Hypertension: Risk as power cuts force bad food choices

South Africans reaching for fast food due to power cuts warned of hypertension risk. (Photo: file)

Experts say the disruptions caused by consistent power outages are forcing South Africans to consume more unhealthy foods putting them at higher risk of hypertension. 

In South Africa, more than 1 in 3 adults live with hypertension. An unhealthy diet, age, physical inactivity, family history, smoking and alcohol abuse likely drives this. This is according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.

Speaking to Health-e News, Hayley Cimring, Nutrition Science Team Leader at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa says constant power outages cause disruptions to cooking, forcing more families to turn to fast food. 

“This results in people consuming an unhealthy diet which is higher in fat, salt,  sugar and low in fruits and vegetables, which is a risk factor for hypertension,” says Cimring.

But she says there are ways people can avoid eating unhealthy, fast food during the daily power outages.

How to maintain a healthy diet during load shedding

“You could avoid fast food during load shedding by investing in an inexpensive gas stove or cooking meals that don’t require heat, like salads. Further to this when it is possible to prepare meals, cook extra food for a second meal,” says Cimring.

“Use fresh ingredients to cook large batches of soups, stews and other dishes as meal options for a few days. Where possible freeze these and take out as needed.”

Load shedding is likely to be a feature of South African life for years to come so it is critical that people make healthy food choices a habit. Cimring says people must make it a habit to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, and low-fat dairy as these foods effectively reduce blood pressure.

“Scientists specifically designed a diet called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as the DASH diet. This diet emphasises fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It limits sugary drinks, sweets and red meat. Furthermore to this, research has shown that consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, can assist in reducing blood pressure,” explains Cimring.

Harmful effects of most ‘ready-made’ food

Healthy Living Alliance(HEALA), Communications Manager, Zukiswa Zimela says that most ready-made or quick-to-prepare food can be classified as ultra-processed food.

“South African shops are full of pre-packaged and processed foods. These have high levels of added sugars, salt and saturated fats. Research connects these nutrients to increased obesity and chronic nutrition-related diseases,” says Zimela.

Zimela says the dominance of unhealthy products in stores and incomprehensible food labels undermine consumers’ ability to choose healthier food options.

Zimela says non-communicable diseases, including hypertension, are the main cause of death in South Africa. “A study released in 2022 found that approximately 8,22 million South African adults with no private health insurance have hypertension. Hypertension caused an estimated 14 000 ischaemic heart disease events, 13 300 strokes and 6100 cases of chronic kidney disease annually,” explains Zimela.

Hypertension is a silent killer

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 1.28 billion adults aged 30-79 years worldwide have hypertension. Most of them live in low-and-middle-income countries. About 46% of adults with hypertension don’t know they have it.

Cimring says that hypertension is known as a ‘silent killer’ because it rarely displays symptoms related to high blood pressure. She says that it is the reason why more than 50% of people with hypertension are unaware of their condition. In some cases, symptoms such as headaches, visual disturbances, nose bleeds, vomiting and sleepiness may be present.

World Hypertension Day takes place on the 17th of May annually. It promotes hypertension prevention, detection and control. The condition remains the main risk factor to develop cardiovascular disease.-Health-e News.


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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