Chef Shaun Munro, left, holds fried chicken and chips, while chef Bradley Kavanagh shows a healthy alternative of grilled chicken breast, baby potatoes and ratatouille.

Durban - Chicken and chips, with creamed spinach? Or tenderly steamed chicken breast with a rosemary and lemon infusion, served with baby potatoes marinated in parsley butter and oven-roasted ratatouille?

Those were the options given at a presentation in uMhlanga to highlight the importance of “seductive nutrition” and entice South Africans to eat healthier food.

The presentation was hosted by Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), with Shaun Munro, executive chef at the Elangeni Hotel, and Bradley Kavanagh, regional customer chef at UFS, presenting healthy alternatives to “unhealthy” meals.

The event highlighted new findings from the World Menu Report – a survey of diners in 10 countries which for the first time included South Africa – which suggested that chefs and restaurateurs were not meeting their guests’ needs.

The research showed that 66 percent of consumers want healthier options when eating out – but 43 percent of people think that healthier options usually sound less appetising.

“What is needed is a new approach to menu design which nudges guests to choose a healthier option when eating out,” said Eelco Camminga, vice-president of UFS South Africa, Middle East and Pakistan.

In the research, people in 10 countries, including South Africa, were presented with a healthy dish described on two menus – one “neutral” and the second more “seductive”.

In nine of the countries surveyed, people were more inclined to choose a dish from the seductive menu (which included descriptive words like steamed, succulent and fresh).

Terms like line-caught steamed trout, spicy grilled root vegetables with an authentic Italian garlic and olive oil dressing had the edge over “fish and vegetables with dressing”.

The report found that when dining out, guests wanted the best of both worlds – healthier options on menus (66 percent) and a treat when eating out (72 percent).

However, most healthy options are considered to be second-rate – less appetising (43 percent), too expensive (57 percent) and not very filling (45 percent).

“People want a treat when they dine out,” said Munro.

“The challenge is to make the dishes healthier and attractive so that guests will want to choose them. However, there is nothing wrong with having an ‘unhealthy’ treat once in a while. It is all about balance.”

When consumers were asked what changes they would like restaurants and eateries to make, the top six most popular requests were:

* Adding plenty of vegetables (34 percent).

* Lowering fat content (32 percent).

* Reducing portion sizes (26 percent).

* Grilling or baking (22 percent).

* Using fresh ingredients (20 percent).

* Lowering the calorie content (19 percent).

Says Camminga: “Seductive nutrition is about balancing the health and appeal of your menus. Chefs can still cook their guests’ favourite dishes, but just make them healthier. By using a leaner cut of meat and aromatic spices to flavour instead of lots of salt, the dish is just as tasty and satisfying, sounds delicious and is a little healthier.”

Although diners want healthier alternatives on menus, more than two-fifths (43 percent) of people admit a main drawback to ordering a healthy option is that they believe that healthier dishes sound less tasty when described on a menu.

The report also revealed a “nutritional knowledge gap” among consumers, because 75 percent were unable to identify the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fat for men and women. This suggests that even though consumers want more nutritional information, they don’t always understand how to interpret it in relation to their RDAs.

It also showed that more than half (57 percent) of people agreed that healthy options tended to be more expensive, while 45 percent thought they were less filling.

Keegan Eichstadt, assistant nutrition and health manager at UFS, said: “Reducing as little as 25 to 50 calories in a dish can prevent long-term weight gain. If you take a burger and chips and you decrease the portion size from 150g chips to 125g baked wedges and add a fresh slice of tomato and basil, you would save 325 kcal and also gain the nutritional and flavour benefits of fresh herbs and vegetables.”

Shân Biesman-Simons, dietician at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA, said: “More than 70 percent of women and 45 percent of men are overweight or obese.

“A contributory factor is that many South Africans eat food that is prepared outside the home – in restaurants, take-away outlets and canteens.

“These quick foods are often unhealthy and are typically large portions, high in fat, salt and sugar and low in fibre.

“As a result many people live in environments that promote the development of obesity as well as conditions like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

“As food choices play a significant role in the development of cardiovascular disease, it is vital for South Africans to have access to healthier food options when eating out. This can play a major role in helping reduce the obesity pandemic and the burden of cardiovascular disease.” - Daily News