Living with diabetes

Living with diabetes

Life as a diabetic can be near-normal with a few diet tweaks and a bit of lifestyle management, we learn from the experts.

Diabetes is becoming a global epidemic that is increasing at an alarming rate. A 2012 study conducted by the International Diabetes Federation revealed that the prevalence of diabetes in the UAE is at 18.9 per cent, with the country being ranked 11th worldwide. Unhealthy lifestyles that are highly sedentary and poor dietary habits, with increased consumption of processed foods are one of the primary reasons for the global rise in the incidence of diabetes. A deficieny in Vitamin D – which is highly prevalent in people living in the UAE, as they aren’t exposed to the sun – is also one of the leading risk factors.

However, diabetes doesn’t have to bring normal life to a grinding halt, as long as the diet and lifestyle is managed properly. Food plays an integral role when it comes to controlling diabetes, and offers natural remedies for the condition. “What you eat directly affects your blood sugar levels. Having a well-balanced diet, rich in nutrients and controlled in calories will help diabetics remain in good health and reduce their risk of developing diabetes-associated complications such as cardio-vascular diseases and kidney problems,” says Emilie Hartman, dietitian at Mediclinic Dubai Mall.

The key is to reduce the intake of processed foods and include more low-GI (glycemic index) foods to get all food components that can help maintain good blood sugar levels. Here, our expert panel consisting of Emile Hartman; Bengt Ternstron, CEO of Rashid Center for Diabetes and Research; and Dr. Jane Darakjian, Dietician and nutritionist at DFC (Doctor Fitness Centre) Academy UAE, tell us which foods a diabetic should include in their diet. If you are, or know someone who is already a diabetes statistic, pack your shopping trolley with these:


This fragrant spice can be added to sweet and savoury dishes and contains components which help the body use insulin more effectively, to allow more glucose to enter cells and help reduce high blood sugar levels. Diabetics can include it in their diet to help break down sugars and fat, and help protect against cardiovascular disease as well.


The low-GI grain is rich in soluble fibres and a partial complex carbohydrate, which makes it a great option for those who are obese and snack mindlessly – as oats digest slowly in the system, gradually producing energy, helping you feel full for longer, and don’t induce a spike in sugar levels right after eating. Opt for unsweetened or unflavoured varieties and don’t hesitate to sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on top.


These seeds are rich in Omega 3-6-and 9-fatty acids and are good sources of fibre, magnesium and phytochemicals, including antioxidants. It is recommended to eat them in powder form, as they are easier to digest, and the real nutrients lie beneath the shell in the seed itself. Add powdered flaxseeds to smoothies, oatmeal, low-fat yoghurt, soup and salads.

Green tea

The polyphenol content in this antioxidant-rich tea may help increase insulin activity, which helps lower high blood sugar levels. It also lowers chronic inflammation – caused by high-fat foods, lack of exercise and less consumption of fruits, vegetables and good fats – and helps protect against heart attacks as it contains flavonoids.


This kitchen staple not only promotes the efficiency of insulin but also reduces high cholesterol levels which leads to heart disease. Diabetics will benefit from eating garlic, as certain compounds it contains help lessen the effects of complications (in diabetes patients) such as high blood pressure, strokes, kidney disease and failure, and amputations and blindness. These compounds also help strengthen the immune system and regulate blood pressure.

Green leafy vegetables

Spinach is low in carbohydrates and high in fibres, which help control the portion of starch intake and keeps you fuller for longer as well. The dark leafy green vegetable is rich in antioxidants, a great source of Vitamin C and E, iron and folic acid and helps keep blood pressure in control as it is high in potassium and magnesium. Vegetables such as kale and collard greens are also good sources of lutein, a carotenoid which aids eye health in diabetics.


Nuts are high in healthy fats (unsaturated) which help reduce insulin resistance as they are rich in fibre and magnesium and control blood sugar levels. They also protect the heart by fighting against diseases. Pine nuts, peanuts and almonds are a good source of Vitamin E which protect cells and help prevent nerve and eye damage in diabetics. It can be easy to overeat, while snacking, so make sure to treat yourself to no more than 40grams of unsalted nuts a day.


Chickpeas, cannelloni beans, kidney beans and lentils are all are low in fat and calories, and high in fibre and protein, which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular strokes. The fibre in legumes slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, which regulates blood sugar and prevents a sudden rise in blood sugar levels. The iron in chickpeas helps regulate haemoglobin – absorption of nutrients to the bloodstream – and controls blood sugar levels as well.


Strawberries and kiwis are great options for diabetics who want to increase their Vitamin C intake, as the percentage of sugar in these fruits are lower than other Vitamin-C rich fruits such as oranges, and also help regulate blood sugar levels. Fruits such as papaya, which are lowGI and rich in Vitamin A and carotenoids, and blueberries – packed with antioxidants – are good low-sugar choices too.


It’s no surprise that Omega-3 rich fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna are power foods for diabetics as well. The fatty acids in these oily fish keep arteries clear and lower high cholesterol levels and triglycerides – prevalent amongst diabetics.

Dark chocolate

A study published in Diabetic Medicine, claims that good cholesterol (HDL) and overall cholesterol balance is enhanced when patients consume 45g of dark chocolate each day. Dark chocolate – the higher the cocoa content, the better – also lowers blood pressure levels and improves the functioning of blood vessels. It’s a great alternative to milk and white chocolate as the breakdown of sugar is slow and so converts into energy gradually, rather than causing a sudden spike in blood sugar.