Will Joburgers ditch their burgers for Spandex and salads?

2015-05-08 11:51
Can Joburg eat healthy? Picture: Lerato Maduna

Can Joburg eat healthy? Picture: Lerato Maduna

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The gauntlet has been thrown down. Parks Tau, Joburg’s mayor and face of a healthy lifestyle, is creating cycle lanes, cutting down the amount of sugar in our bread, and roping in restaurants to serve healthier food.

By 2040 there may be no cars on our roads, Huletts could be out of business and frying up slapchips might land you in jail.But until then, Tau and his Spandex have a long hill to cycle up before they reach Destination: Healthy Nation.

As part of his ambitious “Joburg 2040 vision” Tau has set up various challenges and has committed “the City to ensure a long and healthy life for all and to promote food resilience that is secured and safeguarded”. 
In yesterday’s state of the city speech, he quoted research as saying that being "food insecure" is all about how expensive food is.

“When family budgets are tight, people eat more starch and sugar to make up for the protein and fresh vegetables they cannot afford. There simply aren’t enough local stores selling healthy food, and not enough healthy choices on fast-food menus,” he said. 

Tau and pals have committed to a “nutrition pledge programme” with the food retail sector – which means that certain restaurants have signed a pledge to offer more healthy options on their menus.

These restaurants include Wimpy, Hard Rock Café, Nambitha and Sakhumzi of Vilakazi Street, Spur, Ubuntu Kraal and Ocean Basket. 

So how healthy are these restaurants’ menus?

Using the finger swirl and point method of selection, let’s look at Ocean Basket, which is an easy target because it makes the nutritional value of its dishes readily available, and because fish is probably one of the healthiest foods around.

Ocean Basket has analysed the rice, chips, salad and salad dressing separately, so those components’ figures aren’t included with the meal’s. Also, the analyses use only the grilled option’s figures – fried options would render higher numbers.

How does a healthy seafood platter sound? It’s grilled, so maybe throw a salad on the side, and you’re on your road to TauTopia, right. The first problem is that the seafood platter is the dish on the menu with the most kilojoules, racking up 4 710kJ. It also comes with a total fat serving of nearly 75g (21g of which is saturated) and 2 473mg of sodium.

Dieticians reckon that an average adult should eat about 8 400kJ, which roughly split across three meals is 2 772kJ a meal. This leaves you with about 3 690kJ – if you haven’t gone and added rice, chips or salad.

The other problem with the meal is that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2 300mg a day. This is if you are under the age of 50, don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, or aren’t black. If you are, your sodium intake should be less than 1 500mg a day. Research from the American Heart Association has shown that having a particular gene may make African-Americans much more sensitive to salt, thereby increasing their risk of developing high blood pressure. 

Spur, Wimpy and Ocean Basket are the three big chains mentioned by Tau. They all feature online nutrition guides to their menus, some with Calorie calculators. However, if one is looking out for future generations, as Tau claims he is doing, we should examine the options that these restaurants make available for children.  I couldn’t find a menu – let alone a children’s menu – online for the Hard Rock Cafe, but the other food outlets are a rather good reflection of the South African dining-out scene.

It is rather ironic that Ubuntu Kraal is on Team Tau because it is a brewery, and part of Tau’s healthy lifestyle is a “cut down on alcohol” clause. Anyway, the establishment’s Kasi Beer Garden offers no children’s menu, but its main menu has a selection of sticky ribs, fried chicken wings, a burger served with bacon, cheese and relish; boerewors rolls, various platters – all served with crispy “these are so good” chips. Sounds delicious. But there was no salad to be seen.

Nambitha has a hot dog, and mini cheese and beef burgers on its children’s menu. It may be a better idea to rather order something off the delicious main menu, and dish up a portion for the little ones, especially since they serve dishes such as: mutton and chicken curry, oxtail, mogodu, traditional chicken and lamb shank. All meals are served with vegetables and salad and come with a choice of pap, samp, rice or a dumpling. 

Sakhumzi has a kiddies “under 10” buffet for R60, chicken drumstick and chips, fish fingers and chips or a kiddies dessert buffet.

Ocean Basket’s children’s menu lists a platter (battered hake fingers, crispy calamari, haloumi cheese chunks and two grilled prawns), grilled prawns, sushi (two mini prawn nigiri, two mini salmon roses and four mini crab fashion sandwiches), fried calamari and saucy fish bites (battered hake). All of their children’s meals are served with 1000 Island sauce and chips.

Spur, the incredibly popular steakhouse chain, has recently made new additions to the children’s menu. It used to feature (and still does) the stock-standard fare of burgers (with a choice of chips or as-nutritious smiley faces), toasted sandwiches, the frozen-then-fried choices of fish fingers and chicken nuggets, fried Viennas, macaroni and cheese, ribs, chicken and pizzas. The new options include wraps filled with salad ingredients and a choice of protein options, savoury mince and baked potato, buffalo wings and breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. 

The Spur kids menu could have been copied and pasted in place of the Wimpy one, they are that similar (except the new additions to the Spur menu give it a bit of leverage). At Wimpy, children under 12 can have the usual offering of fish fingers, burgers (beef and chicken), Frankfurters, toasted cheese, ribs and chicken wings – all served with chips, of course - and two breakfast options: scrambled egg and toast, or a bigger one that also features bacon and a Frankfurter. The only vegetable in sight is the potato. 

The bottom line

The bottom line is that fans of processed food, or high-carb, low-nutrient meals would do well with the children’s fare on offer. It’s difficult to find the nutritional value in fried viennas and chips, or toast with a smidgeon of cheese and chips.

As far as the Ocean Basket menu goes, fish is always a good option – it’s rich in essential fats, zinc, vitamin E and calcium. However, shellfish is one of the most common allergens, and anything fried isn’t too healthy either. The nutritional information for the 1000 Island dressing wasn’t readily available, but it’s probably packed with fat, sodium and sugar, and the chips that are slapped on the side of every plate also let it down. 

The other option is to attempt to juggle the menu, swapping out fried items for grilled, and chips for salad. However, some restaurants are reluctant to make changes to their menus.

Spur’s new options – the salad-filled wraps and the savoury mince and baked potato – are a welcome addition to the rest of the fare on offer. The only problem there is trying to get the kids to order those...

Tau's ideas are admirable, and parents across South Africa will be hoping that he succeeds in changing the mindsets of restaurateurs and patrons, especially the little patrons, who will be the people who benefit most from these changes.

Read more on:    parks tau  |  burgers  |  nutrition  |  food

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