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How to achieve a balanced diet

September 2017

Any mother or caretaker knows the struggle of providing healthy food for their family. Even watching animals, you will see the new mother nursing her offspring to provide the foundation of good health and then moving on to the freshest grasses and feed to give the young one the best possible start.

When you live in a rural area where shops are few and far between then this struggle can become a matter of life and death, as recent studies have found that rural communities have high instances of malnutrition and starvation.

All is not lost though, as the following articles will hope to prove. At least the basic information regarding good nutrition is still the same but the application of these facts might have changed somewhat. If you do not have the financial means to produce or buy much more than the staples of maize meal and sugar you can increase and sustain your health by growing vegetables and fruits to add to your diet.

The human body is designed to be able to endure many hardships by adapting to circumstances like food shortages or limited diets that consist of basic staples only, but this puts strain on the body and manifests in poor defenses against viruses and other diseases.

Like any well designed machine has requirements for specific fuels, so your body will be able to perform at its peak with a varied diet containing all the food groups. You won’t get far by putting diesel in your petrol bakkie! As you know, unfortunately the farmers producing the foods that end up on the chain store shelves are paid very little and in many instances cannot afford to buy from these same shops. This is where farmers and mothers have to step in and start growing food for their own table. Growing your own food and sharing and trading with your neighbours can provide the varied and healthy foods the family needs.

Basic food groups
As I have mentioned above, all foods can be divided into the basic food groups. They are;

Grains and cereals
Bread, mealiepap, rice, pasta, oats, Matabella – these foods are rich in carbohydrates that easily convert into energy for the body to use. This group is also the best source of B vitamins vitamin E, minerals and trace elements like zinc, copper, selenium, magnesium and potassium. These foods should form the basis of most meals for example a bowl of mealiepap with a topping of vegetable and meat stew.

Fruits and vegetables
Bananas, apples, mango, watermelon, oranges or spinach, sweet potato, broccoli, carrots, onions etc. Fruits are excellent sources of vitamins A and C as well as potassium. They are considered low in fat and sodium. They do contain sugar but is still considered a healthier option than the processed sugars found in sweets.

Vegetables provide high amounts of vitamins and folate as well as important minerals such as iron and magnesium. Different types of vegetables provide different nutrients. An easy way to help you figure out what to add to your meals is to ‘eat the rainbow’. Try and have all the different colours represented in your meals. Eat dark-grean leafy vegetables (source of iron) such as swiss chard, beetroot leaves, broccoli or spinach. Yellow vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes,maize and peas as well as legumes such as chickpeas, kidney and pinto beans. Other vegetables include tomatoes, lettuce, onions and green beans which can be eaten raw as well.

Milk and dairy
Milk products such as cheese, buttermilk and amasi provide proteins, vitamins and minerals of which the most important one is calcium. Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth. Dairy is also a good source of fats.

Meat, fish and eggs
Poultry, red meat, eggs and fish provide protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Dry beans and nuts also provide similar amounts of these nutrients so a constant supply of meat is not always necessary.

Fats and oils
Internationally there is a big debate raging over the benefits of fat in the modern diet these days. From personal experience, I fall into the “good fat” group and believe that fatty cuts of meat, real butter and certain oils such as found in avocadoes do benefit brain function and overall health. I am no doctor though so can only vouch for what I have experienced and urge the mothers and caregivers to follow and trust their own wisdom in this.

Sugar and specifically added sugar needs a special mention. Sugar doesn’t have nutrients but is high in calories. If too much extra sugar is consumed the organs in the body that has to convert the sugar to energy for the person to use, gets so overworked that it starts storing the excess sugar as fat to be used at a later stage. That is not a bad idea but since the human is still consuming extra sugar every day the stored energy (fat) never gets used and just accumulates leading to obesity and possibly type 2 diabetes.

Use sugar sparingly and sweets and cold drinks only as special treats. Adding fruits to the diet will still satisfy the sweet-tooth but at least there are beneficial nutrients and fiber included in the treat.

In future articles we will look at some practical ideas and gardening tips to incorporate these food groups into your diet.


Article submitted Theresa Wilmot, Freelance writer, Western Cape. For more information, send an email to Slabroller@gmail.com.

Publication: September 2017

Section: Pula/Imvula