Prevalence of diabetes mellitus is on the rise: currently in South Africa diabetes is the second leading cause of all-cause mortality, only after tuberculosis. The age of a person at diagnosis is also becoming younger – but what is causing this pandemic? All over the radio and television I have seen ads promoting sugar as the culprit. This is somewhat false and misleading. To better understand diabetes we need to look at various things: who is at risk, what is diabetes and when is it diagnosed and what will lead to increased or decreased blood glucose levels? In this post we will be focusing on type 2 diabetes.

Risk of developing diabetes:

A person’s risk of developing diabetes is so much more than the amount of sugar or sweetened food products they consume:

  • Genetics / family history
  • Age
  • Race

These things we cannot control. It is good to be aware if we fall in the risk category and to take preventative measures early on in life. Genetics: if you parents, grandparents or siblings have diabetes your risk of developing diabetes is increased. Age: the older you are the higher the risk for developing diabetes. Race: people of different racial and ethnic groups are more likely to develop diabetes.

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Overweight

These things we can control. By reducing body weight (through following a healthy diet) and increasing exercise you will decrease your risk of developing diabetes.

Making a diagnosis:

A diagnosis of diabetes is made when a person’s pancreas does not function optimally or the body cells does not respond to insulin being secreted. Insulin is used to absorb glucose and other nutrients into the cells. When these nutrients cannot be absorbed it will remain in the blood and levels will slowly become elevated. Elevated blood glucose levels can lead to various symptoms:

Being aware of these symptoms can help you to be diagnosed and treated sooner:


Most often sugar containing and processed foods and beverages lead to elevated blood glucose levels. On occasion I have consulted with clients that follow a ‘healthy lifestyle’ who cannot manage to get their blood glucose levels within normal ranges. After doing a dietary assessment it became clear that they consumed large quantities of carbohydrates without realizing it. Carbohydrates are present in fruit, certain vegetables, dairy products, starches, legumes and sweetened products.

Consuming a variety of food (from the different food groups) can help to slow down digestion and absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, it also leads to less glucose being consumed with a meal, but still ensures enough carbohydrates to provide essential nutrients. Try following the guidelines as set out in “The healthy plate model”



Exercise can help to reduce blood glucose levels. Exercising when blood glucose levels are too low or high can be detrimental to your health. It is important to consult with a biokineticist to receive an appropriate training program.

People with diabetes can live a healthy and normal life it they can manage their blood glucose levels and complications well. A registered dietitian and biokineticist can help you to achieve these goals.