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A healthy diet leads to long life

Written by Noluthando Mkhize and Nomaxabiso Tata
With non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer becoming global problems, South Africans need to be more aware of what they eat.

Eersterust Community Health Centre Chief Dietician Erika Spaumer, who specialises in nutrition therapy, recommends eating fresh fruits and vegetables combined with regular exercise as part of a healthy diet.

“I counsel patients on how to eat healthy within their budget. We plan what products can be bought in bulks, such as rice, pap, and pasta to save money. I do not recommend processed foods because it is more expensive and unhealthy.

“Canned products, food that is already chopped and packaged, are examples of processed foods. Rather buy fresh vegetables and then prepare them yourself. I also encourage patients to do vegetable gardening,” she said.

Every family should have meat-free days once a week, when they eat lentils, beans, or soy products as a substitute, which is more healthy and affordable.

How to prepare food

Spaumer recommends that food be steamed, boiled, or grilled as opposed to frying.

“When there is a need to fry food, rather brush the bottom of the pot with oil this helps in controlling the amount of oil used.”

She warns against deep frying food because when oil is heated it changes structure.

“All vegetable oils are good but as soon as you heat the oil it changes structure and becomes a bad fat. Processed foods are made with saturated fat – the white hard fat that clogs your arteries in your body which can lead to high cholesterol.”

Irregular meals

The biggest food related problem in the community that Spaumer works in is irregular meals.

“When you don’t eat regularly, your body gets a large amount of food at the same time. You do not use all the energy of the food and it gets converted into fat. Patients also tend to struggle to control food portions.”

She advises using the plate model of having starch that is a fist size when having the main meal of the day, coupled with vegetables and a palm size protein such as fish or chicken.


Eating small snacks in between meals is just as important.

“Good snacks are fresh fruits, low-fat yoghurt or milk. We recommend that all people should eat at least three portions a day of yoghurt or milk. Other snacks can be popcorn, vegetable sticks, unsalted nuts and dried fruits, all in small amounts,” said Spaumer.

Eating healthy

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should include foods that are high in fibre such as oats or whole wheat bread with milk and a fruit.

A good lunch can be a whole wheat bread sandwich with no margarine with a salad as well as protein like cheese or meat and a fruit.

For dinner she recommends meat with vegetables or a salad because the metabolism slows down when sleeping which limits food digestion.

Spaumer says South Africans should stay away from processed foods such as polony, salami and soups found in sachets, which are high in salts.

This also includes deep fried foods and sugar sweetened beverages that have between six to eight teaspoons of sugar.

What you should know about diabetes

November 14th is World Diabetes Day, which is aimed at creating awareness and educating the public about diabetes because a large number of people still remain undiagnosed with the disease.

According to the World Health Organisation there are about 347 million people across the world that have diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where a person has high blood sugar or glucose level.

It develops when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. Without insulin the body cannot get the energy it needs from food.

Normally, a gland called the pancreas makes insulin, which carries the sugar in the blood into the cells. With diabetes, the pancreas fails to supply enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work properly.

Types of diabetes

There are two major types of diabetes: Type I, commonly called juvenile diabetes, and Type II, commonly called adult on-set diabetes. Both have similar symptoms but very different causes.

Type I diabetes, usually diagnosed in childhood, is a disease where the body’s own immune system attacks and kills the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. This leaves the body without insulin, and unable to regulate its blood sugar levels.

Type II diabetes is a disease that results when the body’s cells become resistant to insulin. In Type II diabetes, unlike in Type I, insulin is still produced by the body but it isn't used appropriately.


Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Always thirsty
  • Always tired
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Itching and blurred vision
Who can get diabetes?

Anyone can get diabetes. Being overweight and having a family history of diabetes increases the risk.

Depending on the type and severity of the diabetes it can be treated with diet plus exercise or with diet, exercise and medication. Medication may be insulin injections, tablets, or both.

The good news is that having diabetes does not mean the end of a normal healthy life. You need to accept that you have the condition and then learn how to manage it.

Management and control of blood sugar is very important as it prevents or reduces the risk of developing the complications of the disease.

The abnormally high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can cause kidney, eye, heart, blood vessel, and other diseases. Without proper management it can lead to heart and kidney disease, blindness and amputation.

A healthy diet is the foundation for good blood sugar control in any type of diabetes, even without medication in some cases. Whether you are being treated with insulin injections or tablets, you still need to follow a sensible diet.

Regular exercise of between three and four times a week for 20-50 minutes is necessary for good health. This includes:

  • Walking up and/or down a flight of stairs instead of taking the lift.
  • Walking to the shops instead of taking a car.
  • 50 –100 skips a day with a skipping rope.

Source: KwaZulu-Natal Health Department