Dietitians urge South Africans to ‘Eat Fact Not Fiction’

Nutrition advice promising all sorts, from weight loss to healthier living and even cures for diseases, spread like wildfire across social media. In the era of ‘alternative facts’ and post-truth, ‘the latest, greatest nutrition advice’ from dubious sources can unfortunately tempt many away from accepted dietary guidelines and recommendations based on years of evidence.

‘Evidence and Expertise’ is the theme of Dietitian’s Week 2017, highlighting the important role of dietitians who are able to interpret nutrition science and dietary guidelines in order to customise nutrition advice for each individual. This is vital because from weight loss to a disease like diabetes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ best eating plan. Dietitians happen to be health professionals trained and qualified to do this.

Dietitians and Evidence

In the course of earning their degrees in the science of dietetics, dietitians are specifically taught the skills required to interpret scientific evidence. In order to maintain their professional registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), all practising SA dietitians also have to undertake ongoing studies that ensure they keep up with the latest knowledge provided by new and emerging evidence, in accordance with the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme. This means they have the latest evidence-based food, health and disease expertise at their fingertips – and you won’t find a registered dietitian in the country basing any recommendations on the long outdated food pyramid.

Dietitians and the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines

The country’s broad strokes dietary guidelines, on which public health messages are based, and which were developed according to the process recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), have also evolved over the years, featuring a notable shift from the emphasis on nutrients to the focus on actual foods, which by nature contain a variety of nutrients. ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, provides further clarity on the guidelines with its statement on the Optimal Nutrition for South Africans. The latest visual Food Guide from the Department of Health provides a very different picture from older models such as the Food Pyramid and represents the latest FAO recommendations.

Dietitians and Patients

But the reality remains that diet is highly personal. What we eat is rooted in our culture and tradition, shaped by affordability and accessibility, and inextricably intertwined with highly variable lifestyle factors such as weight, physical activity, emotional connection to food and our consumption of non-food substances, as well as various physiological differences and genetics.

“This is where the dietitian comes to the fore,” says ADSA President and Registered Dietitian, Maryke Gallagher. “If you take a disease such as diabetes, which is a prevalent lifestyle disease in the country, and is a condition that can be managed through diet, each patient needs a tailor-made plan and focused support to make their individualised diet work towards their well-being and health. When the situation demands change around something as fundamental to life as food, then broad strokes are not necessarily sustainable solutions.”

Dietitians and Sustainability

The role that the dietitian can play in helping the communities in which they work to secure healthy food systems that are good for both people and the planet is an emerging responsibility in the profession. Dietitans are increasingly involved in facets of our modern food systems including agriculture and alternative food production methods, natural resources and ecosystems, social justice and community health issues, as well as developing food policy and food systems research that takes sustainability into account.

Dietitians and Diseases

Some may associate dietitians with merely giving advice and support to someone who wants to lose weight, but dietitians work across a range of industries. They are also experts in providing nutritional advice with regard to serious diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease, cancers, HIV/AIDS, TB, throat, stomach and intestinal disorders, as well as food allergies and intolerances, eating disorders, sports nutrition and life-stage nutrition (including the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as the best start in life). Apart from dietitians in private practice, they work in hospitals and communities, academia and industries. In addition to consulting with patients, dietitians are also involved in research, nutrition training and development of provincial and national policies.

Dietitians and Malnutrition

In South Africa, where the health issues that arise from the obesity epidemic stand side by side with those resulting from undernutrition, our dietitians’ work literally spans from one extreme to another. The South African Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (SASPEN), a supporter of Dietitian’s Week, highlights the essential role the dietitian plays in providing nutritional support to promote optimal nutrition to people in hospitals, where malnutrition is a common cause of the exacerbation of disease, delayed healing and prolonged hospital stays.

The Dietitian and You

It’s clear, that as a country, our need for dietitians is multi-fold, which explains why there’s a lot more than just dietary guidelines on the mind of a registered dietitian. In consultation, your dietitian is going to be taking in many factors unique to you to work towards helping you make optimal food choices. This includes your age and gender; your genetics, body size and body image; your environment, culture, spiritual beliefs and family life; physical activity level, mental well-being and general abilities; your work life and patterns; your budget; food preferences, eating tastes and cooking skills; as well as your existing health conditions and prescribed meds.

In the hopes of steering us clear of the latest trumped up ‘diets’ and promoting a return to genuine expertise and evidence, dietitians countrywide are suggesting that we ‘Eat Facts Not Fiction’.

In collaboration with the British Dietetics Association, Dietitian’s Week is held in SA from 12th to 16th June, with the 2017 theme ‘Evidence and Expertise’.

To find a dietitian in your area, please visit the ADSA website.

 


The Low Down on South Africa’s Sugar Tax

The Minister of Finance announced in the February 2016 National Budget a decision to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), with effect from 1 April 2017, to help reduce excessive sugar intake by South Africans. The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) welcomes this step as one part of the solution to address the obesity problem and improve the health of South Africans.

How much sugar do South Africans really consume?

When you think of sugar-sweetened beverages, the first thing that comes to mind is the regular fizzy drink, but the term encompasses far more than that. SSBs are beverages containing added sweeteners that provide energy (‘calories’ or kilojoules) such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup or fruit-juice concentrates. This includes carbonated drinks (fizzy soft drinks and energy drinks), non-carbonated drinks (sports drinks, iced teas, vitamin water drinks and juice concentrates), sweetened milk drinks and sweetened fruit juices. And many of us do not realise just how much sugar is found in these drinks. For example, a 330 ml bottle of iced tea has a little over 6 teaspoons of sugar!

ADSA is concerned that the intake of added sugars (sugars added to foods and drinks during processing by the food manufacturing companies, cook or consumer) is increasing in South Africa, both in adults and children. Some estimate that children typically consume approximately 40-60 g/day of added sugar, possibly rising to as much as 100 g/day in adolescents. High intakes of added sugar, particularly as SSBs, has been shown to lead to weight gain and cause dental caries. The added sugar in these drinks makes them high in energy (kilojoules). Because these drinks don’t make us feel full in the same way that eating food does, most of us don’t reduce our food intake to compensate, making it easy to consume too many kilojoules. Over time, these extra kilojoules can cause one to become overweight, putting us at risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Obesity is already a massive problem in South Africa, with 2 in 3 women and 1 in 3 men being overweight or obese, as well as almost 1 in 4 children.

What is ADSA’s recommendation for sugar intake?

ADSA supports the recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines that we need to reduce the intake of beverages and foods that contain added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, sweetened yoghurts, frozen desserts, some breakfast cereals, ready-to-use sauces, cereal bars, health, savoury and sweet biscuits, baked products, canned or packaged fruit products, sweets and chocolates. The WHO advises reducing the intake of free sugars found in foods and beverages (including added sugars, but excluding sugars naturally present in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk) to less than 10% of total energy (kilojoule) intake for the day (i.e. 50 g of sugar, which is approximately 12 teaspoons per day), with a conditional recommendation to further reduce intake to 5% of total energy (approximately 6 teaspoons per day) for additional health benefits. The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines also advise to ‘use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly’. To put this into perspective, a 500 ml bottle of a carbonated drink will provide your maximum sugar allowance for an entire day!

The sugar tax – is it a good idea?

The proposed tax on SSBs will mean roughly a 20% tax will be added on to sugary drinks, which is intended to decrease the purchase and consumption of SSBs. Encouragingly, in Mexico, a sugar tax has reduced sugary drink sales by 12% in the first year. The sugar tax is likely to affect shelf prices, but will also motivate manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar added to their products.

ADSA welcomes the proposed tax on SSBs, but acknowledges that the sugar tax is only part of the solution to address the growing obesity problem. Just as taxing tobacco does not reduce or stop smoking by all people, taxing SSBs will not reduce or stop all purchasing and consumption of SSBs and reduce obesity on its own. Obesity is a complex condition, and sugar is not the only cause. There is a need for multiple interventions across a variety of different sectors to address unhealthy diets and lifestyles and have an impact on the obesity epidemic. ADSA recommends that revenue generated from the tax should go towards health promoting interventions, such as subsidies to reduce the costs of fruits and vegetables, education around healthy choices and creating an enabling environment to make those healthier choices easier.

In addition to reducing the consumption of SSBs to prevent obesity and promote long-term health, ADSA continues to recommend a healthy diet which includes whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, proteins such as lean meats and seafood, and a reduced intake of processed meats and salt, accompanied by regular physical activity.

ADSA’s detailed Position Statement on the Proposed Taxation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, with references, can be accessed here: http://www.adsa.org.za/Portals/14/Documents/2016/Nov/ADSA%20Position%20Statement%20on%20Sugar%20Tax_Final_28%20Nov%202016.pdf

 


Love your beans for good health

South Africa celebrates National Nutrition Week from 9 to 15 October, and aligning to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which has declared that 2016 is the ‘International Year of Pulses’, this year’s campaign theme is ‘Love your beans – eat dry beans, peas and lentils!’ echoing the country’s food-based dietary guideline to ‘eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly’.

“There’s a good reason to put dry beans, peas, lentils and soya into the spotlight. Unfortunately, they are largely overlooked as they are often seen as a ‘poor man’s food’ and they can take a long time to cook. We should be eating them, along with a variety of foods, at least four times a week; and yet, many of us hardly include them in our diets. There’s just not enough awareness of how they contribute to healthy lifestyles, or how to use them well to make delicious meals,” says Ms Lynn Moeng-Mahlangu, Cluster Manager of Health Promotion, Nutrition and Oral Health at the National Department of Health. “However, this National Nutrition Week, we hope to share tips and recipes to inspire South Africans to eat more beans, peas, lentils and soya. For information on these tips, access the National Nutrition Week website”.

National Nutrition Week is a joint initiative by the Department of Health, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA), the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) and the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA (CEP). “We are delighted that this year’s theme highlights these affordable, versatile and tasty foods that make such a vital contribution to our health when they are a regular part of the family’s healthy eating regime,” says ADSA President, Maryke Gallagher.

So much nutrition advice is centred on what we need to eat less of, but when it comes to pulses – your dry beans, peas and lentils – the message is about eating more!

Carol Browne from the NSSA highlights some benefits of pulses. “Beans, peas and lentils also provide exceptional nutritional value for money, having a high micronutrient to price ratio. What’s more, they improve soil fertility, are water efficient and have a smaller carbon footprint, promoting environmental sustainability.”

The top nutritional benefits of eating dry beans, peas, lentils and soya are that:

  • They are low in fat, high in fibre and have a low glycaemic index
  • They are naturally cholesterol-free
  • They are naturally gluten-free
  • They are a good source of plant protein, providing twice as much protein as wheat
  • They are good sources of vitamins such as folate and minerals such as potassium and calcium

According to Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the HSFSA, “Including dry beans, peas, lentils and soya regularly in your diet, along with other health promoting behaviours, contributes to better health, helping to improve blood pressure and the maintenance of a healthy weight, reducing the risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.”

When it comes to cooking, pulses are wonderfully versatile and can be incorporated into the diet in many ways. “Pulses are excellent when used as the main ingredient in a vegetarian meal,” Linda Drummond from the CGCSA points out, “Or they can be used as an affordable way to extend meat in something like a meat stew or a bolognaise sauce. Cook up a large batch, portion and freeze to use to make a quick meal like soup or a bean salad.” As part of National Nutrition Week activities, a host of recipes celebrating beans, peas and lentils in tasty dishes are available on the National Nutrition Week website.

“Some people experience bloating and gas as a result of eating beans, but we would like to highlight steps that can be taken to prevent this from being a reason why many don’t include these nutritious foods in their eating plans”, says Maretha Vermaak from the CEP of Milk SA. Vermaak advises people to start with small amounts to build up one’s tolerance over time and to soak dry beans before cooking.

On Wednesday, the 12th of October, ADSA (@ADSA_RD) will be hosting a Twitter Talk from 13h00 to 14h00 where dietitians and National Nutrition Week partners will be answering questions such as: Why are beans, peas and lentils good for health? How do we avoid getting bloated and windy after eating beans? What is the best way to prepare dry beans for cooking? How do I introduce more dry beans, lentils and peas into my children’s diet? What are some ways we can use beans, peas and lentils in meals and snacks? Join the conversation live on Twitter, follow the @ADSA_RD handle or track the hashtag #LovePulses to get great ideas and tips that will help you and your family to love dry beans, peas and lentils. The Department of Health in the various provinces will also celebrate National Nutrition Week during the month of October.

For more information on National Nutrition Week 2016, please visit the website: http://www.nutritionweek.co.za/