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Over the past decades, the rise of diabetes around the world has been so prevalent and extreme, it is sometimes referred to as the epidemic of our modern times.  

Registered dietitian and ADSA (the Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokesperson, Ria Catsicas says, “According to the latest mortality report for South Africa released earlier this year, diabetes is ranked as the leading cause of death in women, and the most important risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes is obesity.  

"At this time, more than 60% of South African women are either overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk than men of developing diabetes in the future.”

Gender also means that women experience additional health risks due to obesity.  

As Ria notes: “Almost 17% of pregnant South African women experience gestational diabetes which is directly related to obesity.  This condition puts them at risk of experiencing high blood pressure during their pregnancy, miscarriages and still birth.  

"In addition, the babies of mothers-to-be with gestational diabetes tend to be large which can contribute to complications during birth and are themselves at a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in life.  Obesity also plays a role in increasing the risks of female infertility.”

Optimal nutrition is key for the person with diabetes; it is also crucial for those who may not have diabetes yet, but are insulin-resistant and those with a family history of diabetes, as genetics are also a risk.  Optimal nutrition is also essential for all women – up to 70% of cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle.

Type 1 diabetes is managed by medication (injectable insulin and or tablets),a controlled diet and exercise; but when it comes to Type 2 diabetes, good nutrition along with other healthy lifestyle changes are usually the first line of treatment to manage diabetes, and if medication is required, a healthy diet can complement and often influence the medicine, to help avoid experiencing the life-threatening complications of diabetes.  

Tabitha Hume, also a registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, points out that common-sense healthy lifestyle changes can be a vital safeguard.  

“Balanced meals that are made up of a combination of high fibre, low-GI carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy plant fats with generous helpings of vegetables and salads and some fruit (in controlled portions) can be a general guide. 

"However, plasma glucose control is very individual, depending on the severity of the diabetes, and the type and dosage of medication being used. Diabetics will need the help of a registered clinical dietitian who can support them in translating these guidelines into the practical meal plans that best suit their food culture, their taste preferences, daily routines and lifestyles.’’

ADSA spokesperson, Nasreen Jaffer agrees, “There is no ‘one size fits all’.  In order to make a sustainable change to a healthier eating plan, all aspects of a person’s life must be taken into account.  

"A working mom with kids at school does not have the same amount of time for food planning and preparation compared to a stay-at-home mom.  It is the role of the dietitian to help tailor an eating plan that is healthy – as well as practical, affordable and do-able for the individual.”

All three experts agree that this year’s focus on women is relevant to the adoption of healthy lifestyles across South Africa’s population.   

While many men play a prominent nurturing role in the home, and many are becoming increasingly interested in the impact of nutrition on health and physical performance, it is still common for women to take the dominant role in the nourishing of the family, and ensuring health and disease prevention. 

Tabitha points out: “Since women are most often the home chef, the grocery shopper, and the planner of meals and snacks for children and the family, if nutrition education is targeted at women, there is a higher chance that healthy nutrition guidelines filter through the whole family and have the biggest impact. 

"Family traditions, practices and cultures most often derive from the mother in a family which is why children often adopt the religion and language of the mother. This is where the ‘Mother Tongue’ phrase originates. South African women are encouraged to develop a ‘Mother Meal’ concept moving forward, helping to instil healthy eating habits in children from a young age.”


Zucchini, oatmeal & chickpea fritters, grilled chicken, tomato, feta & mint salsa
By chef Vanessa Marx
Serves 4

For the Fritters:
1/2 cup ground oats or oat bran
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 cup low fat milk
2 free-range eggs
3 medium zucchini, grated
10ml chopped fresh parsley
a pinch of salt & pepper to season
10ml canola oil

 In a bowl, mix together the ground oats and chickpea flour, with the baking powder and seasoning.
Make a well in the centre, and add the two eggs and milk.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients into a batter, and then add the grated zucchini and mix well.
Heat a non-stick pan on a medium heat, and drizzle with half a teaspoon of the canola oil.
Spoon a tablespoon at a time into the pan to make the individual fritters.
Let the fritter form a crust on the underneath side and become golden brown and set a little, before flipping them over with a spatula.
Let the fritters cook through and have colour on both sides, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Cook the fritters in 2 batches, so you don’t over crowd the pan.
Set them aside on a platter or plate.

Makes 12 fritters

For the Chicken:
4 free-range chicken breasts
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
zest & juice of 1 lemon
5ml chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper to season
10ml canola oil

Cut the chicken breast into strips and season with the paprika, lemon, thyme, salt & pepper
Put a frying pan on a high heat and add the canola oil.
When the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts and cook for around 2 minutes on each side, until browned, and cooked through.
Remove the chicken strips from the pan heat and set aside until you are ready to serve.

For the Salsa: 
2 large tomatoes
30g spring onion
1 TBL chopped fresh mint
100g feta, cut into cubes
1 TBL lemon juice
1 TBL olive oil
salt & pepper

Roughly chop the tomatoes into dice, and slice the spring onion
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, mint, spring onion and feta and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste and mix well.

To assemble:
Place the fritters onto individual plates or a platter to serve.
Top the fritters with the grilled chicken 
Pile the salsa over the top of the chicken and garnish with fresh coriander leaves

Why dietitians love this recipe:

The oat bran and chickpea flour used in the fritters provide a good source of healthy soluble fibre, which lowers the glycaemic index of this dish and aids in blood sugar control. Adding zucchinis not only ups the fibre content even further, but is also an easy way to get in a portion of veggies.

Instead of using store-bought marinades, which are often high in salt, sugar and preservatives, we have packed in some punchy flavour by using paprika, lemon and thyme to season the chicken. 

Nutrition information: Per serving

Chicken*: Energy: 160kCal/ 675kJ, Fat: 3.6g, Carbohydrates: 0.27g, Fibre: 0.33g, Protein: 31.4g, Sodium: 95mg 
*130g raw portion per chicken breast

Fritter: Energy: 43kCal/ 178kJ, Fat: 2.1g, Carbohydrates: 2.9g, Fibre: 1g, Protein: 2.5g, 
Sodium: 210mg 

Salsa*: Energy: 107kCal/ 448kJ, Fat: 6g, Carbohydrates: 4.9g, Protein: 6.2g, Sodium: 181mg 
* Using reduced fat feta
(Adapted from press release)