By Helen Ovbiagele

Thanks to those experts on healthy-eating, who are constantly telling us what is right/wrong for us to feed our system with, many people in most parts of the world are now cautious about what they eat and drink. You can’t help but join in,  if you want your body to hold  together, so that you can be healthy, active, and hopefully, live long.

Some of us have been so conditioned to this that before we buy packaged foods and drinks, we carefully check the contents/ingredients on the label.  Sugar is out; salt is out; full fat in anything is out;

carbohydrate is out; gluten is out, etc.  The list is endless, as you avoid anything that can possibly contain cholesterol, the bad fat they say can lead to several health conditions.

Red meat, of course, is a no-go area.  You’re told that lamb is better for your health.  As for poultry, you should remove the skin since that’s where the fat is.  Turkey is too high in fat.  Eggs are said  to be full of harmful cholesterol, particularly the yoke.

As for drinks, nothing seems safe, except for fruit juice labelled sugarless.  Even then, experts say there’s hidden sugar in there in the fruit syrup/fruits used.  Carbonated drinks should be avoided.

Any wonder that some young people, particularly young ladies, have developed one form of eating disorder or the order; e.g. anorexia, which is as a result of starving the body of food and its nutrients, and bulimia, which occurs when the victim gorges on food, and then goes to throw it all up, in order to avoid it going into her system to cause weight gain.

I had thought these were disorders fashioned for our sisters in the developed countries, but at a seminar some weeks ago, I learnt that we have a few cases here.

These are serious health conditions which can lead to serious emaciation and eventually death, when they linger for a long time.

“This is terrible news, I must say,” said a participant at the seminar, when some pictures of victims were shown on a screen.  “It’s not African.  We don’t deliberately reject food in dangerous ways like this; not even while fasting.  We do love to eat, as a race.”

“What do you expect?” asked a lady. “We’re emulating the western world in which ladies are expected to be stick-thin to be regarded as pretty or attractive. Don’t you see the models and actresses in magazines and films?  They need to be very thin for their roles, and many young women believe that’s what makes them attractive and desirable, and so, they emulate them and begin to starve themselves.”

“Yes indeed,” agreed the resource person.  “But then, some of  them get addicted to the rigid regime and develop bulimia and anorexia; conditions that deprived their bodies of nutrients, and which could cause infertility, and make some organs pack up, according to nutrition experts.

We’ve seen a few cases here, but luckily, with the cooperation of  their parents and other members of their families, about three of them are gradually resuming sensible eating again, and overcoming the condition.  After being brought for counselling, we don’t seem some again. ”

“Helen, I don’t believe all these,” whispered a friend who was sitting next to me at the seminar. “I know about anorexia and bulimia, but it can’t happen in this country.  Our ladies diet and watch what they eat, but none of them would want to deliberately starve themselves to death in order to remain thin.  Have you ever seen any of our models and actresses looking this emaciated and repulsive?”

“No, but it can happen.  We have many exposed and sophisticated young ladies here these days, who are keen to copy ladies in the western countries.  These may be true cases.”.

“Hm!  I need to be convinced.  These could be Kwashiokor victims in war-torn areas of Africa, and they’re using the pictures for lecture purpose.  Tell me who can resist all the delicious Nigerian dishes we prepare.  I’m not saying this seminar is not helpful, though.  It’s very enlightening and instructive.”

“On the other hand,” continued the resource person, “we need to combat obesity. It is a life-threatening condition, just like Bulimia and Anorexia.  Our foods are full of all the wrong things for a healthy living, and we do tend to eat heavily.  This is in addition to all the sugary drinks we consume avidly.”

“We’ve just been served some soft drinks here,” countered a voice in the audience.

“Well, er, that’s true.  The organizers of the event did.  However, it’s just a bottle each, right?  And I can see that not everyone accepted the offer.  In controlled quantity, it’s okay from time to time. We shouldn’t drink it with every meal. We’re concerned too about the way our children are raised on fast foods these days.  Health experts warn that they are bad for our health.  Food items that we should drastically cut down on are – starchy foods like products of refined flour, yams, rice, red meat, eggs, fried foods, alcohol, …………..”

My friend and I had heard enough.  We quietly slipped out of the venue.

I think that seminar was very useful, and the NGO is doing a good job, giving talks on healthy eating, but I think the important thing is that we should raise our children to be disciplined in everything; including  what they eat and drink.  We can’t monitor and control what they eat and drink outside the home, but if they’ve been brought up to eat healthy, many of them will keep the habit.

We should also help build up our young ladies’ confidence in themselves, through guiding them to be hardworking, honest, responsible, morally upright, polite, clean,  helpful, and self-developing in meaningful ways, and not to think that looks and a thin figure are the only things to bring them joy and self-fulfillment, and make them acceptable.

As for what’s right for us to eat and drink, there’s an ever-changing scene.  What experts condemn today, they recommend tomorrow.  Recently, we were told that eggs are very good for us, and that the white in particular, is of immense value.

This time around, they didn’t say it has to be free-range hens only.  Soya that they recommend highly, some now say, avoid it if you have Arthritis. The other week, researchers said that deficiency in salt intake can cause serious ailments, and that there’s no conclusive evidence that salt causes hypentension!

For many years, red wine was recommended, then they changed to white wine, now we’re back to red wine!  There was a scare the other day that pies in some supermarkets in Britain contained horse meat, and they were withdrawn.  Some people came out to say they’ve eaten horse meat and it’s nutritious.

Well, I suppose all experts are human like the rest of us, and cannot possibly get everything right at all times.  Disciplined moderation in everything, I think, is the recipe for a healthy living.


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