Rooibos May Benefit Diabetics

This Diabetes Month we explore why herbal infusions such as Rooibos are healthy beverage options for everyone – and how Rooibos may benefit 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. With Rooibos naturally having a sweet flavour (and being often used with honey instead of sugar), this points towards ways in which Rooibos may benefit diabetics.


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, 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 (the most abundant antioxidants found in food – and which Rooibos is particularly rich in) will help the body to metabolise sugar better. If included in a balanced diet designed to enable diabetics to manage their blood sugar levels, this is a potential way in which Rooibos may benefit diabetics.


“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.


Interested in finding our how eating right could see how Rooibos may benefit diabetics? Here are two of Heleen’s favourite diabetic-friendly recipes, which includes Rooibos:




Rooibos marinade


250 ml (1 cup) strong Rooibos tea

45 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil

60 ml (¼ cup) lemon juice

60 ml (¼ cup) balsamic vinegar

15 ml (1 tbsp) finely grated lemon rind

10 ml (2 tsp) cumin seeds or 15 ml (1 tbsp) ground cumin

45 ml (3 tbsp) fresh thyme leaves




8-10 chicken portions, excess fat removed

2 onions, cut into wedges

300 g cauliflower, cut into florets

200 g baby tomatoes, whole

6 baby marrows, diagonally sliced

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

salt and pepper

extra fresh thyme sprigs for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  2. Rooibos marinade: Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Keep a third of the mixture aside to serve as a salad dressing.
  3. Chicken: Place the chicken and veggies in a large bowl. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken and veggies and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Season to taste.
  4. Spoon the chicken and veggies, with the marinade, in a single layer into a large oven dish.
  5. Roast for 40-45 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown and cooked, but still juicy.
  6. Serve with extra fresh thyme sprigs and a simple green salad. Enjoy the salad with the remaining marinade as a healthy salad dressing.



Serves 4 – 6


3 Rooibos tea bags

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla essence

10 ml (2 tsp) finely grated lemon rind

200 ml boiling water

500 ml (2 cups) plain unsweetened double cream yoghurt

80 ml (⅓ cup) chia seeds

2,5 ml (½ tsp) ground cinnamon

6-8 small strawberries

mint leaves, toasted flaked almonds (see tips) and more berries to garnish


  1. Place tea bags, vanilla and lemon rind in a jug. Add boiling water, stir through and draw to a strong tea. Then allow to cool completely.
  2. Remove tea bags and stir the cooled, seasoned tea into the yoghurt. Add the chia seeds and cinnamon and mix well.
  3. Spoon the Rooibos mixture into individual glasses or serving bowls (about 160 ml per portion). Allow to set for about 30-45 minutes in the fridge.
  4. Meanwhile, blend the strawberries to make a purée – don’t be tempted to add sugar.
  5. Just before serving, spoon the strawberry purée over the chia puddings. Garnish with mint, almonds and more berries.



  1. The Rooibos tea can also be seasoned with a cinnamon stick. Add to the tea bags with the vanilla and remove before stirring into the yoghurt.
  2. A naturally flavoured Rooibos tea, like a vanilla, berry or a floral option would be delicious in this dessert.
  3. Toast almond flakes in a dry frying pan, without any oil. Heat over a medium temperature and toast for a few minutes or until golden brown. Take care as they can burn quite quickly.
  4. Chia seeds are available at most health stores and large supermarkets.

“Whether you are diabetic or not, this delightful summer pudding is a must-have. The natural sweetness of Rooibos is perfect as the main flavour component in this easy pudding. Every ingredient in this recipe is nutritious and good for you. If you feel like something sweet, but need to manage your carbohydrate intake, this is a winner. Thanks to the Rooibos and other complementing, all-natural ingredients, no added sugar is needed,” says Meyer.


With more than 4.5 million South African adults living with diabetes, it’s more important than ever to make healthy eating a priority.

This article was issued by Meropa Communications on behalf of the SA Rooibos Council.