The 21st Century has seen an increase in non-communicable diseases which has gotten many conscious about what they eat. The saying,” you are what you eat” couldn’t be truer. As a dietitian, I have seen the therapeutic power of dietary interventions and how they have helped many manage challenging health conditions like diabetes, high blood cholesterol, stroke, and peptic ulcer. I can confidently say that healthy eating is key in ensuring longevity and good health.
I have, however, observed an erroneous impression among persons who are put on one dietary regime or another. The impression is that healthy food is not appealing and tasty. I dare say that even some dietitians and nutritionists carry this impression. No wonder many shy away from seeing them because they are scared that their meals will no longer be palatable. Many health enthusiasts also seem to push this idea that leaves people unhappy about their meals.
This is not right and we must work to correct it. Food must be enjoyed and not endured. One of the major ways to stimulate food intake for a convalescing patient who usually would have loss of appetite, is to make their meals tasty and presentable. The aroma, colours and great presentation of the meals stimulate appetite and makes one eat a bit more. This is critical for the convalescing persons since they need good nutrition to aid healing and recovery. The challenge comes about because many of the ingredients that add to taste; salt, sugar and fat are not considered as health friendly.
Also, the excessive frying of foods which makes food tasty may lead to Trans fats and promote inflammation. Again, artificial spices which do wonders when added to foods are seen as unhealthy. Do we then abandon our taste buds and olfactory senses just because we are sick? Are we condemned to a lifelong punishment of enduring our meals just because we have one chronic disease or the other? Will we be able to take in the necessary quantities of nutrients in the bland and unappealing form that health professionals usually present food?
My answer to the above questions are an emphatic No. Food must not be tasteless no matter what. The extreme application of nutrition and dietetics guidelines must be replaced with the golden words of moderation and balance because nutrition is not considered in absolute terms. There is no bad food, quantity, timing and frequency are words to consider for every food. Here are a few guidelines we can use to make food tasty yet healthy.
Shallow or stir fry foods instead of deep frying to prevent trans fats ingestion.
Muster the use of natural spices instead of artificial spices when cooking.
Avoid or reduce salt intake if you must use artificial spices.
Low salt is preferred to no Salt intake.
Spread allowable salt into meals to be taken.
Exchanges of carbs for moderate sugar intake in persons living with diabetes.
Use artificial sweeteners if you are still afraid of even moderate sugar intake.
Use a serving of fruit as a substitute for sugar to sweeten cereals.
Choose vegetables and fruits that add colour to meals to make it appealing.
The excitement that people derive from eating food can be psychologically rewarding. This makes them look forward to meal times and that promotes healing or recovery. One of my food philosophies is that food is love. A timeless way of expressing love is to give food. A sure way of bonding between friends and lovers is over a favourite meal at a favourite restaurant. No wonder people say that, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. When food is made with love, it is carefully and painstakingly prepared to be tasty and have a great aroma. We can still achieve these while making them healthy. So next time someone approaches you with an extremist theory about healthy eating, tell them food must be enjoyed and not endured. Whenever you go to see a dietitian or nutritionist on a diet, tell them food must be enjoyed and not endured.
So go out there, cook or buy that food that you love so much, enjoy and savour the spice and sweetness or every bite and chew that you take. Enjoy the crunchiness, crispiness, softness, smooth feel of your food on your palates and swallow it down with great emotion of ecstatic joy.
Our mantra now is food must be enjoyed and not endure but do not forget to eat to live.
Nana Kofi Owusu (Registered Dietitian/Lecturer)
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