Kitchen makeover

Dietitian, Annica Rust, educates us on what to purge and what to stock up on while doing a kitchen makeover.

A kitchen makeover for a person with diabetes can be quite daunting. However, by going back to the basics and being able to read and understand food labels can assist when distinguishing between what is healthy and unhealthy foods. Incorporating label reading into your shopping routine will empower you to make the best, healthiest food choiceswhen purchasing groceries. Simply use the following steps to guide your decisions:

Step 1: Back to the basics

The makeover will set out to achieve the following health goals:

  • Improve glycaemic control
  • Improve and control cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Increase and reach required vitamin and mineral requirements

Kitchen makeover (adapted from SEMDSA guidelines)1

Food item to purge


To stock up on



Refined starches: white bread, white rice, white pasta, cereals (Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies).


Contains empty calories and has a high glycaemic index (GI) that leads to a poor glycaemic control. Wholegrain starches: corn, barley, pearl wheat, rolled oats, bulgur wheat, millet, spelt, quinoa, unrefined maize, wild/brown rice and wholegrain breads and cereals. Contain B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre that improvesglycaemic control and satiety.


Refined sugars: table sugar (any type of sugar), honey, sugar sweetened beverages, fruit juices, sweets, desserts and baked goods. Low nutrient content, high GI that leads to poor glycaemic control, increaseslipid profiles, obesity and inflammation.


Canned fruit in sugar.


High-GI that leads to a poor glycaemic control. Low-GI fresh fruit or canned fruit in juice. Lower in GI that improves glycaemic control.
Commercially hydrogenated fats: Commercially deep-fried foods, fast foods, and baked items.



Coconut and palm cornel oil.

Contains trans fatty acids that raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, decrease HDL (good) cholesterol and increase inflammation.



High in saturated fat.

Healthy fats: nuts and seeds, avocado pear, olives, plant oils (canola, olive, sunflower etc.).



Replacing saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fatty acids can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).


If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation: wine, spirits, beer etc.


A high intake aggravates blood pressure, triglycerides and glycaemic control.
Products high in sodium (salt) such as salt, spices, sauces, commercial stockand ready-madesoups. Increased blood pressure. Dried or fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, onion or vinegars. Low sodium content.


Legumes: soya beans, a variety of dry beans, lentils, split peas and chickpeas. Improves lipid profile, good source of fibre and protein.


Canned vegetables: gherkins, beetroot, onions, peppers.


High in sodium. Fresh fruit & vegetables.


Increase intake of fibre that enhance satiety, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that combat oxidative stress.
Full fat dairy products.


High in saturated fat.


Low-fat plain yoghurt and low-fat milk. Provide calcium and magnesium. Good source of protein with a low saturated fat content.


Ice cream.


High in saturated fat and has a high GI. Frozen ice lollies. Lower in saturated fat.


Processed meat (bacon, sausages, polonies & deli meats), full fat mince, chicken with skin, red meat. High content of salt, nitrates and saturated fat. Fatty fish: Fresh tuna, sardines, trout or salmon.

Lean meat: Extra lean meat, chicken breast and red meat (remove visible excess fat)

Low saturated fat content, good source of protein, omega 3-fatty acids, selenium, magnesium and vitamin D.

Step 2: Read the Food Label

Usually, the food label will be located on the back of the product under the heading: Typical Nutrition Information which is represented in a table format.

One of the most important things to remember when reading food labels is to look at the correct column. You will notice that the quantities of all the nutrients and the energy of a product are always listed in two columns: one being ‘per 100g’ (or ‘per 100ml’) and the other ‘per serving’. To accurately compare similar products, you need to look at the quantities listed in the ‘per 100g’ column. The ‘per serving’ column will list the respective quantities of nutrients and energy in accordance with the suggested serving size of the product which is usually set out by the manufacturers.

You can compare the labels of different food to the table below to decide whether a product is high, moderate or low in sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium. Foods that fall mainly in the high group should be rarely eaten or kept for special occasions whereas foods that fall mainly in the low group should be eaten as often as possible.

NUTRIENT                                          Per 100g Sugar Total Fat Saturated Fat Sodium (salt)
HIGH                                                      Avoid – eat occasionally > 15g > 20g > 5g > 600mg
MODERATE – eat seldom 5 – 15g 3 – 20g 1.5 – 5g 120 – 600mg
LOW                                                        Healthier option  –  eat often < 5g < 3g < 1.5g < 120mg
Dietary Fibre > 6 g per 100g

Step 3: Look out for the following logos on food items:


Food items with the ‘green’ mark are endorsed by the GI Foundation of South Africa which certifies that the product has a minimal effect on blood glucose, cholesterol and/or blood pressure levels. Low GI food list can be found on their website.2

Items with the Diabetes South Africa logo are approved products that are suitable for people with diabetes to consume.

Food with the heart logo is approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation as part of a healthy eating plan. These food items are healthier and will have a lower salt content than similar food items.3

Knowledge is power. When in doubt, contact a registered dietitian for more information.


  1. SEMDSA Type 2 Diabetes Guidelines Expert Committee. JEMDSA 2017; 22(1)(Supplement 1): S2-S17
  2. GI Foundation:
  3. The heart and stoke foundation:


Annica Rust is a registered dietitian practicing at the Breast Care Unit in Netcare Milpark Hospital as well as in Bryanston. She assists with medical nutritional therapy for cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship and palliation. She gives individualised nutritional care to prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies, nutrition-related side effects and malnutrition to maximise quality of life.

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