The Observer (Kampala)

27 November 2012

Uganda: Healthy Lifestyle, Good Diet Will Control Diabetes

Photo: File/IRIN
Diabetic patients develop problems if they don't take sufficient care.

Diabetes is among the world's most dreaded diseases - it is not 100% curable.

The disease is caused by failure of the pancreas to produce insulin to enable the glucose from food to enter the body cells and be used as a source of energy.

According to Dr Christine Ondoa's report on the first East African Diabetes Summit held at Munyonyo last year, 10.2 million Ugandans were pre-diabetic. Currently, two million Ugandans are diabetic.

"The major causes include unhealthy body weight, poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and genetic predisposition," Pearl Ainembabazi, a nutritionist with Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), explained.

Symptoms include: extreme thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, hunger, blurry vision, irritability, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet and extreme fatigue.

Ainembabazi says that over time, diabetes results in various complications which include stroke, blindness, heart attack, kidney failure and impotence. But if you follow certain health norms in your daily routine you can keep it under control.

Eat a balanced diet

Health experts recommend that diabetics should eat a balanced diet with all the essential components of carbohydrates for energy, vitamins and minerals to provide building blocks for immunity and vitality and proteins for body building processes. However, it is the choice and quantity of foods that is important.

"Healthy diabetic diets should be low in fat and calories, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and fibre-rich foods and whole grains," Dr Edith Nyangoma, a physician at Mulago hospital and member of Uganda Diabetes association, says.

She explains that carbohydrate foods like bread, grains, and other starches are turned into sugar by the body; therefore, diabetics should eat more complex carbohydrates that don't release too much sugar too fast as they are absorbed more slowly for example whole grains, brown rice and brown whole wheat bread as opposed to white rice; millet as opposed to posho.

Vegetables:

Vegetables are important in diabetic diets as they contain much less carbohydrates in them and useful minerals like zinc, magnesium and selenium necessary to boost the immune system. Dr Nyangoma advises one to eat them fresh, raw or lightly steamed, roasted, or grilled.

"Foods eaten in almost their natural forms are harder to digest and thus release sugars very slowly, keeping the body sugar control mechanisms in check and not over loaded with sugar which is dangerous to cells," she says.

Limit sweets:

Limiting blood sugar means you need to limit on your sweets, like pastries, cakes, candies and other sweet-full food.

Limit cholesterol & salt:

Because diabetics are at risk of getting heart disease, foods that raise bad cholesterol are not advised. These include high fat dairy products and too much salt in food.

Ginger:

A study published in the August 2012 edition of the natural product journal Planta Medica suggested that ginger may improve long-term blood sugar control for people with type II diabetes.

They argue that ginger can increase uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin and may, therefore, assist in the management of high blood sugar levels. Herbs such as onion and garlic are being researched for their ability to regenerate pancreatic cells, lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin.

However, Dr Nyangoma says there is a lot of misinformation about herbs and diabetes and no conclusive research about the benefit of herbs like cinnamon, ginger, garlic and ginseng on diabetes.

"What has been found conclusively is that healthy diets (less processed, fewer calories, less salt, less fat, more fibre ,more whole grains, more whole fruit, more fresh vegetables) and regular exercise improve the life expectancy and quality of life of diabetic patients," she says.

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