Nutritional truths

2013-12-19 00:00

OVER the course of 2013, we tackled a variety of topics from the world of nutrition. As the year draws to a close and before we launch into 2014, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to recall some of the highlights.

In February, we unpacked the truth behind an increasingly common diagnosis known as pre-diabetes. As the term indicates, pre-diabetes is the forerunner of full-blown diabetes, and if taken seriously can be the last exit opportunity off the highway to certain chronic disease. Being overweight, physically inactive, having high blood pressure and cholesterol, all increase the risk of developing this condition. By addressing some imbalances in diet and lifestyle, the progression to diabetes can be successfully thwarted.

Through March and April, we took an in-depth look at diabetes and learnt that women in KZN have the highest rate of diabetes in the country. Excessive thirst, excessive urination, heightened hunger, fatigue and lethargy are all signs of potentially high blood sugar. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not delay in discussing them with your doctor. Early detection and intervention make it possible to live a full and healthy life even after receiving a diagnosis of diabetes.

The main risk factors for developing diabetes include being overweight, physical inactivity, insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. Stress and genetics also play a key role.

Thirty minutes per day of moderate physical activity (150 minutes per week), coupled with a fiver percent to 10% reduction in body weight, reduces diabetes by 58%.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol levels. Aim to eat dark fish (pilchards, sardines, salmon or trout) three times per week to improve your intake of omega 3 fats and thereby improve your heart’s health.

We discovered that vegetarians show a substantially reduced incidence of diabetes as well as obesity, high blood pressure and colon cancer. Even the most eager meat eaters can benefit from eliminating animal products for a couple of meals every week. People who adhere strictly to a vegan diet (no meat, eggs, and dairy products) reap vast and impressive health benefits, but do need to pay attention to a number of potential pitfalls. Iron, the B vitamins, omega 3 fats and calcium are a few of the nutrients that can become deficient if not carefully planned for the diet or supplemented.

During July, we tackled the topic of feeding babies and toddlers well. Teaching healthy eating habits from the beginning is a tremendous gift we can give our children. Remember that they model themselves on our behaviour, so let’s be mindful of what example we are setting for the next generation.

Shocking statistics were released in August, showing that more than 60% of South Africans are overweight or obese. This rate has increased markedly over the past 10 years. To fight the obesity epidemic, it is essential that we start making changes now. The theme of this year’s National Nutrition Week in October was choose your portion with caution. One of the simplest causes of being overweight is eating too much, even of the right foods. Restrict the starch serving at a meal to the size of your fist, the protein serving to the size of your palm and dish up as many vegetables as will fit in both your hands.

As the school year drew to a close, we focused on how to improve memory and cognitive ability. Eating an egg a day (or close to it) and drinking an extra glass of milk provides the body with a good dose of choline. Choline is essential for brain development in infants and has been shown to prevent memory loss in adults. Aim to include up to five eggs a week in your diet. They are fabulously versatile and can be added to salads or sandwiches at lunch time, or used in quiches at dinner time if the mornings are too rushed to enjoy a leisurely egg breakfast.

Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovering nutrition truths and how to make changes for the better every day. I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a healthy start to 2014.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@iburst.co.za

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