Stay healthy with nutritious diet

24 March 2020 - 11:00
By Londiwe Dlomo
Indigenous foods like  mung beans make delicious meals.
Indigenous foods like mung beans make delicious meals.

Food is such a complex subject. Firstly, there is the worry of food security, closely followed by how many of our people have access to food and of those who do, are they eating the right things?

Nutrition has come into the spotlight again with the coronavirus pandemic the world is facing. It is time to take a look at what foods we should be eating to keep our bodies healthy and strong.

Are you eating a balanced diet?

It is time to rethink eating starch for breakfast, lunch and supper. South Africans have a high starch and meat diet which is not as healthy or as sustainable as we think.

South Africans consume the most starch for breakfast and the most meat for dinner. Our vegetables? They're normally consumed to accompany the meat dish we're having. The starch we consume is in the form of bread, rice, potatoes and mielie pap, among the most prevalent.

We consume meat four times a week, with red meat and poultry being the meat of choice for most. So, what is on our plates consists of 41% starch and 26% meat, with only 13% vegetables, and the rest composed of fats and oils, dairy and legumes.

This is not what it should be, according to the Eatwell plate composition as defined by the University of Cambridge and the UK's NHS (National Health Service).

Our plates should have the following: 33% vegetables, 32% starch, 15% dairy, 12% meat and 8% fats and oils.

To put some numbers to the problem and get a clearer picture, Knorr commissioned Nielsen - a global measurement and data analytics company - to implement a study on Understanding the Eating Habits of the South African Population, in February 2020, among 1,005 respondents aged 16 years and over, across SA. The results of the study are what informed the aforementioned statistics.

Add more vegetables to your meals.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE Add more vegetables to your meals.

In a bid to help South Africans eat better and be informed, the government has certain regulations in place. There is a current sugar tax, salt regulations and a new front-of-package labelling policy in the pipeline.

"The other regulation that is in existence from 2017 is the elimination of trans-fat, because trans-fat contributes to cardiovascular diseases," says Rebone Ntsie from the department of health, nutrition directorate.

"That is what is happening now, those are the regulations in place. And then we also have regulations for labelling [on packaged foods], for health claims, how the food should be labelled, what information should go there, what claims can be made."

Ntsie says the government works a lot with fast food outlets through the Consumer Goods Council of SA, where they meet once in three months. She says the companies have made commitments to reduce salt, sugar and fats in their recipes.

"They are even using healthier products like good types of fats, adding more herbs to flavour the food. Having healthier options, like combos are not only with sugar sweetened beverages, you can have a combo with water and you can choose between French fries and vegetables and some are not even handing patrons salt when they give food," she says.

South Africa and the world need to rethink their ways with food, like introducing more of our indigenous foods.

Adding mung beans to our plates is a way of improving on what we eat and practising sustainability.

Eat well for a healthy body

For those who want to be extra careful about keeping healthy during this pandemic, a healthy nutritional balanced diet can help.

"There are many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the
immune system and therefore we encourage maintaining a healthy balanced diet to provide a variety of nutrients in order to support immune functioning [including copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D]," says Jessica Byrne, registered dietitian and spokesperson for Adsa (Association for Dietetics in South Africa).

"We don't recommend any one food over another but instead encourage eating a variety of foods to maintain a healthy balanced diet. This includes plenty of vegetables and fruit, high-fibre starchy foods, beans, lentils, fish, eggs, chicken or meat, dairy products and plant fats. Keeping hydrated is also important, so aim for six to eight glasses of water at a minimum per day," she says.

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