As 2024 begins, many are looking to adopt healthier habits for the year ahead. Arthur Ramoroka, the Corporate Nutritionist at Tiger Brands and Eat Well Live Well ambassador, offers valuable insights on how South Africans can embrace a healthier start to the new year.
Speaking about the pressing issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa, Ramoroka highlights the concerning fact that over 700 people in the country lose their lives to NCDs every day.
These diseases, not transmitted from person to person, are influenced by a combination of genetic, behavioural, environmental and metabolic factors.
Ramoroka points out how lifestyle choices such as unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption contribute significantly to the rise of NCDs.
He points out that conditions like heart disease, strokes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes are among the prominent NCDs affecting the South African population.
Moreover, scientific data supports that excessive sugar consumption can have detrimental effects on various organs and systems in the body.
For instance, it can lead to fat accumulation in the liver, potentially resulting in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and impaired liver function.
Consistently high sugar intake can also lead to insulin resistance in the pancreas, contributing to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, excess sugar consumption can impact the cardiovascular system, dental health and brain function, highlighting the comprehensive impact of sugar on overall health.
Against the backdrop of a 58.7% increase in the mortality rate in South Africa over the past two decades, a trend linked to the high prevalence of NCDs in the country, Ramoroka stresses the severity of the situation.
He points out that diabetes ranks as the country’s second biggest killer after TB, further highlighting the urgency of addressing NCDs and promoting healthier lifestyles.
For those looking to kick-start a healthy 2024, Ramoroka shares valuable advice to build and maintain healthy habits.
His insights serve as a timely reminder for everyone to prioritise their health and wellness as they embark on the new year.
Getting a jump start on healthier living
With so many sunny days on the horizon, you need to make sure you avoid the sugar trap and stick to your health goals, particularly when it comes to sugary drinks – you can be consuming more calories and sugars without even realising it.
Wellness enthusiasts are making a shift toward calorie-free drinks to support their healthy habits, opting for options with fewer calories such as milk alternatives or sugar-free lemonade.
Nutritionist, Ramoroka, highlights the benefits of low-calorie beverages in maintaining a healthier lifestyle, explaining the significance of making small changes in daily diets.
Small lifestyle changes can play a big part too. One area where we can make the most impact is our daily diets, he said.
For example, “If you are overweight, you can substantially decrease the risk of diabetes by just losing 5-7% of your starting weight. But prevention doesn’t only apply to weight loss.
“Maintaining a healthier nutritional balance all around is the best way to make sure you and your family stay healthy.”
Cutting out high-fat foods, reducing your intake of processed foods, cutting portion size and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables will go a long way towards a healthier lifestyle.
It's crucial to recognise that limiting the amount of sugary drinks also plays a major role in preventing diabetes — something many often overlook.
Highly processed foods can include pre-prepared meals, sausages and nuggets, as well as sweets, biscuits, pastries, buns, cakes and pre-prepared chips.
People who regularly consume sugary drinks, averaging one to two cans a day or more, face a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely have such drinks, explained Ramoroka.
“In South Africa, it’s estimated that the average volume per person in the soft drinks market is expected to reach 43.92L in 2023. Let that sink in. That is 43.92L per person. We are facing a sugar crisis - and that’s just taking into account what we’re drinking.”
He adds, “If we simply made the small change of choosing drinks with less sugar and low kilojoules, we’d already be well on the way to changing a large facet of our lifestyle that could prevent diabetes.
“For example, a 100ml serving of Brookes Low Cal squash contains 95% less total sugar (0.2g) than a 100ml serving of traditional sugary beverages (4.0g).”
“The drink contains low kilojoules and minimal sugar content (ranging from 0.0 – 0.7g per 100ml) and is the go-to choice for anyone conscious of their diet, especially those living with diabetes.
“And here’s the good news, it’s still full of flavour and proudly carries the endorsements of Diabetes South Africa.”
By combining low kilojoule drink options with a healthier diet, and about 20 minutes of activity a week, diabetes can be prevented.
For those who already have the disease, these small changes can reverse some of the most dangerous outcomes. In some cases, individuals can even return their glucose levels to a non-diabetes range.
This is a life-changing opportunity to get back on track with some simple changes that can improve your quality of life and give you more time with those you love.
It’s time for us to own our health journeys by taking charge of what we nourish our bodies with. There are healthier options available and we owe it to ourselves and our families to start exploring them.