We all know that a good diet is important for good health. Eating a variety of foods can help you manage your weight, improve general wellbeing and reduce the risk of conditions including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis (thin bones).
But what is considered a healthy diet? There are so many mixed messages and often confusing information that sometimes it is difficult to know what is the right advice to follow.
To simplify this matter the Department of Health has developed the South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines are based on the best currently available scientific evidence on the relationship between nutrition and disease. Following these guidelines will help you achieve optimal health.
The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines:
Enjoy a variety of foods
Variety means eating different foods within a meal on different days and preparing food in different, healthy ways. This ensures that your diet contains sufficient nutrients and that it’s more enjoyable. The more colourful a plate of food, the better the variety.
Regular exercise has many benefits including weight control, reducing the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. It also assists relaxation and better sleeping patterns. Aim to do at least one 30-45 minute physical-activity session every day, or three short 10-minute sessions over the course of the day. Make use of every opportunity to move.
Drink lots of clean, safe water
Each of us should drink at least six to eight glasses (or more according to thirst or when physically active) of clean, safe water every day. This also includes rooibos and other herbal teas, with no added sugar or milk and low-energy or sugar-free cold drinks.
Make starchy foods the basis of most meals
Starchy foods include maize meal, cereals, samp, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and sweet potato. These foods are rich sources of carbohydrates, our main source of energy, and should be consumed with every meal. It’s important to choose unrefined starchy foods that are high in fibre since these increase satiety, support healthy bowel functioning and lower the risk of developing diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Unrefined starches include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, high-fibre cereals, oats and course maize meal.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables every day
Fruit and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and water and you should aim to eat five portions or more per day. Try to eat different fruit and vegetables and , for example at least one good source of vitamin C (such as tomato, the cabbage family, citrus fruit and guavas) and one dark green or dark yellow vegetable.
Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soy regularly
Legumes (or plant proteins) should be eaten two to three times per week. They’re affordable, high in protein and fibre and low in fat, and can easily be included in soups and stews.
Chicken, fish, meat, milk or eggs can be eaten daily
Small portions of these foods can be eaten daily, but need not be eaten daily. Animal-based foods are higher in fat (saturated fat) and we tend to eat more of these foods than we need to. Try to include more plant protein sources and fatty fish (such as snoek, sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon) and less red meat.
Eat fats sparingly
Fat intake should be limited, especially the intake of saturated and trans fats (animal fats, full-cream dairy products, chocolate, coconut, hard margarine, baked goods such as pies and cookies and palm oils such as coffee creamers and artificial cream). Rather include more monounsaturated fats in limited amounts in your diet (for example, use canola or olive oil instead of sunflower oil, and spread avocado or peanut butter instead of margarine on bread). Also choose polyunsaturated instead of saturated fat.
Use salt sparingly
Use small amounts of salt in food preparation and avoid the use of extra salt at the table. Rather use herbs, salt-free spices and flavourings. Also avoid processed foods with a high salt content.
Use food and drinks containing sugar sparingly and not between meals
Sugar is rich in energy, but it contains no other nutrients and can cause obesity if eaten in excess or with fatty foods. Choose foods and drinks with little or no sugar and avoid consuming sweet food and drinks between meals as this can cause tooth decay.
If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly
Alcohol is high in energy and contains no other nutrients. You don’t have to drink alcohol, but if you do, only drink moderately (two drinks for women and three drinks for men per day). A standard drink is classified as one can of beer, one tot of spirits, 125ml of wine and 60ml sherry.