Expert nutrition tips

February has been declared Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month and, with high rates of obesity and the so-called ‘lifestyle’ diseases, such as diabetes, it’s clear that South Africans need to make healthy eating choices.

We asked registered dietitians from the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) what South Africans should know about nutrition.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Head to the kitchen and start cooking 

“My top tip to my clients is to start cooking your own healthy meals from scratch as often as possible, using the freshest and healthiest ingredients,” says registered dietitian Cath Day, “It’s the best way to control not only everything that goes into your meal, but also portion sizes.”

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She says that when you cook often at home, you have full awareness of making healthy eating choices most of the time.

“Cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients, making delicious meals and snacks can easily be fun rather than a chore. You can cultivate a family culture of great enjoyment of healthy eating by involving your partner, your kids, the whole family, and even friends in preparing and sharing healthy food.”

2. Limit the sugar

“ADSA supports the recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that added sugar intake should be limited to no more than 5 % of total energy intake. The South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines states that ‘sugar, and foods and drinks high in sugar should be consumed sparingly’,” says Catherine Pereira, a registered dietitian.

So what should you avoid? Pereira says that as well as watching out for obvious sources of sugar, in biscuits, cakes and sugar-sweetened drinks, one also needs to consider hidden sugars and syrups.

“The key to getting this right is to become far more aware of ‘hidden’ sugars.  We all know that when choose to eat a packet of sweets, we’re eating too much sugar; but we’re perhaps less aware that when we order an iced tea or a glass of wine at a restaurant, these also spike our daily sugar intake beyond sensible levels. When it comes to avoiding empty calories, what we drink counts every bit as much as what we eat; and we need a far higher level of awareness of our actual daily sugar intake in order to make sure we are keeping to the guidelines.”

And remember, fresh fruit is healthy food, NOT sugar!

3. Get over fad diets

“Following your friends’ latest diet or the newest fad promoted on social media is not necessarily going to work for you as it may be working for others,” says registered dietitian Kezia Kent, “Eating healthily should be tailored specifically for you and it should happen every day, not just over a time when you are trying to lose weight.”

Kent says that there is always going to be a ‘latest’ diet but chopping and changing according to fads can prevent you from developing sensible and sustainable healthy eating habits that truly suit your lifestyle and your body.

She warns against following diets that promise quick weight loss. “Slow, steady weight loss lasts longer than quick, dramatic weight loss. If you lose weight quickly, you may lose muscle and water which increases your chances of regaining the weight. If you need to change to healthier eating or need to lose weight, get professional advice to develop a sustainable plan for you.”

4. Don’t make carbs an enemy

“There’s an immense amount of attention on low-carb high-fat diets right now. We have to keep the perspective that there are good reasons to include carbohydrates in our diets,” says Monique dos Santos, a registered dietitian, “Obviously, you want to [avoid] sugar and refined starches, but there are carbohydrates in many, many foods that are good for us. Our bodies rely on a combination of carbohydrates and fat for energy to fuel daily activities.”

Dos Santos says that carbohydrates are the brain’s number one energy source so cutting out carbs will zap your energy level, fog your brain and leave you feeling fatigued. “When carbs are limited excessively, you get really, really cranky. We also need carbohydrates to build muscle [in combination with sufficient protein in the diet and training]. Fibre-rich carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains like oats, wild rice, and whole-wheat pasta are important for gut health.”

She reminds us that many carbs are also rich in other nutrients. “If you restrict fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains then you are also limiting your intake of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. B-vitamins, vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium and other essential micro-nutrients are all found in carbohydrate-rich [plant] foods.”

To find a dietitian in your area who can assist you with a healthy eating lifestyle plan, visit www.adsa.org.za

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.