By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi

It’s no secret that the amount of calories people eat and drink has a direct impact on their weight and health.

Even though people may know about the impact of food choices on our health, overweight and obesity are still on the rise in South Africa.

However, the ongoing global pandemic has highlighted many fault-lines across society, and in our current state of ongoing disruption, it also presents us with unique opportunities to make changes.  In our daily lives, some of the best changes we can make are around our food choices.

This National Nutrition and Obesity Week (October 9-19),  a range of South African health organisations have come together to collaborate with the Department of Health to highlight how essential good nutrition is when it comes to immunity.

Overweight and obesity have been linked to more severe Covid-19 outcomes, along with diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. If there was ever the time to focus on a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight and support our immunity, this is surely it.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 53.8% – more than half – of South Africa’s adults are overweight or obese. This is particularly concerning as a number of international studies show a link between obesity and serious Covid-19 infection,” says Dr Gert du Toit, a surgeon who practises at the multi-disciplinary metabolic centre at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, in Durban, which is accredited as a Centre of Excellence for Metabolic Medicine by the South African Society for Surgery, Obesity and Metabolism (Sasso).

“Furthermore, over 90% of deaths from Covid-19 in South Africa are recorded among individuals aged 40 years and older, which is the segment of the general population in which obesity and related comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension tend to occur,” adds Du Toit.

The National Department of Health points out that unhealthy diets and lifestyles are amongst the top challenges we face in the 21st Century creating a significant burden on our country. “We should use the Covid-19 pandemic as the inspiration for healthy eating and healthier lives,” says the Department.

Chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa Professor Pamela Naidoo agrees, “As a country, we have one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, which is now known as a serious co-morbidity when it comes to Covid-19. Making poor food choices every day and maintaining an unhealthy weight greatly increases the risks of disease and death.”

President of Association for Dietetics in South Africa Dr Christine Taljaard-Krugell points out that introducing healthier family eating habits can be enjoyable.  “What some people don’t realise is that a family diet based on home-cooked whole foods is full of variety rather than restrictive. Healthy options also do not have to be more expensive. In fact, you can create substantial savings through meal planning, shopping tips and smart food preparation. It’s fun and easy to involve your children in preparing and sharing meals at home, which helps them develop lifelong healthy eating habits. If you don’t have the knowledge and skills, it can be helpful to connect with a dietitian as they are specifically trained to translate nutrition expertise into practical plans and healthy eating strategies to suit your lifestyle.”

Some strategies for healthy eating in the time of Covid-19 include:

For one full day, every week prepare only unprocessed or minimally processed plant-based food: vegetables and fruit, starchy food, and legumes.Include a variety of vegetables and fruit in daily meal plans – not only on weekends.  Frozen, dried, and indigenous vegetables and fruit should be included where possible.

Include both cooked and raw vegetables and salads in meals.

Portion sizes of vegetables can be more generous if a variety of fruits is not available.

Get children into the habit of eating raw vegetable sticks or fruit when they are hungry between meals. They are more likely to enjoy eating vegetables when they have eaten a variety from an early age (from six months) and when they see their parents enjoying vegetables.

Boost your access to fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit by growing your own.

originally published at: