The prevalence of overweight or obesity among women in South Africa increased from 56% in 1998 to 68% in 2016. To highlight the importance of a balanced lifestyle consisting of eating healthy food and exercising to maintain a healthy body and weight, the theme for the 2019 National Nutrition and Obesity Week, which runs from 9 to 19 October, is ‘Make eating whole foods a way of life’. Besides the concerning increase of obesity among South African women, there has also been an overall increase in energy intake, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed and packaged foods, animal source foods and added caloric sweeteners while the consumption of vegetables actually decreased from 1994 to 2012. In particular, the consumption of processed and packaged food, such as soft sugary drinks, sauces, dressings and condiments and sweet and savoury snacks, had the most drastic increase (>50%). These findings show significant changes in food consumption patterns that may be due to changing food environments.

Dietician, Darinka Theron with an example of foods for a healthy meal and their portions.

‘Most of my first-time clients are unaware of the amount of sugar in their favourite beverages (soft drinks), and the detrimental effect that ultra-processed foods such as pastries, soft drinks, and sweet and savoury packaged snacks have on their health,’ said dietician Darinka Theron.

Ultra-processed foods have been modified to the point where they no longer resemble the food from which they originate. To help these taste better, additional fat and/or sugar and/or salt have been added, which when consumed in large quantities, can cause an excessive intake of energy and contribute to unwanted weight gain. High salt consumption is associated with deaths form hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, particularly stroke. The regular consumption of ultra-processed foods and drinks is linked to non-communicable diseases(NCDs) such as diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer. Research has shown that even just one additional serving of ultra-processed food daily has been found to increase the risk of death from NCDs by 18%.  

Including whole foods in your diet can improve and prevent chronic conditions such as diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Whole foods are foods that have not been refined and that has been processed as little as possible or eaten in its natural state. This includes unprocessed foods such as fruit and vegetables or oats, brown rice and legumes where the inedible part of the food has been removed.  

HOW TO FOLLOW A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE:

1.    Enjoy a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods
Choose a variety of foods that are affordable and in season. This can be achieved by drawing up a food budget when planning for the week ahead. Enjoying a healthy eating plan also means preparing food in healthy ways such as boiling, grilling and baking instead of frying. Have a look at your child’s Road to Health booklet for ideas and types of foods as well as quantities for children aged 6 months to 5 years.

2.    Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day
Vegetables should be eaten every day so try to include vegetables and fruit in meal plans. Frozen and dried vegetables can also be incorporated as part of a healthy eating plan. Add extra vegetables to stews, curries, stir fries, salads, soups and sandwiches.

3. Eat dry beans, peas, lentils and soya regularly
Eating these at least four times a week can help prevent chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and overweight, as well as improve gut health. Soaking beans and chickpeas overnight in plenty of water will reduce cooking times and help reduce bloating.

4.    Plan and prepare healthy meals at home rather than buying ready-to-eat meals or snacks, or eating out frequently
Eating at home or homemade foods provides you with the opportunity to eat a variety of healthy foods and avoid being tempted by unhealthy food options. You can also save money. 

5.       Always read food labels to check what is in your food 
The food label on foods and drinks contains information on the ingredients that were used to manufacture the product. Ultra-processed foods often have difficult-to-pronounce names and even strange numbers in the ingredients list. Also be aware that sugar comes in many different names for example brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, xylose, fruit juice concentrates, sucrose, lactose, treacle, cane sugar and more. Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from the highest to lowest amount. That means that the first listed ingredient is what the manufacturer used the most of.  A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, because they are the largest part of what you are eating or drinking.  If the first few ingredients contain saturated fat – like cream, butter, fatty meat or cheese – or it contains sugars, whether white or brown sugar, syrups or concentrated fruit juice or it contains sodium salt, it means that the food or drink  may be high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.  Eating less saturated fat, added sugar and/or sodium (salt) is important because it may help reduce your risk for chronic disease.  

6.     Be active 
To increase your heart rate during your daily routine,  walk or cycle instead of taking the car or bus, or you can choose to take the stairs. Try these ways to be active and start working towards a healthier, happier you. 

7.     Stay hydrated  
It is important to keep hydrated and there is no better way than clean, safe water. Water has no added kilojoules and the taste can be altered by adding fresh fruit slices such as lemon or herbs such as mint to change the flavour if needed.

Visit your nearest clinic for more information on healthy eating or the Western Cape on Wellness website https://www.westerncape.gov.za/westerncape-on-wellness/ for Healthy Lifestyle choices and healthy and delicious recipes.

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