The South African fast-food industry is valued at over R300 billion, according to SA-based market-research company Insight Survey.

Rise of obesity and fast-food consumption drives demand for probiotics

So it’s hardly surprising that SA has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 70% of women and a third of men battling with serious weight problems – fast food is generally nutrient poor but high in the kinds of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats that pile on the kilos.

Being overweight affects all aspects of health, not least the digestive system, and this has serious implications for our immune systems. “Over the past two decades, researchers have revealed that gut health is critical to overall health, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome,” says Vanessa de Ascencao, nutritional consultant and member of the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPASA).

The HPASA has been at the forefront of the natural health products, nutritional dietary supplements and complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) industries since 1976, and represents a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and practitioners.

Probiotics, which are the “good” bacteria that line the digestive tract, assist in nutrient absorption and support the immune system. Found naturally in foods such as yoghurt and pickles, probiotics in the gut can be depleted through poor diet (especially one high in refined sugars) and when taking antibiotics. “Today, due to our high stress levels, lack of fresh foods and good soil, and the fact that we no longer need to ferment our foods to keep them from going off due to refrigeration and manmade chemicals, most of us have depleted levels of probiotics,” says De Ascencao.

Probiotics also play a useful role in maintaining a healthy weight. “Extensive research has been done over the years, scientifically proving that probiotics play a major role in weight loss,” says Compounding Pharmacy of SA managing director Dhivia Naidoo.

Probiotic supplements can help your body to function at its best, and it’s clear that many South Africans are taking this option. Bruce Dennison, president of the HPASA, says that probiotic supplements saw strong growth of 25% in 2016 in SA. “Consumers are far more informed about the benefits of supplements and realise the role probiotics can play in improving their health,” he notes.

A Euromonitor report states that the probiotic industry in SA is predicted to be worth over R527 million for 2017, confirming that this sector is growing tremendously.

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