past studies have shown the benefits of including good fats, like monounsaturated fats, into your diet. Not only does fat make your food tasty, but also has a number of other important functions within the body. Good fats play a role in the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E and K. The aforementioned vitamins are essential to the proper functioning of your body and cannot be absorbed effectively without the help of fat. Additionally, fats play a key role in the maintenance of healthy blood vessels, aid in the proper functioning of the nervous system and are important in the synthesis of certain hormones. If your goal is to lose or maintain your weight, it is best to choose the full-fat option as products high in sugar and carbs can cause weight gain. We would like to prompt our followers to focus on making incremental healthy diet decisions and include healthy fats from sources like nuts, unprocessed meat, fish, eggs and good-quality fats and oils instead.

Simple ways that you can remove sugar from your diet:

  • Cook a family meal at home
  • Skip the fizzy cooldrinks
  • Avoid purchasing ready-made pasta sauces, salad dressings and cereals
  • Try to opt from foods that are as close to their natural state
  • Eat green leafy vegetables and unprocessed meat

With the festive season slowly edging nearer it will, of course, be quite challenging in terms of rectifying or altering your diet, but it is important to be mindful going into the festive season this year as many lovely goodies are produced by grocery stores to entice you to buy their themed products. Unfortunately, a lot of these goodies are processed and packed with sugar to taste good, as well as to retain shelf life. If you are planning a family lunch during this time, rather make a great meal from scratch and decide upon healthier low sugar and low carb options. Skip the sugary cranberry sauce you would purchase from your local grocery store and test your culinary skills by making a creamy gravy instead. All of these little choices you make today can assist you in the long run when it comes to your health.

Through our work with Nutrition Network and Eat Better South Africa, we hope to make a significant difference in people’s lives by equipping them with the sound knowledge and information needed to live a sustainably healthy life. The Noakes Foundation is dedicated to helping educate our nation, and the world, on the benefits of a low carb, high fat diet (LCHF), especially in the case of diabetes. The Foundation prides itself on its maverick research into the LCHF lifestyle and wants to continue pioneering the way forward in this field. We believe that it is imperative to bring attention to the dangers of excessive amounts of sugar and carbohydrates in the human diet, and that we can help people suffering from a seemingly incurable disease, manage their symptoms and lead healthy, happy lives. 

About the author

Shannon Mace has a BSc degree in Human Life Sciences from Stellenbosch University, she majored in biochemistry and physiology. She has a keen interest in metabolic physiology and hopes to further her studies in the subject. Shannon has joined The Noakes Foundation as a researcher, as well as an administrator. She looks forward to helping the foundation promote healthier living and happier lifestyles.

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