Marina Visser’s revised nutrition profiler assessed the nutritional value of 120 snacks and cool drinks.


Snack on nutrients, not calories


Food provides our bodies with the energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals to live, grow and function. Marina says maintaining a balanced diet is essential for good health and wellness.


“One requires a wide variety of different types of food to provide the right amount of nutrients for good health. Because individuals consume more food that is low in essential nutrients and high in calories, it becomes increasingly difficult to consume sufficient nutrients without also gaining weight.”


Take a fresh look at healthy snacking for children

Marina Visser, a PhD student at the NWU’s Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, has adapted an internationally recognised nutrition profiler for the local market, making it easier for South Africans to learn healthy eating habits.

The original nutrition profiler is an American science-based system aimed at limiting saturated fats and excessive sugar and salt in particular, while promoting important nutrients.


The profiler uses an algorithm to generate a single score for individual foods or meals. This helps to identify food with the most nutrients and relatively few kilojoules and calories.


“Professor Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at Washington University, developed the nutrition profiler in 2010 and has since recommended that countries adapt it for their local needs,” says Marina.


Customised for SA

She decided to adapt the profiler for the South African market as part of her PhD study. Her study is aimed at adapting the traditional diet of the primary school child, making it more cost-effective and incorporating healthier nutrients.

She collaborated with other senior nutritionists to develop the local nutrition profiler indicator after a thorough scientific literature review had been completed. This review assessed the national nutritional status of South African children and included data from previous studies done between 1999 and 2012.

According to data gathered over a period of 13 years, the review indicated that:


  • Children between the ages of one and nine years demonstrate significant deficiencies in micro-nutrients like calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin A and various B vitamins.
  • Obesity levels among children have increased rapidly.


Obesity epidemic raises concern

“Obesity in children from two to 14 years old has on average increased from 10,6% to 18,2%” says Marina. “What is frightening is that among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 years obesity has increased from 21% to 27%.”


She says it is a source of concern in South Africa. The World Health Organisation found convincing evidence that a high intake of energy-dense food is linked to the global obesity epidemic.

The information on the consumption of snacks by schoolchildren indicates that the most common snacks are savoury snacks, sweets, chocolate and biscuits. These are commonly associated with a low nutritional value and a high energy intake.

Marina’s revised nutrition profiler assessed the nutritional value of 120 snacks and cool drinks. She is confident of its value in providing expert information on nutrition to the consumer.


“If you make smarter nutritional choices, you can consume the recommended daily nutrients without consuming unnecessary kilojoules.”

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Choose healthy, cost-effective snacks


Marina says replacing snacks that have a high energy value and low nutritional value with healthier options like low-fat milk products, fruit, vegetables, meat without fat, fish and eggs will not only improve the quality of children’s diets, but can also help to combat obesity.


Studies have indicated that yoghurt and other dairy products are rich in nutrients and have a lower kilojoule (energy) value. Not only do they provide essential nutrients, but they are also good sources of the nutrients missing from our diets, like protein and calcium.


There may be cost implications, but with careful planning it is possible to choose healthy snacks that will not cost you an arm and a leg.


“Healthy snacking plays an important role in maintaining weight and nutrient intake. This helps to manage blood glucose, which reduces the feeling of hunger and leads to better control over one’s appetite. The habit of snacking healthily should preferably start in childhood and adolescence, when the basis for eating habits is established.”


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NWU & U  |