Diabetes remains a chronic condition that affects millions of people. Despite the illness being very common, it is still misunderstood by many. It does not, however, mean that you cannot live a full life. With lifestyle changes and medication, the disease can be controlled.
After being diagnosed at the tender age of nine, diabetes activist and ambassador Pitso Molemane from Johannesburg says he grew up clueless about many things concerning the illness. It was also known as a white people’s disease in past years.
Molemane has lived nearly four decades with type 1, injection-dependent diabetes, and raises awareness among black people in his personal capacity.
“Growing up with diabetes was very difficult. I remember, at the ages of 13 and 15, asking God to take me because I couldn’t accept living with injections. I have been taking insulin injections twice a day for the past 39 years,” he tells Health For Mzansi.
Tried to understand the disease
According to Diabetes South Africa, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s defence system attacks the cells that produce insulin. As a result, the body produces very little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes can affect people at any age, but usually develops in children or young adults. Treatment includes daily injections of insulin to control blood glucose levels.
Molemane recalls a nurse warning him by saying, “Young man, your diabetes profile is not looking good at all. We are telling you what to do to live longer with this condition, and you are not listening. Let me tell you for the last time: if you are not going to take care of yourself, you are either going to be blind, lose one of your legs, or you are going to die.”
Molemane has since stuck to simple healthy lifestyle changes, even though they were not entirely easy to make.
“After leaving the hospital, these words kept reflecting in my mind every time I cheated on my diet or skipped my medicine. I then started doing research about the disease and read a lot of information about it. This helped me get a better understanding of the disease.
“I avoid foods with sugar and foods that are high in carbohydrates. A diabetic-friendly diet is one that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and high in protein and fibre. I prefer home-cooked African meals. My favourite is mabele pap, cabbage, and boiled chicken with gravy cooked in a Setswana way. I also enjoy pasta, especially whole-grain pasta with sauce and boiled fish. Green salad is a must. I enjoy raw carrots or cucumber as a snack.”
Live longer with these three steps
Although it can be difficult to manage this chronic illness, Malomane keeps his blood sugar levels under control by honouring three priorities: taking medicine consistently as prescribed by his doctor, eating a healthy diabetes diet, and exercising so he can be physically active.
These priorities help him control his blood sugar level, keeping it between the required level of 5 and 7 mmol/l and avoiding complications caused by the disease.
“Make these three things part of your life to live longer. Take your medicines every day. Avoid foods with sugar and eat only the correct foods. Walk, jog, and do housework to keep your body active. Also, remember that healthy diets do not mean expensive foods.
Malomane has established a website to help those living with the disease fight it. He also helps those who don’t have it with advice on how to avoid it. He is also using his experience on different radio stations to educate the public.
Importantly, he encourages people to familiarise themselves with searching for information about diabetes and make it part of their lives. “I am a living testament that diabetes can be defeated by taking medicine consistently and eating healthily.”
Easy recipes for diabetics
Sweet Life Diabetes Community, together with Pick n Pay, has designed a free diabetes cookbook for those who want ideas for every meal of the day. “Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you have to eat boring food.”
Broccoli cheese soup
1T of canola oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large head of broccoli, chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
2 t. rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3 cups of chicken stock
⅓ cup grated cheddar cheese
- Fry the onion, chilli, and rosemary in oil for a minute.
- Add broccoli, salt, and pepper, and fry for another minute to mix the flavours.
- Add stock and simmer until cooked through. Remove from heat.
- Blend or mash with a potato masher till it forms a thick soup.
- Return to the heat and stir through the cheese.
- Serve as is or with a slice of low-GI toast.
1 cup of raw oats
1T olive oil
½t ground cinnamon
100g unsalted peanuts
- Spread the oats out on a baking sheet and bake at 180°C for 8–10 minutes.
- Carefully toss the oats with oil, cinnamon, and peanuts and return them to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Leave to cool before serving scattered on low-fat plain yoghurt (half a cup per person).
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