22-28 September 2017 #877

We are what we eat

Aruna Uprety

The synonym for “Hello” in Nepali is “Khana khanu bho?” The fact that asking people whether they have eaten is a form of greeting in our society indicates the importance of food in our daily lives.

As a doctor, I have seen Nepal transition from having a burden of communicable diseases to one where lifestyle-related ailments are becoming more common. Till two decades ago, Nepal’s main health problems were diarrhoeal dehydration, acute respiratory infections and vaccine preventable diseases. Today, they are cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

The reasons are: a sedentary lifestyle, high intakes of salt and sugar and a diet of mostly junk food. Awareness about nutrition is the first step in combating these non-communicable diseases.

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When I first told colleagues we were writing a book on nutrition, they laughed at me. I admitted that I was not a nutrition specialist, but I had treated too many patients in cities and villages across Nepal who had health problems directly related to their diet to keep quiet.

My knowledge about nutrition is derived from being with my grandmother and my mother in the kitchen as they prepared meals, using fresh ingredients and healthy traditional recipes. I can proudly claim that the family kitchen was my university for nutrition studies.

Khana Khanu Bho?

(in Nepali)

by Dr Aruna Uprety and Laxman Adhikari

nepalaya, 2017

Traditional grains, fresh vegetables and fruits are cheaper, tastier and healthier. Yet when I travelled, even to remote parts of Karnali, I noticed the steady inroads made by plastic and foil-wrapped junk foods. The people of the Karnali are malnourished because the region has been forced to depend on refined rice flown in by the government, abandoning their nutritious buckwheat, beans, barley and millet. The children are undernourished not because they lack food, but because of the proliferation of junk food and food lacking the proteins, vitamins and minerals essential for healthy bone formation and brain development.

Urban parents find it more convenient to put packaged food in their children’s lunchboxes, and undernourished children soon fall prey to pneumonia, respiratory tract infections, anaemia and other diseases.

The main point of my book is that healthy and nutritious food is cheaper, and easily available. I have cited my experiences in the Far West, where I knew mothers who sold millet to buy instant noodle packets for their children, thinking that would make them happier and healthier. One Female Community Health Volunteer, who should have known better, sold buffalo milk to buy Lactogen for her child who had malnutrition and diarrhoea. She asked me for medication, and I had to tell her the best medicine for her baby was Jivanjal oral rehydration, jaulo porridge and fresh milk.

Our book also takes a critical look at advertising and commercials for food products that are misleading and creating a craving among children for junk food. It contains an illustrated nutrition table published by the Ministry of Agriculture that has never been used by health workers in the field.

Supposedly educated people in Kathmandu pop Vitamin D pills thinking it will make them healthier, when all they need to do is spend more time in the sun. Just as the government has banned cigarette and alcohol advertising, it is time to phase out commercials for food products that addict Nepalis to junkfoods.

This book warns of the dangers of modern diets. My next one will offer solutions of how to stay healthy with indigenous foods that are fresh, non-toxic and nutritious.

“Khana khanu bho?”

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