You, Diet And Sugar

There has been some discussion on the possibility of food addiction.

What is a balanced diet?

Healthy eating, or a balanced diet, means eating a variety of foods to supply nutrients our bodies need.  All food groups should be included.

Let’s look at the different foods within these food groups, to make up a balanced diet.

Carbohydrates, or starchy foods, are usually the staple foods for families in South Africa. They contribute most of our food energy. These foods are generally inexpensive and help to satisfy our appetite. Starchy foods include bread, rice, samp, porridge, cereals and pasta.

We heard this from our parents, and probably our grandparents, and it is true. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day, as they are an essential part of a healthy eating plan.  Vegetables and fruit should be included in large amounts in at least two meals a day. You can add plenty of vegetables to stews, curries and pasta dishes.  Fruit can be enjoyed as a snack between meals or included in salads or puddings.

Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly as they provide you with many health benefits. Use them as an ingredient in mixed dishes (samp and beans, bean and beef stew, lentils and rice), or they can be made into a main dish (bean curry, savoury soya stew, split pea soup).

Fish, chicken, lean meat, and eggs can be eaten daily to supply the necessary protein in your diet.  You may eat a small portion of one of these foods every day.  The foods in this group come from animals and provide important minerals such as iron and zinc.

  • Drink 6 – 8 glasses of safe clean water every day.
  • Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day.
  • Use fat sparingly; choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats.
  • Use salt and food high in salt sparingly.
  • Use sugar and food and drinks high in sugar sparingly. You can add sugar to foods and drinks to improve the taste, for example, with soft porridge, grapefruit and tea.

What causes weight gain?

There is no one food item that causes weight gain. The cause of weight gain is eating more energy than your body needs to function well. When you eat more food than your body needs, the extra energy is stored in your body as fat. If you keep on eating more than you need, you could gain weight. It is too many calories in and too few calories out that causes weight gain, no matter where those calories come from.

To lose weight you need to reduce your caloric intake and increase your output. Most dietitians will recommend that you do not cut out any food group and based on your height and weight will recommend a total daily calorie intake and give you an eating plan that is sustainable and healthy.

Increase your physical activity

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and goes hand in hand with your healthy eating plan and helps you to create balance between calories in and calories out by expending energy.

So, get moving and find ways to increase your physical activity.  This could include taking the stairs instead of the lift, going for a brisk walk daily, or joining a gym or exercise group. There may be times when it is impossible to find time for physical activity so here are a few tips that may be useful:

  • Park your car further away from the shopping centre entrance.
  • Get a rope and try skipping when watching television.
  • Walk for half an hour during your lunch break and encourage colleagues to join you.

Fad diets don’t work

We all want a quick solution to weight loss and fad diets promise quick results. It would be great if there was an overnight solution. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick solution to weight loss. If anything, fad diets can potentially delay weight loss because the best weight-reduction diet is one that you can sustain over time, is safe over the long term for overall health and empowers you to keep the weight off permanently.

Too often people follow diets that make them feel deprived and that cut out important nutrients required for long term health. These work in the short term as long as you eat fewer calories than what you burn over a period of time. But inevitably most people cannot sustain these types of diets and gain back the weight they lost, and sometimes more.

Changing dietary and lifestyle habits will increase the likelihood of achieving weight loss and prevent gaining weight again.

The National Weight Control Registry in the United States consists of information on public individuals who have lost an average of 33 kg and maintained the loss for more than 5 years. The registry lists the activities below as most effective to maintain long term weight loss:

  • Most report continuing to maintain a low-calorie, lowfat diet and doing high levels of activity.
  • 98% modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.
  • 94% increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.
  • 78% eat breakfast every day.
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.

It is not surprising that avoidance of sugar was not a strategy used to maintain weight loss.

Speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian before embarking on any weight loss programme.

Is sugar “hidden” in foods?

It is sometimes falsely believed that sugar is ‘hidden in foods’, implying that we don’t know about it. This is not the case at all. All packaged food products in South Africa have labels telling you what ingredients have been used to make the food – including sugar. Sugar has important functional properties in food preparation and processing and is clearly shown on legally compliant food labels so you can be rest assured there is no so-called ‘hidden sugar’.  By South African law, all food products that carry a nutrition information table must also indicate the amount of sugar in the product.  You can find out how much sugar is in the food under the section of the label that says, “Glycaemic Carbohydrate (g)” or “Total Carbohydrates (g)”. In these sections, “total sugars (g)” will be indicated.

Typical Nutritional Information

Glycaemic Carbohydrate57.5g20g
of which total sugars10.6g3.7g
Total Fat1.3g0.5g
of which:
saturated fat0.2g0.1g
trans fat0.0g0.0g
monounsaturated fat0.1g0.0g
polyunsaturated fat0.7g0.3g
Dietary Fibre19g6.7g
Total Sodium804mg281mg

Values obtained from MRC food composition tables (Third Edition 1991) for breakfast cereal – All Bran Flakes.

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