As mentioned in a previous column, healthy eating is crucial to our well-being. This point bears repeating as many individuals fail to think enough about their health in the long term, believing that as long as they ‘feel good now’, they are okay and don’t need to worry or do anything differently. However, while there are some merits to living in the moment and not over planning the future, when it comes to health it’s best to think in term of an investment – the health or sickness you will have tomorrow depends in large part on what you do today (leaving aside of course, factors like genetics and the environmental, that also play a role).

This point is especially important when it comes to making decisions about how to spend limited resources. When resources are limited, bargain hunting is necessary. However, finding a good deal can take time and energy which are also often in short supply. For example, it is more cost effective to go to the market and cook at home instead of eating out. For the same amount or less than would be spent eating out, staple items can be bought in bulk along with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

However, the number of people choosing to frequent ‘fast food joints’ or buy pre-prepared food has been steadily increasing in recent years. This is partially because many people have to work long hours and sometimes several jobs in order to make ends meet, leaving them less time to spend cooking at home for their families. However, while eating ‘fast food’ might save time in the short term, the long-term cost to one’s health is overwhelmingly negative.

20140815health logoMost fast food is full of salt, sugar, and fat. We have been ‘programmed’ in a way, to crave these items as they were once scarce and necessary for our survival. However, over time, they have become plentiful—overabundant even—with the amounts we consume nowadays being incredibly high and much more than our bodies need and can process. As a result, many diseases are now caused by an overconsumption of salt, sugar, and fat in our diet (along with an overall increase in the amount of calories consumed and not enough physical activity).

Too much salt, saturated fat and refined sugar (often in the form of high fructose corn syrup in almost everything from the usual suspects like soda and candy bars to more surprising things like ketchup and macaroni and cheese), cause obesity. Worldwide, obesity rates have almost doubled since 1980, with children being increasingly affected. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis etc- chronic illnesses which now affect more people in the world than HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases (more prevalent in lower-income countries). In addition, according to the World Health Organisation, between 7%- 41% of certain cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon) are attributable to obesity and being overweight.

However, eating healthier is not difficult when someone is committed to positive change. First, it’s key to become aware of one’s eating patterns and to make a plan for improvement.

Shopping and cooking for oneself is essential. Learn to cook if you do not know how; it is a worthy investment in yourself and your long-term health as you can better control the amount of salt, sugar, and fat/oil in a meal if you prepare it yourself. Also, instead of cooking every day, it can be more efficient to prepare several dishes at once and store them for future use (just heat and serve). If one does not have electricity or the ability to store food, choose non-perishable but nutritious items such as eggs, provisions, fruit, etc than can be quickly and easily prepared, instead of canned items which usually contain a lot of salt and artificial preservatives. Use more spices, pepper, and other seasonings and lessen salt, sugar, and oil when cooking. Do not be afraid to experiment and try new recipes.

Shopping ahead of time for snacks can also be good as it allows one to choose healthier items instead of giving into impulse buys and cravings. For example, peanuts can satisfy the taste for something crunchy and savory while providing protein and healthy fats instead of chips or other fried foods which have little nutritional value. Fresh fruits are best for a natural sugar fix (as well as providing healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals), instead of processed items like candy and pastries.

Try whole wheat and cassava bread instead of white bread, remembering that the more refined/processed an item is, the less healthy it is. Substituting ground provisions for rice and roti in at least some of your meals will also result in improved health as once again, the less processed an item is and the closer to its natural state, the healthier it generally is.

Key also is to always balance your meals- eating fresh vegetables along with protein and carbohydrates. Guyana has a great variety of vegetables. Even if you don’t love all of them, you are sure to find at least a couple you like.

Remember also that protein comes in many forms—not just meat—and that a vegetarian diet has numerous health benefits. If you are unable or unwilling to go completely vegetarian, just try it one day a week, or for one meal of each day. Split peas, channa, black eye, pigeon peas, kidney beans etc are all great sources of protein, along with greens.

Fish is also a better protein choice than chicken or beef, and fresh items are always better than packaged ones like hotdogs which are little more than waste meat products.

Of course, one cannot eat perfectly healthily all the time and it’s okay to indulge in a less-than-healthy snack or meal once in a while. However, the benefits from healthy eating are numerous, in both physical and financial well-being, and it would be wise to pursue such a lifestyle, as well as to encourage children and others to do the same.

Sherlina may be contacted with comments and/or questions at ssnageer@yahoo.com.

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