It is undisputable that the body needs nourishment for it to be able to forge on and work to fulfill the demands of the mind. Nourishment for the body is like the fuel you need for the vehicle to move.
Studies on the best form of nourishment for the body can be dated to as far back as 400 BC, when food was used as cosmetics and as medicine for the treatment of wounds. Studies on nutrients and remedies continued being carried out, and several discoveries of vitamins and minerals were made, all contributing to the basis of the knowledge we currently possess as nutritionists, dieteticians and other health workers. So, believe me, this is no new subject, as much as most of us would be tempted to think so.
As most of us are aware, there exist different kinds of food, all categorized into three major groups: Proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. Each of these groups has a vital role to play in the body processes. However, it has always been about the big and energy giving carbohydrates, the body building proteins and the protective vitamins and minerals. Every time it is mentioned, our minds picture the Ugali, beef and kales…. Or for the vegetarians, ugali, beans and kales, among many other examples.
A major part of our diet comprises of what we have grown up knowing to be protein, carbohydrate and vitamins. For example, when presented before us, a plate of Ugali, Kales and Beef is a complete balance, with a fruit and a glass of water of course. A plate of Githeri (a mix of beans and maize) with some vegetable detail is a balanced meal to us, as we have always seen mummy or aunty prepare it.
In line with the ever demanding economic situation, fitting in the mindset of balancing the food on our plates can be a daunting task, since there is the task of ensuring the family has enough meals per day, all balanced out among the members of the household. Thus, it becomes a question of quantity vs.quality, the dominant thought being “will this be filling for the stomach?”, “will this hold till the next session?”
As long as there are many ways to kill a rat, there are also many ways to ensure you achieve that vital balance in your plate.
What is your staple?
As mentioned earlier, most of our menus consist of foods we have grown up with, foods that were eaten by our grandparents and their predecessors, then our parents, and now us, our children and so on. So, what is your staple? And apart from ensuring you are full, what does your staple have to offer? For us, I know our staple is maize, which is a grain that can be consumed in different forms; whole, maize meal and grinded small pieces (chenga/nzenga). By now, you must know that maize is considered a carbohydrate, but is it the only thing that maize can offer? Definitely not; believe it or not, our lovely staple has much more nutrients including vitamin B, minerals and little protein too. So, learn your staple and discover what it has to offer for you and your family.
After the staple, comes the thought “what to eat it with!”. Here again, we get some accompaniments passed down to us, but you can also choose to experiment with other accompaniments. For example, in the Taita community, a common accompaniment would be cabbage, kales, amaranth and cowpeas leaves. In the Luhya community, a common accompaniment would be managu. Therefore, experiment with a variety of leafy vegetables and not just the ones you are used to.
Do you just cook to make food edible? Do you cook just so the food is palatable, tender and easy to chew and digest? Does the mere thought of cooking sound like work? This maybe your chance to change your mindset then, and look at cooking as a way to make the food work for you. Play around with the healthy additions and spices to make your food suit your desire and the needs of your body. There is homework though, where you need to know the best way to cook food to ensure minimum nutrient loss. Most of the precautions to look at include the duration of cooking, amount of heat, covering of pots when food is on the fire among others. For example, you will want to watch the amount of heat you use and the duration if you want to make the most out of the Vitamin C in your leafy vegetables. You might also want to add a little oil to your vitamin A rich food if you want your body to acquire it fully.
So, what is on your menu today? What do you want to get out of it? Which is the best way to make sure you do get what you want from it today?…..Many questions, I know, but worth the time to ponder, if you are keen on quality that is.
Nothing good comes easy, so they say. True that! The ever-hiking prices of food choices we treasure are not even giving us a break. However, hope is not lost. There are different routes to Nairobi, all leading to the same place, right?
In the same way, there are alternative sources of nutrients that are important, which are cheaper as compared to the top priced items that are sources for the same nutrients.
Example, in reference to the high meat prices, a family can consider using beans, green-grams, cowpeas and other legumes as alternative sources of protein on some days of the week, and include the meat every once in a while to ensure the consumption of complete protein.
It is important to know the sources of different nutrients so that you can go ahead and choose the most convenient for you.
Fortification is the improvement of the nutritious value of food, whether manually or during processing, to improve its quality and components. Through fortification, a lot of micronutrient deficiencies can be prevented. A good example of manual home enrichment of food is the inclusion of sugar and oil in porridge, or the use of vegetables in the preparation of rice. It makes the original item more palatable, and at the same time is nutrient dense, thus bringing a wholesome effect.
Fortification mostly happens in food processing industries. As said, this has helped in the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies especially to do with lack of Iodine, Vitamin A, Zinc and Iron. The government of Kenya has also taken major strides in this initiative, and as you are reading this, food industries are trying to comply with the Food Fortification Law of Kenya. Fortified foods in the market include maize meal, sugar, oil and salt. As you carry out your household shopping, be sure to look out for the fortified products. This will ensure you and your family get nourished in a wholesome way.
These are just some of the ways to ensure you achieve the balance needed for a healthy you and a healthy family.
So, next time you think balanced diet, do not imagine hustle in choosing and pinch in buying, imagine fun in choosing and cooking, pleasure in eating and quality in health.