Thursday, 9 January 2014

Our Eating Habits are Killing Us

 Our Eating Habits are Killing Us..
Time to Think and Change

Food Insecurity in Pakistan

The current National Nutrition Survey data is an eye opener for Pakistani population. A healthy population is phenomenal for building a strong nation, and unfortunately we are among one of the unhealthiest countries of the world. 

The numbers in this video is scary leaving us in a state of emergency. Besides community outreach and mass level healthy eating compaign, it is time for each one of us rethink and bring about changes and shifts in our food intake and choices that we make to cook and fill up our meal plates, these are little shifts but can make big impacts:

•to help manage weight and prevents overweight and obesity
•to reduce the risk of chronic disease
•to reduce the risk of early deaths
-to ensure a long and disease free life.

1- Grains:

We have been eating polished rice, refined (white) atta, maida.
Processing grains may imporves its texture, looks, taste and shelf life but destroys many important vitamins as well as removes the bran from the grains.

switch to:

Whole grains;  bran rice, wholewheat atta, whole grain barley, jai, jo ka atta, oats

Whole grains provide a substantial amount of undamaged vital nutrients  dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).


We cook with all washed/polished daals like moong, masoor, and mash etc. Again removing husk and polishing is an industrial process and destorys the nutrients and fibre.

Replace with chilka wali moong, masour and mash that is with their husk still on for getting the maximum benefits from the fibre

We eat chickpeas and black gram, these are good,  continue eating these in the same form that is whole. 

Also add:

Red kidney beans, soya beans, black beans and several other beans, 1/4 of our meal plates should be lentils, and beans.

3- Salads:

We in Pakistan generally eat onion, tomatoes and cucumber salads on a small plate shared by whole family.

Switch to huge servings of salads made with; more green leafy vegetable, ice berg, rocket, salad leaf, mustard, methi, baby spinach, cabbage. We can be creative adding beans, sprouts, other raw vegetable, cottage cheese in it, depending on if you want it as side or your main course.

Half of our meal plates should be vegetable and fruits. 

Green leafy vegetable and fruits generally used for salads are rich in Vitamins, A, C and K helps build strong bones and increase bone mass density. Green leafy vegetable are also rich sources of many Flavonoids and Phytochemicals which are antioxident and posses exceltion disease prevention properties including Cardrio Vascular, and many Cancer types.

4- Vegetable:

Vegetable curries, shorba or bhaji we cook it till they are discolored and nutrients are destroyed.  Make a shift towards quick cooking techniques that preserves colour and nutrients.  Also  select different colored vegetables.

Sauted, stir fry, steam and grilled vegetable using the same desi spices and herbs is a healthy move. In a shorba salaan add vegetable the last 5 minutes, they don’t need so much  heat to cook and not that long. Cooking vegetable on high heat destroys all the vital vitamins, minerals, favanoids and phytochemicals from them leaving just some fibre which only taste good because of spices and oil. 

5- Fried food and Oil

Our meals have lots of deep fried food!!

Switch to shallow frying and consume these fried food as a rare treat.
Try cooking in the minimum possible quantity of oil, trust me, more oil does not mean better taste.

We love dropping our food in hot boiling oil with that sizzling sound and a whiff of aroma. Naah... oil changes its composition the moment it boils, and becomes carcinogenic.

We can get same taste and texture cooking in hot (not boiling) oil.

6- Sugar

Sugar and cocaine have same status, both are addictive and hazardous to health, research scientist equate it with cocaine and consider it no less then drugs. Sugar is addictive, we crave for it, and all we get is no nutrient empty calories by consuming sugar

We are used to adding white refined sugar in our tea, coffee deserts
Cut down sugar from diet and consume limited quantities by switching to:

Brown unrefined sugar, gurr/jaggery, or if you can get maple syrup, and stevia.
These are sweet however, also contain nutrition, and are not empty sugar. 


One fruit a day for an average adult is enough in a day, don’t overload it.

Fresh Juice is a new buzz word, don’t drink your fruits eat them as much as possible.
Juicing destroys the soluble fibre and ultimately your body gets more sugar. The fruit fibre stops a lot of extra sugar from absorbing.

Check out nutrient content of fruits, try eating more, specially the ones with low calorie and are nutrient dense.

8- Proteins:

We eat, fat laden curries, meat, organ meats on everyday basis, animal proteins like meat are great sources of protein but they come with saturated fats, which result in many disease and obesity.

Taking a 45-50gms of protein every day is important to maintain good health. Select good fat free and lean sources of proteins.

Try to adjust your protein intake by eating:

More Plant protein and very limited lean animal protein (excluding eggs)

Pulses, soya beans, quinoa grains, nuts and seeds are all rich in protein from plants and would not block arteries.

Eggs, Fish and seafood are great way to get protein and Omega fatty acids.

Meat without any fat should be an occasional treat.

9- Dairy

Milk and milk products are considered a popular healthy food!! However too much of full fat dairy is not what would keep us healthy. 

Though rich in good fats and proteins, we don’t need so much of it, 2-3 servings of low fat dairy in total including the ones we add in our Tea Coffee and deserts are enough.

Include low fat skimmed milk, cottage cheese, strained or greek yogurt in meals.

10- Water, Juices and drinks

The latest trend is that soda cans, bottled packaged, juices and sugary drinks are a significant part of every meal table and school canteens. 

Cut down all carbonated boxed, bottled juices, vitamin water from your lives. Drink plenty of water, 64 ounces a day minimum. Fresh juices taste and sound good and fresh, however, don’t waste all the great fibre from the fruits by drinking them.  Eat your fruits rather then drinking them.

So to summarize all this next time when you plan your meals and fill up your plate it should have:

·      Nutrient-dense foods instead of calorie-dense foods.
·      Variety fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors
·      •Low-fat or fat free milk and dairy products.
·      •Fiber-rich whole grains.
·      •Protein foods that are low in fat.

Balance Calories:
•Eat the right amount of calories for you
•Enjoy your food, but eat less
•Cut back on foods high in SOFAS (solid fat and added sugars) and empty calories

Note: I wrote this blog as part of the iEARN Photojournalism2.014 Heritage, Hunger and Food Security project. The project is implemented in Pakistan in collaboration with iEARN USA and iEARN Tajikistan with support and funding from Bureau of South and Central Asia-US Department of States.

The Ultimate Traditional Winter Meal

 In Pakistan we cannot call it winter unless our tables, restaurants, road side dhabas don’t have Sarsoon Ka Saag and Makai Ki Roti in their menus
The Ultimate Winter Treat from Necos

Pickled green chillies in mustard oil adds the zing to the meal
 I have never been so excited about Sarson Ka Saag  ever, until I happen to come across this beautiful tray of winter treat; Makai ki Roti (flat corn bread) and Sarsoon Ka Saag (Mustard Greens cooked with spices) at Necos-Natural Store and CafĂ©, this past month. It all started when a couple of my colleagues and friends from NYC, we ordered breakfast, including the Sarsoon Ka Saag and Makai Ki roti from the seasonal part of the menu at Necos. I only ordered it to have it on the table so I can give some history and discuss eating tradition of our country. But hola!! This turned out to be a winter long addiction with me, since it was totally delicious, outrageously prepared in the most healthiest of fashion any desi meal can be made. Yes, for a calorie and health freak like me, it is hard to devour desi food until it can be adjusted to minimize additional calories still holding its signature taste. And this awesome meal of saag and roti from necos does it for me.
The Sarson or Mustard Green

Sarson the mustard, and some spinach greens cooked in a traditional soft textured, tempered with chillies, garlic and onions curry dish. The saag is paired with roti/bread made with maize flour. The cusines is a traditional dish from rural areas of Indian Subcontinent specifically native to Punjab region. Mostly popular in winters since sarsoon or mustard is a winter vegetable and can be categorized as one of the comfort foods.

So for the following several weeks and still now, I find endless excuses to go back to Necos to eat it. I tried the Sarson Saag at other eateries too, but nothing stood out for me then this spread of very well prepared creamy spicy with desi ghee tarka saag served in a small wok, with grilled makai ki rooti (no fat), the most amazing green chillies and sarson oil achar/pickle. All this topped with a complimentary huge glass of lassi makes it a wow!! 
Life could not be better and a value for money at Rs.399/= for the entire meal.

The restaurant is kind enough to reduce the amount of ghee in my saag, and kept replenishing the totally addicted green chillies achar which adds flavour  and zing to this meal.  

Necos Natural Store and Cafe -Karachi