How To Feel Good With Food

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What we eat each day has an extraordinary impact on our lives. It not only affects our vulnerability to diseases over time, but it also influences our physical and cognitive abilities, as well as our emotional state. Healthy food choices matter. They empower us to perform and achieve at work and school and enable us to enjoy our leisure time more fully.

South Africa pays a high price in the form of disease burden that is related to our food choices. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes are prevalent and on the rise.  Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for these NCDs. According to the 2016 SADHS (South African Demographic and Health Survey), 68% of South African women and 31% of men are overweight or obese with about 20% of women and 3% of men who are severely obese.

All too often, South African diets include plenty of foods and drinks that are high in sugar, salt and fat, while low in vegetables, fruits and wholegrains. There is also a high consumption of highly processed convenience foods over meals using whole food ingredients that are prepared and enjoyed at home.

From 9 to 15 October, the Department of Health is joining forces with key partners to increase awareness that nutritious food can impact not only on physical health but mental well-being too. The collaborators and other interested parties will promote the National Nutrition Week 2023 theme ‘Feel Good with Food’ with the aim of reaching South Africans who don’t necessarily focus on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.

The National Department of Health points out that poor food and drink choices often start in early childhood. The 2016 SADHS found that 18 percent of children between 6 and 8 months of age consumed salty snacks and 4 percent consumed sugary drinks the day before the survey. This increased significantly to 64 and 33 percent respectively, when it came to toddlers between 18 and 23 months of age.

To prevent both over- and under nutrition, children between 6 and 24 months of age should be consuming foods and drinks that contribute to their nutritional needs. It is important to note that the same survey reported that around 13.3% of South African children under five years are overweight or obese, which is more than double the global average of 6.1%.

Maria van der Merwe, the President of ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) says, “Globally, nutrition experts recommend increasing consumption of plant-based foods including vegetables and fruits, whole-grains, nuts and seeds, as well as focusing on meals prepared at home from whole foods.  South African families, schools and workplaces need to make it easier for children and adults to make healthy eating choices by ensuring that nutritious foods are accessible to them each day.

What’s important to realise is that healthy eating does not have to be more costly, in fact, it can be cost saving. Growing some of your own vegetables, fruits and herbs at home, school or in your community increases access to nutritious options, and meal planning can boost nutrition quality while saving on the household budget.”  

The National Nutrition Week 2023 highlights these tips for planning and preparing quick, healthy and affordable home meals:

Plan your meals – On a weekly or monthly basis, draw up a food budget and a meal plan.  Focus on a variety of foods that are affordable and in season.  Base your shopping lists on your meal plan, and only buy the items you need.

Prepare meals in healthy ways – Choose recipes that are quick and easy.  Include raw vegetables and salads in your meals.  Use cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and baking grilling instead of frying.

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day – High in fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals, vegetables and fruit are essential for healthy bodies and minds.  Make sure you eat a minimum of five vegetables and fruits every day, not just on weekends.  Include indigenous vegetables whenever possible.  Eat a yellow/orange vegetable such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut or a dark green vegetable such as broccoli or spinach at least once a day.

Add extra vegetables to meals – You can boost the nutritional quality, as well as flavour and texture, by adding extra vegetables to meals such as stews, curries, stir-fries, salads, soups, sandwiches, pastas, rice and egg dishes.

Veg-ify your favourite recipes – swap some or all meat in your favourite dishes with plant alternatives. Meat can easily be replaced with vegetables like mushrooms, aubergine and baby marrow or with legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas.

Eat dry beans, peas, lentils and soya regularly – Eat legumes at least four times a week to help prevent chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and overweight, as well as improve gut health.  Cost-effective beans, lentils and chickpeas can be used as meat alternatives or to bulk up a dish and make the meat go further.  Soaking dry legumes in water overnight reduces the cooking time and helps to prevent bloating.

Pack healthy breakfast/lunchboxes – Include weekday breakfasts and lunches in your meal plan so that you can avoid buying from shops, canteens and tuckshops.  You will save money and eat more healthily.  These on-the-go, home-made meals should mostly consist of unprocessed or minimally processed plant-based foods.

For more information and healthy eating tips, visit: www.nutritionweek.co.za