A healthy diet can reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases

Find out why

My Body, My Health: My Wealth team
female student laughing with a friend while eating a banana
UNICEF South Africa/2022/Hearfield
03 April 2023

The food we eat has a large impact on our health. An unhealthy diet, typically high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt and low in vegetables and fruits, can contribute to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Examples of NCDs are diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. These are highly prevalent in South Africa and as a disease group, have become the largest killer in the country.

One of the things you can do to reduce the risk of developing NCDs is to eat a nutritious diet, ensuring that you include enough vegetables and fruits. The more processed foods are in your diet, the farther away they are from their natural state and are more likely to contain added ingredients that in the long run may be harmful to your health.

Eating healthy as a young person can be challenging. Some young advocates at UNICEF’s youth advocacy trainings expressed that they often skip breakfast and rely on cheap, fatty takeaways as a convenient option to keep them going throughout the day. There is also the perception that healthy foods are more expensive, and cooking healthy meals takes too much time. It’s time to change this narrative and make healthy choices and a healthy diet more affordable and accessible for young people.

Other ways to prevent NCDs are being physically active and limiting your intake of alcohol and tobacco. Check out the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for helpful tips and suggestions on having a healthier diet. This version is easy-to-digest!

Also, remember that there are different sources of protein, these include those from animals and plant-based. Lean animal-based foods such as eggs, fish, chicken and lean cuts of beef are great sources of good quality protein. Plant-based foods like pulses and legumes are cost-effective and great sources of quality protein. Add these foods to your diet to help your body to grow and develop in a healthy way!

Some other tips include checking the nutritional label to know what you are eating (even though they are sometimes hard to read!). Whenever possible, cook your own meals so you know exactly what goes into your food. We encourage you to learn to cook more nutritious meals that are not only delicious, but also fun to prepare and affordable. Here are a few ideas from the Western Cape Department of Health.

>> Discover some easy and healthy recipes


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The UNICEF South Africa Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in more than 190 countries and territories. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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