A ‘food bomb’ is set to explode among Sri Lanka’s working population, leaving in its devastating path not only disease but also death, an expert warned on Wednesday.Look at our plates or even the bites we pick up during our working day and also while rushing to and from work, urged the Medical Research Institute’s [...]


Eating fried or tempered food will lead to early grave, warns top nutritionist


A ‘food bomb’ is set to explode among Sri Lanka’s working population, leaving in its devastating path not only disease but also death, an expert warned on Wednesday.Look at our plates or even the bites we pick up during our working day and also while rushing to and from work, urged the Medical Research Institute’s Nutrition Department Head, Dr. Renuka Jayatissa.
The biggest problem is the fat composition on our plates, points out Dr. Jayatissa whose latest survey has been of the working population. (See graphic)

“We are asking for trouble,” is her verdict after looking at the data, for Sri Lankans are enjoying too much of oily food. Most of the food on the plate is fried or tempered. The other foods are cooked in coconut milk. Add to that the stuff such as cutlets, patties and rolls that we eat and it is a “cocktail of poison”.

Even if coconut milk is used in the curries, she urges that the frying and the tempering should be cut out or at least reduced by baking, grilling or steaming. There is a cholesterol problem and as we are sedentary it is not burnt up. This is why sometimes we hear of people suddenly succumbing to heart attacks.

“We do need a certain amount of unsaturated fat dubbed ‘good fat’, but this too should not be taken in excess,” says Dr. Jayatissa, explaining that some of it we get from our normal diet. The balance should come from a handful of nuts such as cashew or peanuts per day.

But they are expensive, she concedes, pointing towards a very cheap way of getting the needed quantity.
Pumpkin (wattakka) and kottang seeds found in abundance are the way Sri Lankans can get part of their requirement of unsaturated fats, according to her. “They are cheap and a few de-seeding machines will do the trick. Small affordable packets could be sold at the street corners, for people to pop about 10 seeds into their mouths without thinking.”

Singing the praises of avocado or butter fruit which is packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids similar to what is found in olives, this food expert says, however, that the healthful aspects would be lost if a drink is made with excessive sugar and milk. Avocado can also be added to salads, while people should also eat more green leaves and vegetables such as cucumber with the seeds.

In despair, Dr. Jayatissa moves to the detrimental habit of sprinkling salt on each and everything we eat. The latest research indicates that the salt consumption is way too much leading to the working population becoming, often unknowingly, victims of high blood pressure. This can lead to both heart attacks and strokes.

She gives the bad news, not with a pinch of salt, but straight off the research. Urine tests have clearly shown that it is not only the urban population that is taking too much salt but also the rural folk. “Those in the towns consume 8 gms of salt a day while those in the villages go beyond and take in as much as 10 gms a day,” she points out even though the World Health Organization’s recommended limit is 5 gms per day.

It may not be from the curries that we are getting so much salt, but from the rice itself, she explains, adding that many Sri Lankans spoon-in salt to the rice before boiling it. Then when we eat a large quantity of rice, as many Sri Lankans do, we get a large dose of salt. We also should not be eating heaps of rice.Having checked dried fish as a source of salt, Dr. Jayatissa says that a small piece will contribute about 1gm of salt and would be permissible if the full intake for the day can be curbed to 5gms including this 1gm.

Critical of the idiosyncratic addition of salt even to fresh fruit such as pineapple, she suggests a squeeze of lime instead of salt, if a tang is required. If the salt intake is reduced by just 1gm per day, the population’s hypertension will come down drastically.
The effects of salt can be warded off by taking potassium and the easiest source is banana. It would be “at least one banana a day will keep the doctor away,” she says.

From salt, she moves to sugar, creating the image of people drinking cups of heavily-sugared and milk-laced tea, not only paving the way for diabetes and cholesterol but also effectively killing off the goodness of a steaming cuppa. “Plain tea is full of antioxidants which prevent disease, but the protective effect won’t work because we stir in heaps of milk and also heaps of sugar. Then it becomes like a poison,” adds this expert.

Antioxidants are believed to keep at bay heart disease, cancer etc.In other countries, people eat a lot of berries such as cranberries, blue berries and strawberries because they are high in antioxidants, points out Dr. Jayatissa, underscoring the fact that Sri Lanka’s “berries” are lovi, dang and ambilla packed-full with antioxidants. This is a cheap and abundant source of antioxidants which should be popularised.

The future looks bleak, according to Dr. Jayatissa, unless immediate and urgent action is taken. Otherwise, in 10 years, when a large segment of Sri Lankans hit 60, we’ll be a sick population.

Changes in eating habits can cut disease

Simple lifestyle modifications and changes in eating patterns can stymie the working population’s slide into disease, the Sunday Times learns.

Ninety percent of the problems can be overcome, reiterates Dr. Jayatissa, pointing a way out of the mess we are in. The Government should facilitate the setting up of food carts at street-corners as in Thailand, in hospitals and other public areas, with fresh fruit on sale, she says, adding that little bags with fruit slices or fruit chunks on kebab sticks would be both a quick and nutritious bite.Such health food outlets could also have small parcels of manioc, bathala, breadfruit, jak or kadala with a little chillie sprinkled on it so that the working population could grab it as their breakfast or dinner while on the move, she says. “Another could be steaming cups of kola kenda or vegetable soup. Currently, although kola kenda is available here and there, it is not seen everywhere.”

At office meetings, disease-causing foods and sickly-sweet cups of milky tea should be replaced by fruits and plain tea, suggests Dr. Jayatissa, laughingly adding that if it is a rich and high-level meeting instead of sweets on the table there should be nuts which give good fat.

There is also a major responsibility on the part of the food industry to ensure that healthy and quality foods are given to consumers, she stresses.

Giving a lesson on healthy cooking, Dr. Jayatissa says that when kola kenda is being prepared, there should not be too much coconut milk and rice but lots of green leaves. For a 200ml glass of kola kenda, only an ounce (one tablespoon) of coconut milk and one tablespoon of rice should be included. Don’t let your hand spoon-in too much salt.

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