Fighting hidden hunger

Published On: August 25, 2019 12:25 AM NPT By: Dr Aruna Uprety

Make sure that you and your family regularly consume yoghurt, achar, lemon, gundruk etc. Let us fortify our food with what we have

A young mother was proudly saying to her mother: “I have started to fortify my daughter’s food but not with medicine. I use natural plants and spices as I learnt from some doctors that we have enough food to make my daughter healthy.” The young mother has good knowledge about how to take care of health of her daughter. 

Fortifying food means ensuring that nutrition is not lost and food retains its ability to be absorbed by our bodies. “Fortify your food with this packet and medicine for your child’s health” is a common refrain we hear from health workers and in advertisements for food. We believe in these statements and fortify the food that we give to our children with “sprinkle” or “ball vita” distributed by health workers. Ministry of Health and Population is spending a significant amount of money on distribution of unnecessary ‘packets,’ and yet Nepali children still suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. These problems can easily and inexpensively be solved using our traditional diets. Our nutrition-rich diet has been validated by modern science. 

We do not have to rely on market for this in Nepal. We have our own system of fortifying food and get better nutrition. Our parents and grandparents knew how to make food more nutritious. Eating “dal bhat” with green vegetables and little bit of achar remains one of the best ways of fortifying and absorbing the iron from lentils and vegetables. Many Nepali households cook lentils in an iron pot through which iron is transferred to the lentils. These days, we buy packet food that says “fortified with iron and vitamin C.”  Either out of ignorance or willful blindness, we buy it thinking that it’s better than what we can cook ourselves. But if we look at our traditional cooking methods, we can learn how to fortify our food ourselves for optimum benefits. 

From many years of research and experience, I can say that good nutrition does not have to be expensive. Following our traditional cooking methods, some common sense and some creativity is sufficient to keep us healthy and protect us from malnutrition.  

According to nutrition science “good bacteria needs to be consumed for better health gut.” But where do we get good bacteria? Do we have to buy them? Are those bacteria expensive? Not at all. We can get them in our kitchen, without much effort. One example of good bacteria is fermented milk. We may remember our elders telling us that ‘yoghurt” is an integral part of our health and the key to digestive health. They may not know the science behind its “good bacteria” or its calcium property, but they knew its value. Today, by contrast, we are bombarded with the message that to get proper nutrition, we must buy products in the market. 

This helpful bacteria (from yoghurt or curd) directly communicates with our immune system, our metabolism, and even our central nervous system and brain, according to Dr Erica D Somnenburg, co-author of Good Gut and research scientist from Stanford University School of Medicine. The good bacteria from curd and other fermented food nourish the lining of the digestive tract and this mechanism allows the absorption of vital nutrients. Sadly, the hectic pace of modern life makes it difficult for us and our families to balance good bacteria. We do not have time to make yoghurt at home. So we buy packed fruit juices loaded with too much sugar and not enough nutrition.  Our food has now become too processed and is deprived of the nutrients that help good bacteria to thrive and the result is poor gut health and poor absorption of nutrients from food.  That leads to further illnesses and with lack of micronutrients “hidden hunger.”

But we can fight “hidden hunger” by eating a balanced diet with whole grains, vegetables and protein, which is prepared at home, avoiding junk foods, and consuming fermented food. One of the easiest ways to get healthy bacteria is to eat fermented food regularly Fermentation is an age–old practice: Yoghurt in South Asia, sinki and gundruk in Nepal, and Kimchi in South Korea are examples of fermented food. During the process of fermentation, food is broken down by liberating key nutrients like vitamin B and C, iron and antioxidants that a human body can easily process.  So we don’t have to buy expensive food that is labeled with ‘added iron, calcium, vitamins’ nor do we have to feed our children unnecessary vitamin pills. Instead, make sure that you and your family regularly consume yoghurt, achar, lemon, gundruk etc. Let us fortify our food with what we have.

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