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How do you make healthy food choices?

The Department of Health of South Africa has developed a set of food-based dietary guidelines to help us eat well and stay healthy. The following are the main principles:

Enjoy a variety of foods

This means eating more than one type of food at each meal, eating different foods on different days and preparing food in different, healthy ways. A varied diet is composed of different nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins, water and dietary fiber that help the body to function properly.

Be physically active

Being active helps to keep our bodies and minds healthy. Children should be active for one hour per day and adults should aim to do at least one session of physical activity 5 times a week (30 to 45 minutes), or three short 10-minute sessions, over the course of the day.

Make starchy foods part of most meals

Unrefined or wholegrain and fortified starchy foods are the best choices. Examples are whole wheat or brown bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats or coarse maize-meal.

Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly

These should be eaten 2-3 times per week. Examples are dry beans, baked beans, butter beans, kidney beans, split peas, chick peas, lentils, soya beans and products made from soya, seeds, unsalted nuts and peanut butter. They are important for protein, dietary fibre, providing energy and are rich in minerals.

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day

These are high in vitamins and minerals and help to strengthen the body’s immune system to resist diseases. All types of vegetables and fruits are good for us and can be eaten as main meals and/or snacks. Aim for a daily goal of at least 5 portions. Have different types and colours of vegetables and fruit, preferably those in season. Include both cooked vegetables and salads in your meals.

Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day

We need about two cups of dairy (milk, maas, yoghurt, sour milk or cheese) daily to obtain enough calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting and for healing wounds.

Fish, chicken, lean meat and eggs can be eaten daily

Animal-based foods are sources of good quality protein. Protein is needed to grow, maintain and repair our body. Small portions can be eaten every day although they can also be eaten less frequently. Choose lean cuts of meat rather than sausages and processed meats. Try to eat one or two fish meals a week. Polonies, viennas, sausage meat, frankfurters, salami and bacon are high in fat and salt and should not be eaten too often.

Drink lots of clean, safe water

We need to drink water every day. Clean water is the best and cheapest drink and should be our first choice. Low fat or fat free milk, tea and coffee may be had as alternatives. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, including sweetened fruit juices.

Use fats sparingly: choose vegetable oils, rather than hard fats

Apart from providing energy, fats are needed for building cells and to help absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Unhealthy animal fats should be replaced with vegetable oils in small amounts, such as olive, canola and sunflower oil, soft ‘tub’ margarine, oily fish, avocado, and nuts and seeds.

Use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly

Too much sugar is not good for our health in the long term. Sugar is high in energy and contains no other nutrients. Eat small amounts at a time and as little as possible. Choose foods and drinks with little or no sugar. Use only a little or no sugar during cooking. Sweetened drinks and high sugar foods, such as soft drinks, sweets, biscuits, cake and chocolate should be an occasional treat.

Use salt and foods high in salt sparingly

Half of the salt we eat comes from processed foods. The other half comes from salt added while preparing and cooking food and salt added at the table. Many snack foods and take-away foods are high with salt. Eating too much salt and salty food can increase your blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Reducing salt intake and eating more vegetables and fruits consumption can lower blood pressure and reduce these risks.

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