HomeFeature‘You are what you eat’…your health depends on you

‘You are what you eat’…your health depends on you

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AS the saying goes, ‘you are what you eat’, our bodies tell when we are hungry, when we are tired or ill and even the kind of food we consume

For good health everyone must have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

 But it is important to remember that the amount of food we eat is not as important as the type and quality of your diet.

In Zimbabwe, the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC), founded in 2001, under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), is tasked by Government with the responsibility of co-ordination, analysis and promotion of a cohesive national response to food and nutrition insecurity in Zimbabwe.

The FNC and fellow partners are at the helm of food security and nutrition programmes in the country.

However, individuals and households should also take responsibility for their health.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you improve your health

Everyone needs a balanced diet. 

For this one needs to eat nutritious food.

A balanced diet is food that contains nutrients which are necessary for our body to function well.

These include carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Most food contains mixtures of these nutrients in different amounts.

A balanced diet should contain food from three different food groups as well as plenty of fibre-rich food.

It is important to eat a wide range of energy foods. Energy food contain substantial amounts of carbohydrates, fats or oils, substances which give us energy to move, work and think.

Energy foods include cereals, such as wheat, maize, rice, sorghum and millet, root and tuber crops – i.e.: potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and yams.

Bear in mind when choosing cereals that some are more nutritious than others.

Millet and sorghum are two of the most nutritious cereals available while maize is one of the least nutritious.

Highly processed cereals such as refined maize meal, white bread and white rice are not recommended as they contain few nutrients and little fibre.

Less processed cereals such as millet, sorghum, brown rice, brown and whole wheat bread give more energy and are more beneficial for one’s health.

The amount of energy foods one eats needs to be regulated according to the amount of one’s physical exercise.

Eating too much from this group can lead to health problems.

Consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar increases the chances of developing heart problems, weight problems, tooth decay and diabetes.

One fizzy soft drink per day can increase the risk of developing diabetes by 22 percent!

Body-building foods which contain large amounts of protein help the body to grow and repair itself.

Body-building foods include legumes – i.e.: dried peas and beans, and animal products such as meat, milk and eggs.

Edible insects such as ishwa, a delicacy enjoyed in Zimbabwe, also contain a high measure of protein.

Protein is essential, especially for children whose brains and bodies are developing, pregnant or breastfeeding women and sports people who need extra body-building food

Although animal products are excellent sources of protein, it is not necessary for all of your protein to come from meat.

Plant sources, including cowpeas, soya beans, butter beans and sugar beans are highly nutritious and are often more affordable than meat or dairy products.

Edible insects that contain high quantities of protein include mopane caterpillars (madora/amacimbi). 

In fact, they contain three times more protein per gram than beef.

Peanut butter, a favourite staple in Zimbabwe, is high in protein and fibre.

Most people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. 

Fruit and vegetables make up the ‘protective food group’ as they contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals known as micronutrients, which strengthen the body and boost the immune system.

Research shows that eating large amounts of a wide range of different fruit and vegetables is extremely beneficial for one’s your health and reduces the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), recommends eating at least five different types of fruit or vegetables per day.

Indigenous fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as exotic varieties and sometime seven more beneficial. For example mowa/bonongwe (amaranth leaves), contains higher levels of nutrients than covo, rape or cabbage.

The Baobab fruit (mauyu/umkhomo), is one of the best sources of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium. 

The process of drying fruit and vegetables for consumption is one way to ensure that you get enough micronutrients all year round.

Fibre is also an important part of the diet.

It helps to absorb nutrients from our food, control our weight and improves our digestion.

Fibre comes from eating whole grain cereals, root and tuber crops, legumes, as well as fruit and vegetables.

A healthy lifestyle comes from healthy eating.

Therefore it is vital to take care of your health by:

  • Eating diversified meals containing many different kinds of food each day;
  • Eating the correct amounts of food for your age, lifestyle and sex – i.e.: men eat more than women;
  • Avoiding excessive amounts of energy food, unless you are very active;
  • Avoiding refined foods such as white rice, white bread and refined maize meal;
  • Reducing sugar intake and avoiding sweet snacks and fizzy drinks;
  • Avoiding foods with chemical additives (including processed meats such as ham and polony). Many additives have no nutritional value and can be harmful to health;
  • Eating less refined cooking oil and margarine. Use animal fat, butter, peanut butter or home-pressed sunflower oil.
  • Reducing your intake of salt, and
  • Eating as great a variety and quantity of vegetables as possible;

How much to eat depends on one’s age, stage of life and lifestyle.

Very active people, such as farmers, builders and athletes need plenty of energy-rich food.  

More sedentary people like office workers, drivers or teachers are less active consequently they should eat less.

Small children have small stomachs and need to eat small amounts but more often.

They should get at least three small meals a day with two healthy snacks in between.

By eating well and leading a healthy lifestyle from early childhood one stands a better change of leading a successful, productive and long life with dramatically reduced risks of diseases including high blood pressure (BP), many cancers, heart problems and diabetes.

 Exercising or walking for at least 20 minutes each day will help to strengthen your heart, keep your weight down and keep you looking and feeling younger.

It is never too late to start eating well and taking care of your health!

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and a published author in her field. For views and comments, email: linamanucci@gmail.com

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