This Diabetes Month, we explore why herbal infusions, such as Rooibos, are healthy beverage options for everyone, including diabetics.

Living with diabetes means you need to be extra aware of everything you consume and how it can affect your blood sugar levels.

Sugary beverages, such as fizzy drinks can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar, which is especially dangerous for diabetics, who are unable to metabolise and regulate their blood glucose levels effectively.

A review of several studies by Harvard University found that those who regularly drink sugary drinks (one or more cans a day) have a 26% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Prof Christo Muller, Chief Specialist Scientist at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) says diabetics should avoid or limit such beverages as they can easily get more than a meal’s worth of sugar from one drink without even realising it.

“Consuming too many sweetened drinks also results in weight gain, which in turn, increases the likelihood of diabetes. Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically recommended for diabetics to keep blood sugar in check. This makes Rooibos tea ideal since it’s calorie-free and its naturally sweet taste, which means no sweeteners are necessary. In addition, Rooibos contains active compounds that can help control blood glucose, while lowering inflammation.

“A unique phenolic compound found only in the Rooibos plant species, called aspalathin, may also help to improve blood glucose levels. Green Rooibos, which is more abundant in aspalathin, is also effective at lowering raised blood glucose levels in animal studies. In these studies, aspalathin, improved insulin activity, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, which are both causal factors that underlie the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Rooibos also protects the heart by suppressing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up inside artery walls) that occurs as a result of high blood sugar levels,” he explains.

In addition to drinking tea, following a diet that keeps blood glucose stable is equally important. Those suffering from type 2 diabetes, which is primarily as a result of poor dietary lifestyle choices, can in addition to medication, benefit greatly from proper diet and exercise.

Heleen Meyer, popular cookbook author and healthy food consultant, says eating a diet rich in polyphenols (most abundant antioxidants found in food) will help the body to metabolise sugar better.

“These include brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish and drinking Rooibos tea, that’s all packed with antioxidants.

“Aside from drinking the tea, there are many ways to incorporate Rooibos into meals. Think of Rooibos as an all-natural flavouring and cooking ingredient. It’s a wonderful cooking liquid as it’s tasty and full of goodness. Rooibos is the perfect substitute for shop-bought stock, which is often very high in salt, artificial flavourings or preservatives and even sugar. The flavour of Rooibos goes well with so many other ingredients, ranging from tomatoes, ginger, chilli, garlic to herbs and spices, and can be used for a wide range of recipes. Add it as a liquid to soups, stews or even when oven-roasting chicken or veggies.

“It’s also a delicious base for a salad dressing, marinade or sauce. Next time you prepare a tomato-based sauce, add Rooibos instead of stock. Balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and a bit of olive oil, whisked into strong, cooled-down Rooibos tea, is a delicious salad dressing and can be seasoned with fresh herbs of your choice.”

Meyer says Rooibos is also great for baking and making desserts. Milk or water in a baking recipe can often be replaced with Rooibos tea, which will add flavour and a beautiful rich colour to whatever you’re making.

Here are two of her favourite diabetic-friendly recipes, which includes Rooibos: