Healthy eating for healthy living

THERE is a saying that we are what we eat. In simple, uncomplicated language and meaning this means that our choice of foods will have consequences for our health. It will determine our ailments or not; our productive years as a family provider, and how well we can enjoy life, right on to how long we will live.

We have lived in a part of the world where our traditional culinary experience for decades have mostly revolved around starchy foods such as rice and ground provisions; flour products such as bread and cakes of all make; meat products and sugary beverages. Of course, there were vegetables, which although have always been available at our markets, have also been popular. Good for salads, and steamed, it was a hit with most of our population, especially at their younger phase of life. These days, it is observed that many young children although enjoying a dish with stewed vegetables, tend to resist the latter when steamed, or even when done in salads.

Today, it can be said that most of our mature-aged population were not as well informed in their younger years, as they are now, with regards the importance of healthy eating and the importance it played in their physical and mental lives. Decades ago, “good eating”, or “eating well’’ used to be measured in the quantity of meat that one had on one’s plate; how well one’s bread had been lined with cheese and margarine; fried eggs were mostly the norm, rather than being boiled. Fats and oil were used to prepare virtually every dish; the descriptions of soluble as against non-soluble were mostly unknown, and sugar especially was quite prominent in the taste of teas and beverages of all kinds. But salt was sparing in its use, lest it spoiled the meal.

The word cholesterol was unknown to most; much less that it was a primary factor with regards fatty and oily meals, and overconsumption of starchy foods. Again, most were not knowledgeable about its centrality to hypertension and heart diseases; diabetes and renal failure, and strokes, or that too much of the above, led to those stated ailments that are all interlinked; and neither was being over-sized, fat, or obese, and pot-bellied linked to what was eaten, and was a sign of ill-health rather than the traditional view of “looking good”.

Of course, one would listen to relatives, and neighbours speak about their challenges with “sugar” and “pressure”, without the understanding and knowledge that these two illnesses were linked to high fats and starches in foods, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. But although such had been the case, it was definite that those ailments on the basis of empirical evidence were not as common as they have gradually become through the years.
With the passage of time, it is evident that more people have been falling ill, stricken with what has become known as lifestyle diseases, which include what is eaten for foods, and other habits, deemed not good for healthy living.

Healthy eating has become the mantra of modern medical advice. In fact, hardly a visit to a doctor ends without this advice that has become critically necessary, against the background of the very high incidence of non-communicable diseases. If we are to be guided by statistics from the Ministry of Public Health, there are in excess of 65,000 citizens who have been diagnosed with one of the following cases of non-communicable diseases: Hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, with its end result of renal failure. There may be a possible 10,000 to 15,000 more persons, waiting to be diagnosed on becoming ill.

Given such a high number of cases, and the fact that these medical incidents are often life threatening if left unchecked, and that they are linked in a significant way to what we eat, it is evident that renewed emphases must be placed on highlighting what is sensible eating. We contend that this is necessary given the modern eating culture of fast foods, and their known harm to daily health.

What is healthy eating, and its guide to healthy living, should begin as early as the nursery and primary levels of school, with easy to follow and understand lessons, both by teachers and health professionals. For example, given the known resistance of children to eating vegetables, they must be taught from such an early stage of life, the importance of such a food, in daily diets, and what role it plays in protecting the body against possible illnesses, as well as the harm that its absence can cause.

It is not too early for them to be taught using modern visual aids with appropriate teaching aids, what eating healthy means for growing healthy and becoming productive adults with healthy families.

But a greater role and responsibility must lie with parents and guardians, towards this very critical initiative of inculcating in their young the importance of healthy eating for healthy living. For they must realise that it is in their hands lie the responsibility for being the first guides for their children, in this very important lesson in healthy eating.

For these parents, especially, healthy eating is also pivotal to their personal physical well-being, in being able to birth healthy offspring. It is instructive to note that there are more children, being found with congenital cardiac defects that necessitate surgical intervention for corrective purposes. This, from a layman’s perspective, seems linked to the health status of either one or both parents. Thus, healthy eating for healthy living must become the nation’s watchword, with such an orientation beginning almost from the cradle, and parents being its prime leaders.


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