This piece was first published in The Cape Times (August 30, 2013).
No amount of sugar coating can make the results of the SA National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, recently released by the Human Sciences and Medical Research Councils, easy to swallow. From my view point, sugar is the primary problem.
As a nation we are heavier and less healthy than we think we are. What’s worse, is that 22% of South African children, as compared to just 12% of children in the USA, long considered the heaviest people on the planet, suggests that our children are even bigger than those from where the source of most of the junk food consumed, come.
The tragedy of the figures is that while six out of 10 women older than 50 need to wear an extra-large skirt, a third of the children polled report not having food to take to school. The punishing economics of it means that those most likely to be hungry are also going to consume high-sugar processed junk foods which are cheaper and more immediately sustaining in the short term.
As featured in The Cape Times, August 31, 2013
If we ever needed an invitation to take a long look in the mirror, this is it. I may be guiltier of contributing to our collective gluttony than the rest. While writing restaurant reviews for this newspaper I detailed long and lavish lunches with greedy glee. I also contributed to the celebrity cult of our now rock-star chefs. In the years that I wrote about dining out, chefs moved from behind their sound-proofed basement kitchens into glass enclosed theatres (Blues Restaurant in Camps Bay may have been the first local one to do so). Chefs migrated from craftsmen and women who produced food to inside our television sets and onto the covers of books in our library.
While we got in touch with our inner foodie the marketers of kitchen appliances and food brands were only too happy to join us. We did seem to have replace discernment for quality cuisine with a fascination of novelty if the desire for the now, thankfully, dying trend of “molecular” cuisine, is any indication.
While it is true that more people are demanding organic produce and want to know the provenance of what they eat (a very gratifying food trend) it is also true that junk food consumption is on the up. It seems our growth in our waists matches growth in the popularity of processed foods.
A separate study by Nestle into what South African children at private schools are eating while at school draws the same conclusions as the Research Councils’. The majority of children are consuming fizzy drinks and high-sugar, high-starch food which is also typically high in fat and sodium. None of which is surprising when you consider the addictive nature of these ingredients and the vast marketing spend to support their desirability. As a public relations practitioner that represents Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, suppliers of apples and pears, it concerns me that even when Tru-Cape as a healthy-food brand sponsors marathons that brands like Coke-a-Cola and other sugary and fizzy drinks are also linking themselves to sports and healthy pursuits. Years of marketing has suggested that the more we exercise the more we need to replace sugar in our system. This thinking is being challenged by many but in South Africa but Prof Tim Noakes is my hero for speaking against his peers and the tsunami of so-called scientific opinion that recommends a balanced diet.
Having shed over 70kg and reversed Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other related health concerns by focusing on a diet free from sugar, starch, alcohol and fizzy drinks which is also high in protein, I can confirm that I first needed to overcome the addictive nature of sugars before succeeding.
As a near obsessive record keeper, I was able to share medical information and blood results over many years with Prof Noakes as well as details of all the previous “diets” that I’ve unsuccessfully tried to regain a healthy weight. Not one of the traditionally-accepted eating plans worked for me until I first purged my body of its addiction to sugar and sugar-producing carbohydrates. Prof Noakes has included my experiences in an article in the SA Medical Journal as proof that lifestyle diseases can be reversed by following a low-carb diet.
A study published in the Journal of Paediatrics proves the relationship between the volume of soft drinks consumed by five-year olds and their increased aggressive behavioural problems. The US study polled a sample of 2929 children, 52% were boys and 43% consumed at least one serving of soda per day while 4% consumed four or more servings per day. The study demonstrates that aggressive behaviour increase with the increased consumption of fizzy and, in most cases, sugary drinks.
The Nestle study of South African tuck shops says that fizzy drinks and chips make up 75% of what children are purchasing with Toasted bread at the next most popular purchase. The “food” menu is a high-carbohydrate offering of Spaghetti Bolognaise, macaroni and cheese, home-made pies and curry with rice.
Despite many challenges and time pressures (most in the study reported children left the house at 07h30 for school) many parents sent along lunch boxes which they considered healthier with nutrient-rich foods which is very good news. Less good is that the jury is still out on what defines “healthy foods”. For “healthier” lunchboxes Nestles recommends starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta suggesting that brown, wholegrain, seeded bread or pap from the night before as alternatives and only then suggests lean proteins such as tuna, eggs, beef, chicken, even left over mince or stew as sandwich fillers.
What can’t be argued is the extra-large size of the problem. What should, however, be argued is the continued suggestion that a “balanced” or high carbohydrate, low-fat diet is health affirming.
Personal experience proves it is not.
There is also a lot of evidence purported by those who recommend Paleo eating or The Caveman Diet and the Low Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) options as the best. Unfortunately there doesn’t yet appear to be large companies happy to sponsor the research that will “prove” that we’ve had it wrong for many years.
Personal experience has also proved to me that it is easy to get the most established nutritional experts to agree to endorse a food product on spurious grounds. The only thing we can be truly certain of is how our bodies and those that we love and live with respond to what we eat.
If you are among the many people that are too heavy and have unsuccessfully followed “balanced diets” surely you owe it to yourself to try something different?
Brian Berkman is a public relations consultant and freelance travel writer. He blogs about his weight-loss journey at www.BrianBerkman.com and on September 26 at 8pm will be co-presenting a talk, Upgrade Your Life with Elan Lohmann and Dr Greg Venning about the tools necessary to change towards a lighter lifestyle. Fee is R650 per person and bookings are via WeightLoss@BrianBerkman.com