Diabetes and obesity are at epidemic proportions, with diabetes being the country’s second biggest killer, according to Stats SA’s 2017 figures.
Speaking at a nutrition workshop attended by 100 interns in the Department of Social Development’s Cape Youth @ Work programme, Constantia resident Professor Tim Noakes said the increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity were exacerbated by the marketing of unhealthy foods by the food industry.
For years, he said, he had been giving out the wrong information and now he was trying to reverse that by promoting the intake of a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet instead of the western diet which promotes a high carb intake.
Social development MEC Albert Fritz, who could not attend the workshop at Kirstenbosch last week, added that non-communicable diseases including respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes could also be directly linked to leading a sedentary lifestyle and having a poor diet.
Said Professor Noakes: “We can’t reverse this until we change the food we eat. Most South Africans have no access to private healthcare. The national government insurance plan will go bankrupt if people continue eating incorrect food.
“Diabetes is bad enough with the cost of dialysis and insulin but it’s also the associated problems that arise from diabetes.”
And so the Noakes Foundation is trying to change the situation, one meal at a time, so that people are able to feel healthier by eating the correct foods.
Dr Hassina Kajee worked at Groote Schuur Hospital for eight years and gave up after treating people at the end stages of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity, many of them young people.
A member of the Noakes Foundation and Nutrition Network, she now works in private practice treating the underlying causes of non-communicable diseases (NCD’s), which she believes lie in nutrition.
Endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder said 7% of South Africans aged 21 to 79 (3.85 million people) have diabetes. The main contributors to the development of diabetes are family genetics (30%), poor diet and obesity.
Dr Kajee is also one of the founding members of Eat Better SA, the community outreach initiative of the Noakes Foundation.
“The programme educates communities on the impact of refined carbohydrates and sugars and provides them with resources and tools on how adopt a whole foods-based diet that is cost effective and nutritious,” said Dr Kajee.
She said the programme, which has been rolled out in about 11 areas, resulted in reports of weight loss and better overall health.
After the workshop, the interns, who live and work in Mitchell’s Plain and surrounding communities, expressed shock at a demonstration conducted by Masoodha Kajee, co-ordinator of the Eat Better SA community programmes.
This demonstration showed how sugar is hidden in everyday food, how carbs and sugar are addictive and their impact on the brain is similar to that of heroin and cocaine.
Ms Kajee said one serving of chocolate coated cereal, supposedly high in fibre with added vitamins and no flavouring or colouring, is equivalent to six teaspoons of sugar.
Other products included one slice of bread, at 3.5 teaspoons of sugar; a serving of rice at five teaspoons; a serving of pap at seven teaspoons; and a serving of pasta at five teaspoons.
Desiree Nicholas said she would change the diet of her children. “We’re shocked. We didn’t know. We feed them porridge without knowing that it has so much sugar and then teachers complain that the children are hyperactive. Their brains are working slower. Rice is a staple, it goes far for a family but it has so much sugar. Poultry and eggs are expensive, R15 for half a dozen whereas mealie meal is R10. To eat healthy costs a lot,” lamented Ms Nicholas.
Nicole Patel said she would reduce her sugar intake but didn’t feel it was something that could be done overnight. “Instead of three teaspoons of sugar in our tea we can cut it to two in the first week and one the next week,” she suggested.
Ms Kajee also pointed out that there are sugar equivalents, which may be listed as glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose or maltose, in the ingredient lists of packaged foods.
“In the programme we encourage replacing refined carbs and sugars with whole foods and healthy fats such as chicken, meats including the skin and organs; fish and sardines; vegetables and dairy including full-cream maas, yogurt and cheese,” said Ms Kajee.
The Eat Better To Feel Better programme has been held in 11 communities across the country.
“We teach people how to adapt to a whole food and low carb diet while making it cost effective,” Ms Kajee added.
National manager of Diabetes SA, Margot McCumsky said 10% of people with HIV/Aids on antiretrovirals for two years would develop diabetes. People with diabetes are more susceptible to TB and are more likely to die from it.
Diabetes SA is a non-profit, public benefit organisation that assists people with diabetes to manage it and avoid further health complications.