This is why South Africans are unhealthily overweight

Too many South Africans are overweight, and it’s contributing to dangerous health conditions. We unpack the reasons why we’re struggling with our weight, and look at what we can do about it.

31 October 2019
2 minute read

Man shopping at the grocery store

Too many South Africans are at an unhealthy weight, leading to dangerous conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which are common causes of death in South Africa. Here are some surprising reasons we are overweight, and what the solutions are:

Reason 1
Unhealthy food is cheaper: For many South Africans, a healthy diet is unaffordable, costing on average 69% more than the unhealthy food choices like fast food.

Red meat has become very pricey, for example, and vegetables and fruits really add to a grocery bill.

Plan your meals:  Make a grocery list. Only buy what you’re sure you will use, and check what you already have in your cupboards first. Instead of red meat you can opt for chicken, and there are plenty of fruit and veggies to choose from that are less expensive.

Reason 2Unhealthy food is more accessible: Studies show that people are more likely to choose food that’s convenient and easy versus what's healthy and nutritious. Fast food outlets readily and generally easy to access.

Take a packed lunch to work: Instead of going for a takeaway or to the vending machine, prepare a nutritious sandwich for lunch the night before or in the morning before work.

Learn to cook: Cooking is like anything else, the more you practice, the better you will become. Start with easy dishes like spaghetti bolognaise, veg stir-fry or roast chicken and potatoes.

Get digital: Download a free app for easy-to-cook, healthy recipes. Good ones are Tasty, BBC Good Food, BigOven, and Yummly.

Reason 3We eat too much starch: A typical diet for many South Africans is maize, rice and bread, and these diets are linked to obesity and a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease.

Get the balance right: a healthy plate of food has more vegetables and protein than carbohydrates like pap, potatoes or rice. A sensible plate serving of starch is roughly:

  • A slice of bread
  • A third of a cup of rice or pasta
  • A small potato
  • A small fistful or a cup of maize meal (pap)

Reduce carb portion sizes: To keep your weight in the healthy range, reduce portion sizes of starchy foods and don’t eat them as often. After a while, you’ll find yourself craving carbs less or think of them as only occasional indulgences.

Reason 4Many of us think “bigger is better”: We are socialised – either by tradition, culture or food brand marketing – into thinking that bigger is better. This notion applies to:

Body weight: In some communities, being big and heavy is regarded as a sign of being healthy and prosperous.

Portion size: We put too much food on our plates. Also, many of us are taught that it’s polite to eat everything on our plates and let nothing go to waste.

Change your thinking to “less is more”. This is a healthier way to think about food, because:

A healthy body weight lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also lower the risk of many different cancers.

Smaller portions help to maintain a healthy weight. And digesting food is one of the most taxing jobs your body has to do, so eating smaller meals more frequently actually helps you preserve energy.

how to eat healthy on a budget

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