My career as a chef has taken me all over the world, and it’s given me insights into the food trends that are soon to land on South Africa’s shores, and it excites me that we are still at the beginning of our own healthy food revolution.
Beyond Banting and past paleo lies an abundance of fine food that tastes fabulous – we just need to take the time to learn, research, and shop carefully using the information that we have to hand.
One of the things that South Africans can certainly be proud of is that we have one of the strongest food labelling systems in the world – but we need to spend more time understanding the information on those labels… as well as reading them, of course!
Reading labels and understanding the information that you find on them will help you understand what you’re eating – and you’ll make smarter and healthier additions to your grocery basket, and to the meals that you cook for your family.
The biggest changes for the better start with a single, simple step, and historically that step was to avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG) like the plague. In spite of the evils that it was accused of, MSG is just a flavour enhancer, although it has been removed from most products.
The food plague of present times is sugar, which is far more dangerous than MSG ever was – and it hides in the most surprising places, including sauces (have a look at your tomato sauce label), spices (check out that BBQ rub) and preserves.
There has been talk of introducing a sugar tax, with such an action having seen results in the likes of Norway. The Mexican government implemented a sugar tax of one peso per litre of fizzy cold drink, and early findings showed that sales of these drinks dropped by 10 percent in the first year, with an increase of 13 percent in the sale of bottled water.
I’m not sure that the South African public can cope with yet another tax; but we do have one of the highest obesity rates in southern Africa, with 69.3% of men and women said to be classified as obese in 2014. Apart from engaging in regular exercise, choosing to buy and eating healthy food are essential steps we can all take.
We can also demand accountability from our restaurants, insisting that they share nutrition information about the food they serve. Indeed, many quick-serve restaurants in South Africa already do this on their websites. However, there’s a huge opportunity for fine dining and family restaurants to take the lead by publishing the nutritional values of the meals they serve, particularly those that don’t belong to massive chains.
Taking a stand and showing that they are leaders in health-conscious cuisine will surely make them the first choice of the growing numbers of South Africans who are taking their health to heart.