Monday, August 23, 2010


A knock on my door at home any time of the day is a very usual occurrence. And standing in front of the door would be a friend; who stopped to say hello, a sister or a brother whose intention is to strain the tight family budget; sometimes its a family friend from another city who needs to attained a 3-day seminar in town or is seeking greener pasture. Hmmm!. The initial telephone call or mail before such visits is what I consider necessary, it rarely happens. My guests just ‘drop’ at my doorstep. What can I do? It’s the society that we live in.

This time, it was a friend, and it was lunch hour. In the spirit of the generous African tradition; I invited her to join the family at lunch. “Thank you, but no thanks”, she responded, and then she added,” it’s the Ramadan fasting period and I have decided this year, to join my Muslim friends”. I prodded her further and learnt that her real reason was to stay in shape. 5 minutes later, I was still processing her response, because I knew for certain she was not a Muslim. I almost yelled at her. Shouting at her would have been my reflex reaction, but the thought that my 3 year old, who was sitting next to me - would see me fault the golden rule “DO NOT TALK WHILE YOU CHEW” made me stay mute. Does she need to wait till this holy season before embarking on a weight loss fast, what about exercising and diet modulation; has she changed the reason for Ramadan fast from spiritual uplifting to weight loss?

Come to think of it, there are many types of fasting. When done properly, some types of fasting can actually offer health benefits. Some of the types of fasting that people participate in include;

Cleansing: more and more people are becoming fond of the idea of participating in a cleansing fast. This typically involves abstaining from all food and most drinks for a period of up to a week. During the fast, the user will drink a lot of water and will usually be instructed to take some sort of supplement that is supposed to help cleanse the body of impurities.

Medical: some people must fast for a day or two in order to prepare for an upcoming medical procedure, such as surgery or a diagnostic test. If you forget to keep a medical fast, it is very important to let your health care provider know that. She/he may need to reschedule the test and, if surgery is involved, there could be dangerous consequences to proceeding when you have not kept to the prescribed fast.

Religious: this is probably the most well known among types of fasting. Religious fasts can last from one day to several days. Just like the Ramadan fast.

Weight Loss: one of the types of fasting that can be very dangerous is fasting to lose weight. First of all, fasting is not an effective weight loss method if you really want to keep the weight off. Taken to the extreme, this in medical terminology is called Anorexia nervosa; which is a disease that has taken the lives of many young girls and women. If you truly want to lose weight, fasting is not the BEST way to go about it. Yes, watching what you eat is –but this must be done in a systematic and correct manner. You have to develop a healthy eating plan that includes lots of fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Exercise also matters. Add some cardiac rehabilitative exercise regimes to your diet plan (at least five times a week) and you’ll lose weight at a healthy rate, and at the same time - be able to keep it off!. If you desire to loose weight, take it seriously and visit your Nutritionist or Dietician as the first step.

Fasts could be; i) Total Fast: a total fast means that the person will not eat or drink anything for the set period of time. This is the most extreme fast, and is not recommended. ii) Solid Food fast: another form of fasting where the participant drinks only fluids, but will not eat any solid food. Fluids permitted often include water and vegetable juices (they serve as fat burners and provided the needed calories). Interestingly, some people feel that this type of fast is not a true fast as many nutrients can be provided in the vegetable juices. Also, some juices have the ability to make one feel full, thus eliminating any discomfort that would come with fasting. iii)Extended Fast: some people go on an extended fast, lasting more than a week. Often, people who do this will choose to eat some type of broth once or twice a day in order to get nutrients required to stay healthy even as they fast. Extended fasts are most typically done for some religious reasons.

While fasting the digestive tract rests and this slows down the body’s metabolism. The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. Fasting should never be taken to an extreme. Adverse effects of total fasting (as well as of crash diets) could be fatal.No matter what types of fasting you are considering, you should bear in mind that meeting your daily nutrient intake and of course maintaining a state of health and wellness is very important. Here are some important dietary tips to remember during fasting:-

o Choose Slow-digesting foods, they are the best choice for nourishing the body throughout the day. Foods such as: barley, wheat, oats, beans, lentils, brown rice and nuts. These foods contain fiber which will help prevent constipation and stomach upset during fasting. Try to combine some of these grains with a small amount of protein.
Some examples are:
1 cup serving of a mixture of beans, brown rice and ground meat.
1 cup serving of meat and grain mixture.

o Avoid foods that are digested quickly such as: foods containing sugar, white flour or other refined carbohydrates. These foods will be burnt out quickly and leave you very hungry before the time you choose to break the days fast.

o Avoid fried foods, they may cause stomach upset during the day.

o Avoiding high sodium containing foods help to prevent increased thirst during fasting.

o Eat 1 cup of fresh fruits and drink about ( 2-3 ) 8 oz cups of water or fluid the time you have scheduled to break the fast

o Start by drinking 2 cups of non-fat milk or water, milk is a great source of protein and calcium. Before eating more dense foods, try to have 1 cup of a light soup or broth and 1 serving of whole grain bread.

o Choose foods such as whole grains, steamed or roasted vegetables and fresh fruits.

o Avoid Spicy foods; these foods stimulate gastric secretion which may cause an uncomfortable feeling after fasting. If you are accustomed to spicy foods such as Indian/Pakistani diet, then try to limit the amount spices used in cooking.

Other important tips include:
o Eat slowly and chew foods properly to ease digestion.

o Avoid carbonated drinks which have poor nutritional value and increase stomach acidity.

o Reduce caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee and dark colas which can have a diuretic effect and make you loose much needed fluid during fasting.

Remember that due to fluid and electrolyte needs it is better to exercise in the evening after you have broken your fast (if you enjoy a constant exercise routine). More so, once you are healthy, you do not need to overeat or compensate for normal daily meals, the human body has been designed to physiologically adjust to temporary periods of food deprivation.

If you are an individual with Type 1 Diabetes, consult with your Doctor before fasting. If diabetes is poorly controlled, you are at high risk for developing severe complications. Proper monitoring of blood glucose levels multiple times a day is very important.
Individuals with Type 2 diabetes on diet- controlled regimens may fast; however dietary principles must be reinforced.

Finally, let me leave you with the words of Saint Jerome (347-420). "When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.” fasting is not a hunger strike or an excuse to bad food habit or poor nutritional status. You can be healthy and fit while you fast.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Breakfast provides the energy your body needs for the day. When you wake up in the morning, you haven’t eaten for 8-12 hours, ‘ITS TIME TO BREAK THE FAST’. More so, after a long period without eating, your blood sugar level will be low.
Research has shown that breakfast helps to improve mental and physical performance (making you more alert and assertive.) and contributes many important nutrients to your diet.
The reasons for skipping breakfast are many. The most frequent heard include; ‘there isn’t time’, ‘food that early makes me sick’, ‘I don’t like breakfast foods’, and ‘am skipping breakfast for weight control’. Mostly, these are just excuses. Breakfast does not have to take a lot of time, it can be simple or elaborate, cooked or uncooked, eaten sitting down or while on the run, low or high in calories, the main thing is to make it part of your morning routine.
Skipping breakfast is not a good way to cut calories, it can make your body to start to crave for something sweet and you may end up eating more at lunch, or relieving your hunger with unhealthy and less nutritious snacks “quick fixes”.
Overcome reasons not to have breakfast and make it part of your day. If you are too busy in the morning, prepare as much as you can the night before. If you can’t stomach anything first thing in the morning, try just a glass of pure unsweetened fruit juice, a banana, yoghurt or a slice of toast. Get into the habit of trying different dishes at breakfast and enjoy it!


A good breakfast is one that is higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat.(high carbohydrate foods include: bread, cereals, other grain products, vegetables and fruits.) choices from at least three or four food groups are suggested for a variety driven and nutritional adequate breakfast.
Breakfast can be just about anything, from last night’s left over rice to toast with milk. For the person on the run, a glass of milk with fruit or juice might hit the spot. If this doesn’t appeal, there are always cookies and biscuits. When served with milk, this provides the needed energy for the kids on the go. Apples, grapes, bananas, yogurt, cooked eggs are other easy on the go breakfast ideas. When planning a breakfast remember bread, fruit and milk. They are the basic components of a nutritious breakfast.


BREAKFAST CEREALS: go for low calorie muesli (no added sugar or salt) or a high fiber cereal, such as shredded wheat, Quaker oat, cornflake, etc with semi skimmed or skimmed milk. Add some fresh fruit, a slice of banana or dried fruits like raisins to add natural sweetness and help you reduce the sugar. (They also count towards your daily fruit and vegetable quota.)

FRESH FRIUT SALAD: this provides a slow release of energy to get you through until lunch time and also gives you a healthy top up of vitamins and minerals. This healthy choice will motivate you to make healthy choices throughout the day.

EGG: eggs are excellent and compact source of nutrients. They are relatively low in calories (75kcals each if boiled or poached) and contain very little saturated fat.

Use whole meal bread, avoid butter spread, accompany with a glass of fruit or vegetable juice.


Monday, August 16, 2010

How to pack a healthy kids lunch box

Packing a school lunch can be trying for many parents,here are some great tips on lunches that balance taste, nutrition and plenty of variety.

Preparing the school lunch box is like walking a tightrope. Balancing the nutritional needs of growing children while offering foods they will actually eat can be challenging for even the most organized parents. With a third of a child's total food intake for the day being consumed at school, it is important that the bulk of food included in your child's lunch box provides much needed nutrients, vitamins and minerals for energy and growth.

Wholegrains for energy
The first thing that needs to be considered when packing a lunch is a good source of carbohydrate for energy. For most children, this will be a sandwich but may also be a wrap made from flatbread such as Lavash or Lebanese bread, or from cracker biscuits or rice and corn cakes. It is known that wholegrain varieties of breads and cereals are digested more slowly than more
processed white varieties and are likely to keep children fuller for longer, so choose wholegrains wherever possible.

Protein and vegitables
Aim for your child's sandwich to contain a good source of lean protein such as 97 per cent fat-free turkey, chicken or ham, tinned tuna or salmon or low-fat cheese. The protein portion will keep your child full, help to maintain concentration levels through the afternoon lessons and help
prevent the four o'clock rush to the fridge when they get home. Also try to add some sort of salad to the sandwich. Salad and vegetables add fibre and bulk, which also helps to keep him or her full. Some options that will not make sandwiches too soggy include lettuce, grated carrot, celery and cucumber circles.

Fruit for fibre
Always add one piece of fresh or dried fruit to your child's lunch box. Children will eat fruit if they are hungry and there are no other more appealing "junk type" options available. Different fruit options include small tins of fruit in natural juice, small plastic containers of grapes or strawberries, pieces of banana or oranges and other citrus fruits.

Water to drink
Water should be the drink of choice. Fruit juices,, flavoured waters and full strength soft drinks are very high in sugar and should not be consumed on a daily basis. Freeze water bottles the night before for hot days.

Small snack
Failing to include a snack in your child's lunch box runs the risk of them swapping their fruit for more appealing packaged options. A more realistic approach is to include one, small nutritious snack. Unfortunately, it does seem that many parents are over filling their children's lunch boxes with snack food. A Victorian survey of more than 3000 children found on average children were given three serves of snack or "junk foods" each day for their lunch box, which is far too many. Aim for one small (~20g or <400kJ snack food) in your child's lunch box each day.Other nutritious snack choices include reduced-fat flavored milk, yogurt,crackers,biscuit, cakes and low-fat cookies.

How to choose snack bars
There are hundreds to pick from but how do you know that the snack bar that your child professes to love is a healthy option? While less processed snack foods such as fruit and yogurt are better options, sometimes busy parents do need to rely on snack bars to fill lunch boxes. Small sized bars that are lower in calories and processed carbohydrates, Varieties that are also based on whole grains or contain some dietary fiber,are also reasonably good choices.