As South Africans, we're making some headway in our efforts to improve the quality of our diet, but we're far from ideal levels.
Research conducted in America shows that healthier eating prevented over a million premature deaths in the 13-year period from 1999 to 2012, along with 8.6% fewer heart disease cases, 1.3% fewer cancer cases, and 12.6% fewer type two diabetes cases.
An index that measures diet quality increased from 40 to over 48, but that's still a long way from the perfect score of 110.
Also, most of the improvement came from just two steps, reducing consumption of trans fat (largely because of government action to ban it) and sugar-sweetened beverages. Little progress was made in most of the key components of a healthy diet.
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According to the latest South African Demographic and Health Survey, almost 70% of local women are either overweight or obese. The country has the highest rates for women in Africa. Clearly our diets as South Africans need to change for the healthier.
An analysis of data from the USDA Economic Research Service by the Pew Research Center found that while people are eating more chicken and less beef, they are also each consuming 16 kg of cooking oil a year, three times the amount Americans ate 50 years ago. We are also each eating on average 23% more kilojoules than we were back then. It's no wonder obesity rates are so high.
And yet it only takes small changes to make a difference. For instance, one report found that what's needed to turn the average diet into one that can reduce heart disease risk isn't complicated: It should be rich in fish, fruit and vegetables, and low in full-fat dairy products and meat.
Wondering where to begin? Baby steps can make a difference. Eating just three more ounces of fish a week and three more ounces each of raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and lean protein like chicken every day promotes healthier blood vessels and decreases inflammation. This, in turn, can help keep heart disease at bay.