Eat and Die!

By Phillip Mwebaza | Kampala, Uganda

In traditional African societies, healthy food habits were common. People cultivated their food on farms owned by families and held in trust for generations. Fruits and vegetables were harvested freshly from backyards. Those sold in the markets hardly ever travelled from far places. Today, things have changed drastically, particularly in urban centers.

With the modern lifestyle have come modern problems too, particularly regarding health.

Chronic diseases such as heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, among others, are common today. These health problems do not only pose challenges to living a buoyant life, but they also lead to untimely death.

In Uganda, the pearl of Africa that is situated in East Africa, one of the most consumed substances is refined sugar. These are found in everything between soda or soft drinks, doughnuts, and cakes. The empty calories in such refined or junk food can lead to obesity, as is easily observed in society.

In Kampala, the capital city, chapattis are one of the most consumed foods due to their availability and affordability. According to the 2014 Uganda Non-communicable Disease survey (NCDs), 33% of annual deaths are attributed to the five leading NCDs of which diabetes is among them.

What are these junk foods? They are foods that are highly processed, high in calories and low in nutrients. Fast or junk food is usually high in added sugars, salt, and saturated or Trans-fats. Some evidence points to junk foods as being as addictive as alcohol and drugs. In dictionaries and encyclopedias, industrial foods such as canned foods or snacks may also be considered fast foods.

These include french fries, bagels, croissants, energy bars, soda, frozen entrees, deli meats and cheeses, cookies, burgers, pizza, fried stuff with cheese, cakes, and candy, products made with white flour, and finally processed snacks.

Some 50 to 60 years ago, chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer were non-existent, according to British surgeon Dr. Denis Burkitt.

Burkitt who is mostly known for the discovery of a type of pediatric cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma, and who worked as the government surgeon in Uganda for many years, noted that Ugandans traditionally flourished on a diet rich in leafy vegetables, grains, and tubers while eating almost no meats, dairy products, or processed foods.

In one of his most popular books, “Don’t Forget Fibre in Your Diet to Help Avoid Many of your Commonest Diseases,” he stated that: “In Africa, treating people who live largely off the land on vegetables they grow, I hardly ever saw cases of many of the most common diseases in the United States and England, including coronary heart disease, adult-onset diabetes, varicose veins, obesity, diverticulitis, appendicitis, gallstones, dental cavities, hemorrhoids, and constipation. In twenty years of surgery in Africa, I had to remove exactly one gallstone.”

Ugandan nutritionist Dr. Paul Kasenene of Well Care Medical Center located in Kampala blames the surging numbers of non-communicable diseases on people shifting away from the African balanced, natural, and fresh diet.

Speaking to this reporter, he explains: “What do you think happens to the fried chips and sausages that someone eats, and that margarine innocently spread on a slice of refined white bread? Where does your food end up? It doesn’t just pass out of your system; a good proportion becomes a part of every bodily cell.”

He adds: “Eat healthily and you create a healthy body, but if you eat junk … you complete that sentence … If you want to be physically well, eat to offer your body the best building blocks…”

The World Health Organization (WTO) Diabetes country profile report of 2016 shows that diabetes among men in Uganda stands at 2.7% and 3.0% for females.

 As mentioned earlier, fast-food is a problem in Kampala. Ugandans for instance, heavily consume the chapatti and egg wrap delicacy mostly referred to as a Rolex locally. People in urban centers also frequent major fast-food companies like American Fast food restaurant Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Cafe Javas, and Mama Mia.

Studies reveal that junk and processed food are addictive. They are also high in salt and other unhealthy components. The added fat, sugar, and salt create a taste that makes people crave these foods, explaining the attendant addiction.

The global fast-food market is growing and the demand for packaged foods is predicted to increase as well.With Uganda possessing rich, fertile soil and ample rainfall, there are efforts to encourage people to re-consider organic and healthy foods.

The Dangers that lie in Consuming Junk foods

According to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), people who eat junk foods are 51% more likely to develop depression compared to those who eat little or no fast food. This finding was for people who only consumed two servings of junk food a week. Furthermore, refined carbohydrates may not just lead to being overweight and diabetic but also contribute to dementia, mental illness, and cancer.

Diet is of particular concern in some African countries, as economic and societal changes have led to an enormous spike in obesity. In Africa, about 40% of deaths are now attributed to chronic diseases, and the number is increasing. In a 20year period, from 1990 – 2010, the number of people who died in Africa South of the Sahara from chronic diseases increased by 46%.

According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases traditionally associated with urbanization and higher standards of living accounted for 3.1 million deaths (33.5% of all deaths) rising from 29.4% in 2010 in the continent.

WHO also estimates that Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) will rise by 27% over the next 10 years in the continent, resulting in 28 million additional deaths?

What To Do?

According to Dr. Kasenene,

“Half of the food on your plate should consist of the micronutrient-rich non-starchy vegetables or fruit … A quarter of the food should consist of beans and legumes and all types of nuts … A quarter of the food on your plate should consist of grains and/or starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, pumpkins, cassava, plantains, matooke), for example, the carbohydrate-rich foods…”

He also stresses that meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products should comprise no more than five percent of your total food: the smaller the quantity the better. On the other hand, he emphasizes that plant foods – which include non-starchy vegetables, fruits, beans, and other legumes, nuts and seeds and small amounts of healthy oils – should comprise 95 percent of your food. He further explains that water underscores any diet, so as you seek to change your eating habits, drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Dr. Kasenene’s Health Tips

Get rid of or reduce the intake of these items to cause a drastic change in your health.

Sugar – both white and brown refined sugar

Refined wheat – used in all colours of bread, chapattis, samosas, pasta, pizza, and cake

Margarine – a type of oil that has been solidified. It is toxic to the body.

Processed meats – sausages, ham, salami, bacon

Milk – is a type of food designed for calves, not human beings.

Foods to Eat More

Vegetables especially green leafy vegetables like spinach, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower

Fruits of different colours

Nuts and seeds

Legumes like beans and peas

Whole grains like whole grain bread, oats, whole maize, other whole grain cereals

High fiber starch like sweet potatoes, matooke, pumpkin, gonja, carrots

Healthy animal foods in moderation like local eggs, local chicken, and healthy fish

In moderation, dairy products like yoghurt (less milk)

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