This year's Bada Dashain is already in our doorsteps. Dashain, Tihar and other important festivals in Nepal are usually associated with foods. In all these festivals people tend to consume meat, sweets, drinks or other food items. Keeping in view the health perspectives, Ajita Rijal of The Rising Nepal talked to Public Health Specialist Dr. Aruna Uprety for her advices and tips on adopting healthy eating habits during the festivals. Excerpts:
Eat healthy, home-made food Dashain is a very good time for Nepali people, home and abroad, to enjoy the festivities and celebrations. Besides its religious value, it is our cultural and traditional practices and Nepalis living in any part of the world enjoy Dashain and Tihar festivals. Importantly, both these biggest festivals are associated with food and thus we need to adopt healthy eating habit. Compared to the past, people’s food habit has changed with time and Nepali people’s economic condition is getting better, so people have more choices besides eating meat, like sweets and cold drinks. Nevertheless, from cultural practice, every family consumes a lot of meat during these festivals.
Be careful, and don’t jeopardise your health Everyone should enjoy food and festivals and celebrate it happily, however it is also very important to make sure that your health does not get jeopardised due to the food you eat. From my own experience, I have seen, in many parts of Nepal, people of the productive ages are suffering from hypertensions, diabetes, uric acid, obesity and heart problems. In order to ensure that such people‘s problems do not worsen further after the festivals, one needs to be careful of the types of food we eat. So I would like to stress on my first and main point of advice: eat healthy food.
Use less spices The popular misconception is that if food is healthy it may not be tasty, but that’s not necessarily true. If we recall how in the past our mothers and grandmothers made healthy and tasty food at home. I still remember how my grandmother cooked lentil and vegetables 50 years ago. I still have that taste. In majority of Nepali cuisine when we say tasty food it is always associated to masu bhat (meat and rice). We can eat meat, but need to make sure the meat is not over cooked, doesn’t have extra oil or too much spices. This brings to my second main point of advice: during these festivals, eat home-made food.
Avoid junk food In the modern day’s trend, people consume a lot of junk foods from outside. The junk foods--by their name do not give nutrition to the body. They possess a lot of sodium which harm our kidney- especially children’s kidney which are small and unfortunately the kidneys become overloaded with sodium. It means that children’s kidney’s will be impacted and they will have problems and without knowing will lead to very serious kidney issues later. I feel very sad to see so many parents giving junk food to their children and I do voluntarily advise (even if they don’t like to be told) not to do so as it will impact their kids’ kidneys and heart. So I repeat my third point: don’t consume any junk food from outside, try to cook healthy food at home.
Avoid cold drinks In the meantime, at this festival time of the year, people consume a lot of cold drinks-which are overloaded with sugar. Healthwise, this is a very bad combination. I often tell people it’s a poison, though a ‘slow poison’, when you won’t’ suffer in a day or two, but it will eventually impact your health. My advice is to avoid cold drinks, as much as possible from your Dashain and Tihar feasts.
Minimise sweets too Another advice is to minimise consumption of sweets –which are overloaded with sugar. It is tasty and we enjoy but don’t’ eat too much sweets. The main problem starts when we buy from outside- the buyer would never know the type of oil in which the sweets were cooked in. We know that the same oil is re-used which are not even good for health, and even worse, the same oil is used/heated multiple times to cook, again and again, which is very bad for health. The solution and my advice to avoid this is to eat home-made sweets like malpuwa, sel, kheer and others. So now as you can see the bad combination for our health: junk food, cold drink, sweets.
Advice for the vegetarians I am also a vegetarian. I have not eaten meat for the last 25 years. We do have several opti ons; such as vegetables, paneer, cottage cheese, tofu, variety of pulses etc. If these are made in proper way, they are very tasty and healthy. However, there is another misconception even for vegetarian people, who think since they are vegetarian, can consume lots of sweets (again that are overloaded with sugar), but that’s not true. The same problem of sweets, as I noted above, applies to vegetarian as well. Lotss of sugar is not good for health. If our bodies are overloaded with sugar, the calcium absorption becomes bad. One can eat home-made sweets as alternative. If you are a guest, state your food preferences to your host In order to maintain healthy food intake, during big festivals, one needs to be proactive even when visiting as guests to your relatives. When you are a guest, you can easily pre-inform your preferences in a polite manner to your host- i.e. you avoid too much meat, or salty, spicy food, junk food etc. It may sound awkward to say upfront, but this will slowly become normal. Also if some of the invited guests are suffering from gout or high blood pressure, it is important that the food prepared for such guests are healthy enough as per their dietary need. Hard drinks The other problem is hard drinks. People want to celebrate and think this is the time and it seems for many people celebration is only associated with whisky and wine, and consume a lot. Earlier, doctors used to say, it was okay to have a few pegs a day. But lately, even doctors are saying it is not okay, especially if you are already suffering from health issues such as diabetes or hypertension. So it is also a ‘slow poison’.
Homemade drinks We have several options from home-made drinks such as lemonade, hot lemon tea, lemon-mint, yogurt, mohi (butter milk) lassi among others, we can drink. Think this way, if one thinks multiple time and checks before buying a mobile phone, a simple question is if you don’t by a phone with a bad battery, how can you eat bad food or even think of buying something that is bad for your health, and goes inside your body? Or makes you unhealthy? So, always choose healthy foods.