South Africa to Canada. Larry Talks About Barriers Of Health

Larry is a Medical Doctor in Cape Town, South Africa. He’s an avid sportsman, drummer, home cook, and science enthusiast. He fulfills his passion for helping people with his work in medicine. He is presently working in the public healthcare system in South Africa as he awaits Canadian immigration.

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As a doctor, do you consider yourself to be healthy?
Yes, I’d say most of the time I am. I try to balance the amount of total calories I consume and the amount of exercise I can complete. Sometimes my exercise is compromised by awkward or long hours that I work. If I’m very tired and I need to catch up sleep I might have a period where I might not be as healthy and ‘balanced’ as I’d like to be.

What barriers to healthy eating are you expecting when you move to Canada?
I will be moving from a coastal town (with abundant plant and animal produce) to a small landlocked town. There will also be the easily available fast food restaurants on every corner.

What is bringing you to Canada?
In South Africa, we have a huge healthcare discrepancy between private and public healthcare in an unstable socio-political environment. I’m interested in working in a more functional healthcare system that has such a strong focus on primary healthcare. The advanced technology in Canadian healthcare and the availability of special investigations that I would normally have to fight [to get] for my patients is exciting. I think the element of formal continued medical education is very important for physicians and it shows how forward thinking Alberta is toward healthcare and that’s really what intrigued me.

When you work night shifts and long hours does your job get in the way of what you eat?
Definitely. I like to prepare healthy ‘on-call’ meals. However, I often fall into the trap of snacking on easily available high-calorie foods that contain added sugars and fat. This leads to fluctuating energy levels and varying levels of performance at work.

What do you like to pack to bring to work?
I’ll make a tuna or chicken salad with lettuce on a low GI [glycemic index] bread and maybe a Coke Zero and some cut fruit. That’s usually enough to sustain me but there are always sweets and treats in the tearoom that I might end up eating.

In your opinion what’s one of the biggest barriers we’re facing as a population to healthy eating?
That varies quite a bit in South Africa. There are poorer communities that have shops which provide accessible foods but it’s mostly highly processed foods and sugar added foods. Some of the cultural foods in those areas are deep fried as well. Unfortunately, due to the history of South Africa, many of the people living in these communities aren’t well educated they don’t understand the link between nutrition and health or have the necessary access to healthy inexpensive foods.
They may consume excesses of unhealthy foods because they’re cheaper and we end up seeing the obesity of poverty and the poverty cycle continues. We see malnutrition as well but in Cape Town and surrounding areas we see a lot more obesity-related malnutrition than starvation.
In the wealthier communities, we see more physical activity and exercise culture. In these areas healthy eating is almost a trend, however, I do still see obesity in wealthy people. South Africa really is a mixed bag.

What is your favorite food that people may consider unhealthy?
There are so many. Warm chocolate fondant with ice cream.

That must be a South African thing…

If you were going to be stuck on an island for months and you could bring an unlimited supply of 4 food staples, what would they be?
Peanut butter, whole grain bread, salmon and sweet potato.

If you could get a message out to the public about food, what would you tell them?

  1. Stop eating and drinking added sugars in large volumes.
  2. Don’t follow a set diet. Let it be a healthy lifestyle.
  3. The food you eat needs to work for you.
  4. Eat less meat and dairy.
  5. Cook your own food.

What is your favorite thing to make in the kitchen?
Seared tuna or salmon but that’s quite simple so I’d say the most fun I have cooking is probably making something complex like risotto.

If you could cook a meal with anyone, who would it be?
Heston Blumenthal, he’s a gastronomic 2-star Michelin chef.

I don’t think the Food Babe is as popular in South Africa as Tim Noakes, so tell me what you think about Tim Noakes and the ‘Banting diet’.
I think the Banting diet is dangerous. There are certain elements of what Tim Noakes has said that have truthful elements to it. I agree that we should reduce sugars in the diet … But I think a lot of people have misinterpreted what he’s said and think that they should consume as much meat and fat as they possibly can while cutting out all carbohydrates. I don’t think cutting out specific colored fruits or vegetables constitutes a healthy diet or lifestyle. I’m more concerned with reducing added sugars in the diet while still eating fruits and vegetables.

In the last nine months, I’ve seen about six patients who have had significant cardiovascular and cerebrovascular complications secondary to the Banting diet. Since changing their diet cholesterol [among other things] has gone through the roof. Maybe it was the marbled meat, buttered coffee and endless amounts of bacon fat in their diets or maybe it was just a coincidence…

I definitely wouldn’t recommend the diet or follow it myself.

What’s your biggest pet peeve related to nutrition?
I’ve already talked about Banting so I think the Dukan diet. It’s a drastic weight loss diet that is unsustainable and usually results in binges.

What’s your favorite breakfast?
Salmon eggs benedict, or a peanut butter, banana and rice milk smoothie. My wife makes it better than any restaurant.

What is your go to breakfast?
It depends on how much time I have. If I don’t have much time low GI linseed bread with peanut butter or if I have more time I like eggs and toast.

If you want to read more about the health of South Africans as Larry has discussed read an article covering the various levels of nutrition issues for South Africans here or you can read about the role of poverty and hunger in infectuous diseases here.

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