5 October 2017

South Africa: Rethink Your Drink - Choose Water

The national Department of Health is encouraging South African citizens to consider making water a beverage of choice each day, as it is essential for health and the best way to quench thirst.

The department on Wednesday said the simple but profound goodness of water has been somehow left behind as citizens are overwhelmed with the wide choice of beverages, most being sugary drinks.

As National Nutrition Week 2017 approaches, which will run from next week Monday until Sunday, the department said it is important to drink water as it contains no kilojoules and it hydrates the body.

National Nutrition Week will be held under the theme 'Rethink your drink - choose water'. The aim is to help citizens to drink water as a daily habit because it is generally good for everybody's health.

Health risks associated with sugary drinks

The campaign will highlight the dangers associated with choosing sugar-sweetened drinks as an alternative to drinking water, which spikes the body's daily kilojoule intake, degrades diet, and leads to weight gain. It will also highlight the onset of non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dental caries.

The Director of Nutrition at the department, Rebone Ntsie, said the prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases in the country is alarming.

"The South African Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2016 found that the prevalence of overweight was 13.3% among children of zero to five years of age. About 67.6% and 31.3% of South African women and men respectively are overweight and obese. These findings show that overweight and obesity among children and adults have increased from earlier surveys. Replacing sugary drinks with water can help," said Ntsie.

Ntsie said it makes good sense to replace sugary drinks with lots of clean safe water.

"Drinking lots of clean and safe water is essential for one's health. Besides keeping you hydrated, it helps with digestion, regulates your body temperature, and lubricates your joints. Furthermore, tap water is cheaper than any other drink."

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), Professor Pamela Naidoo, has warned that the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke rises with an increase in body weight.

"There is also a clear link between sugary drink consumption and heart disease. Indicators of heart disease such as blood lipids and uric acid also increase with an increase in consumption of sugary drinks," said Naidoo.

The department said daily consumption of two or more sugary drinks has been found to increase the risk of developing diabetes by at least 24% compared to consuming less than one sugary drink per month.

According to Statistics South Africa, diabetes was the second leading underlying cause of death in the country in 2015, accounting for about 5.4% deaths, and it is the leading cause of death in females, accounting for about 7.1% deaths.

On average, commercially produced sugary drinks contain the following amounts of sugar per 500 ml serving (two average-sized cups/glasses):

  • Sweetened fizzy drinks: 13 - 17 teaspoons;
  • Energy drinks: 13½ to 15 teaspoons;
  • Fruit juice: 12 - 16 teaspoons;
  • Sweetened milk or yoghurt-based drinks: 7 - 13½ teaspoons;
  • Sweetened iced tea: 8 - 10½ teaspoons;
  • Sports drinks: 4½ - 12 teaspoons;
  • Sweetened drinks, such as sweetened flavoured water, vitamin-enriched water and coconut water: 4 - 8 teaspoons of water

A healthy intake of sugar

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that the intake of free sugars, (such as sugars added by the manufacturer, cook or consumer or sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates), should be less than 10% of the total daily energy intake for adults and children and less than 5% for further health benefits.

The President of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), Nicole Lubasinski, said this means that the maximum intake of free sugars from food and beverages per day for adult men and adolescents (14 to 18 years) should not be more than 12 teaspoons, and for adult women and children (5 to 13 years) should not be more than nine teaspoons.

"To achieve more health benefits, the number of teaspoons of sugar from food and beverages per day for adult men and adolescents (14 to 18 years) should not be more than six teaspoons, and for adult women and children (5 to 13) years, not more than 5 teaspoons," she said.

Carol Browne of the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA) said most sugary drinks have a nutrition information label, and this indicates how much of the carbohydrate in the drink is found as sugar.

She said in milk based drinks, some of the sugar will be the sugar from milk, and this is not classified as a 'free sugar'.

"In these products, the total sugar content on nutrition information label should be considered with the ingredient list."

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