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Good nutrition promotes overall health

Written by Dale Hes

Eating whole foods rather than ultra-processed ones is much better for your health.

Eating healthily to ensure good nutrition is a key component of a healthy lifestyle.

This is according to the National Department of Health, which said that healthy eating and regular exercise can help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.

The risk of contracting Non – Communicable Diseases (NCDs) starts in childhood and builds up throughout life.

NCDs include strokes, heart diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic kidney disease

The concept of optimising nutrition in the first 1 000 days (from conception to two years old) is important to prevent over- and under-nutrition.

However, regularly eating mostly whole foods - which are low in added sugar, fat and salt and naturally higher in vitamins, minerals and fibre - can help to prevent unwanted weight gain, NCDs and death from these diseases.

The importance of whole foods

Whole foods have not been refined, have been processed as little as possible and are eaten in their natural state. They include unprocessed food, such as the edible parts of fruits and vegetables; and minimally processed food, such as oats, brown rice and legumes. Both should have no added salt, sugar, oils or fats.

While processed foods still resemble the original food item, they have been modified to the point where they no longer resemble the food from which they originate and contain very little or none of the original nutrients. They also typically consist of five or more ingredients such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants and preservatives. Sugary drinks are a good example.

These ingredients make products taste better, but when consumed in large quantities they can cause an excessive intake of energy that can contribute to weight gain. High salt consumption is also associated with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Save money

Food is expensive. The department has provided the following tips to help you cut costs, while still being able to prepare healthy meals:

  • Look for store sales or specials.
  • Check expiry dates and the quality of food you buy on sale.
  • Ensure you have enough extra money and storage space to buy in bulk (but check that you will use the food before it expires).
  • For better value, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.
  • Dry products like maize meal, wheat flour, rice, pasta, couscous and frozen foods keep for a longer period and can be bought in bulk.
  • Single portion items are often more expensive than buying in bulk.
  • Buy fewer canned, prepared or ready-to-eat foods. They cost more and are often higher in sugar, salt and fat.
  • Ready-to-eat bottled baby foods are costly. Use fresh foods and vegetables that can be pureed or mashed to the right consistency.

* Information courtesy of the National Department of Health.