baobab babyEveryone knows, when it comes to eating, that there is no choice, we must eat! However, we can choose what type of food we consume. Eating is one of the great pleasures of life and is also important for our overall health.

You can find lots of information about health and nutrition on the Internet, but do not forget to check with your doctor or nutritionist if you have questions about your health, your diet or your weight.

What are the benefits of healthy eating?

Adopting healthy eating habits will help you feel fitter, more energetic and more attractive. You will probably also want to join in with more physical activities and sports. Think of your body as a car, the quality of the fuel (food) you put inside will determine its performance!

A good diet helps reduce the risk of medical problems in the present and in the future, including being overweight, being underweight and having brittle bones or osteoporosis which increases the risk of fractures. Healthy eating also helps reduce the risk of diseases, such as heart disease some cancers and diabetes. If you take good care of your body now, you increase your chances of remaining healthy throughout your life.

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy diet involves you paying attention to your food choices. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure that each day you eat sufficient energy-giving food (such as bread and cereals), body-building food (including meat and/or legumes) and protective foods (such as vegetables and fruits);
  • Eat a variety of different foods; avoid eating the same food each day.
  • Choose foods which are high in calcium, magnesium and potassium such as milk, orange juice, green vegetables, baobab powder and nuts;
  • Avoid eating highly refined or processed foods and those containing large amounts of sugar and salt;
  • Eat plenty of iron-rich food such as red meat, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, spinach, strawberries, grapes and whole wheat bread.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water every day.

In addition it is important to get plenty of exercise each day. Try to maintain a balance between what you eat and physical activity is also part of a good food program.

Real food or junk food?

We need to understand the difference between processed foods and whole or real food. Obviously, most foods we eat are processed in some way. Apples are cut from trees, minced beef has been ground in a machine and butter is cream that has been separated from the milk and churned. But there is a difference between mechanical processing and chemical processing.

A single ingredient food with no added chemicals is healthy whether or not it has been ground or put into a jar. However foods that have been made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances are what are generally known as processed or junk food. These are likely to contain high levels of sugar, salt, fat colourings, and flavourings which can have negative effects on the functioning of your brain and body. You don’t need to totally avoid junk food, but eating too much of it will make it hard for your body to take in the nutrients which it needs leading to low energy levels and poor health.

Real food or whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), whole grains, low-fat dairy products, seafood, poultry and lean meat, are healthy options. Using these foods to cook meals from scratch allows you to control the ingredients and overall nutrition of your meals and snacks.

Healthy food                                                  Processed/ junk food

Fresh or dried fruit and nuts                           Sweets, chips

Fresh or dried vegetables                                Canned/ frozen vegetables

Whole meal bread, whole meal pasta              White bread, white pasta

Brown rice, millet sorghum                             White rice, refined maize meal

Beef stew, chicken stew                                 Fast food e.g.: fried chicken/ burgers

Fruit juice, water, milk                                    Sugary fizzy drinks, cordials

What should I know about the vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian diets can be a very healthy choice, provided you meet all the required nutrients which your body needs. There are different types of vegetarians:

  • some do not eat red meat;
  • some avoid meat and fish, but consume dairy products and eggs;
  • some eat meat, fish and dairy products but consume eggs;
  • others do not eat meat, fish and eggs but consume dairy products;

Those who do not eat any food containing animal products are called vegans.

If you opt for a vegetarian diet, you must learn about the nutritional needs of your body so you are able to meet them daily and you must discuss the idea with your doctor.  You can find information on the Internet to for more information on the subject as well as vegetarian recipes.

Try these for example: http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/vegetarian.html

http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/nutrition/veggieteens.html

Why is bone health important?

Bones play many roles in the body providing structure, protecting organs, anchoring muscles and storing calcium. It is particularly important to take steps to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and adolescence to avoid problems later in life.

If you consume enough calcium (found in dairy, legumes, seafood) and you do physical activities/ sports that strengthen your arms, legs and back bones, you will strengthen your bones. This reduces the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis which weakens bones (especially of the hips, spine and wrists) to the point where they break easily.

Why is iron important in my diet?

Iron is a mineral that promotes muscle development and formation of blood cells. It is particularly important for women and children to have plenty of iron. Not having enough iron can make you feel tired all the time which can affect your performance at school.

It is up to each and every one of us to take responsibility for our eating habits and exercise routine. It is less easy to opt for healthy living as a life style because healthy foods are not always accessible or affordable however we are lucky in Zimbabwe that there is a general health promotion tendency so why not embrace it? Subscribe to a gym, cut out excess processed foods and the difference will speak for itself!

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Constance Gumpo
Constance Gumpo was born and bred in France, the country of good food! She came to Zimbabwe 10 years ago when meeting her husband and started working for a renowned safari operator in the Northern part of the country. The challenge was to cook in the bush, on the open fire for international guests coming on safari. She soon decided to incorporate local and natural ingredients in a constant effort to develop and promote an identity to Zimbabwe's cuisine! She has more recently been involved with a local NGO, assisting them to raise awareness of local and natural ingredients through promoting traditional foods with a twist!