Top nutrition tips to kickstart 2016

  • Maintain a healthy weight BMI between 20-25kg/m2.
  • Regular meals are a must 

Start by making sure you eat at least three well-balanced meals per day. (For an example of a balanced meal, see attached example by meals can also be divided into 4-6 smaller meals). If you struggle with a poor appetite you could try the following: Eat as much as you want to, but don’t force yourself to eat; Think of food as medicine which forms an important part of your therapy; start the day with breakfast. Drink fluids between meals instead of with meals (Consuming drinks at mealtime can fill you up).

  • Be sure to engage in mild to moderate physical activity daily 

Research shows that regular physical activity for those living with a critical illness can be very beneficial, by improving quality of life, improving physical abilities, preventing muscle wasting and it may also lessen nausea. Exercise is also a great natural mood enhancer, which lowers your risk of feeling anxious or depressed.

  • Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains ensure optimal nutrient intake

Whole grain foods, fruit and vegetables allow us to have variety in our diet with the added benefits of containing essential vitamins and minerals, which our bodies cannot make as well as fibre, which is essential for a healthy gut. Fruit and vegetables are also packed with antioxidants, which help protect our bodies (read insert). Healthy balanced diet should contain at least 3-5 portions of vegetables along with 2-4 portions of fruit per day. A portion of vegetables is ½ a cup cooked and one cup raw, and one small to medium sized apple, pear or banana constitutes one fruit portion.

  • Antioxidants are innately part of plant based foods and are categorised as phytochemicals. Free radicals surround us in our daily lives and are a by-product of our normal metabolism. However, certain factors (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high-fat diets, too much sun, too much exercise and too many pollutants in the air we breathe) cause our bodies to produce more free radicals. Excess free radicals can damage our cells and tissues and have been implicated in the causation of many diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. 

Antioxidants offer protection form free radicals by inhibiting their damaging effects. It is the well-known fact that fruits and vegetables contain plenty of antioxidants but recent studies have also highlighted the antioxidant properties of herbs and spices and their role in helping to prevent heart disease. Commonly known antioxidants are vitamin A, C, E, beta carotene and selenium.

  • Limit your intake of sugar-laden drinks and processed foods high in excess fat and low in fibre

Foods high in sugar and fat usually contain little or none of the beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals as in fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

  • Eat more fish and chicken and limit red meat intake

High red meat intake has been linked to some cancers due to chemicals, such as nitrites, naturally found in meat. Reducing red meat intake and alternatively increasing intake of chicken and oily fish have been shown to protect against cancer.

  • Include more healthy fats in your diet and reduce saturated fat intake

The best fats are unsaturated fats, which come from sources such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Also focus on omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds.

  • Decrease your salt intake

High salt intake may increase the risk of certain cancers; the South African food based dietary guidelines suggest that we use salt sparingly, i.e. total salt intake should not be more than one teaspoon (6 g) per day, including the salt in bread and processed, cured and preserved foods.

  • If you drink, only do so in moderation

Limit to one drink for women and two drinks for men per day.


Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town, she holds a MSc in Dietetics and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

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