Our National Food Culture & Public Health Issues

As a developing nation, we all are extremely busy in our daily routine life, to build a secure future for us and for our families. In this situation, about our daily food intake, everybody has a common excuse for why they don’t eat more healthier and more balanced diet “I would eat better, but I just don’t have the time”. But, to be fair, this excuse is not justifying for what we are doing with our health. If we want to get the most out of our bodies, then we need to take right nutrients. There are always strategies to make sure we are taking care of ourselves. We just have to be a little diligent and little organized about our daily diet. What exactly is a balanced diet? How much of which foods should we eat? We have to follow some simple rules on healthy eating that absolutely we all can follow easily, if we put our minds to balance our daily food plate. The idea of “My Plate” is introduced by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2011. Initially a food circle was designed depicting a place setting with a plate and glass divided into five food groups including vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins and dairy items. 

As Pakistani, if we want to emerge ourselves physically & mentally a healthier, more active and more energetic nation in the world, then we should realize that our each meal is a building block in our healthy eating style, each meal is contributing to our physical and mental health. We should make sure to include all important food groups in our food plate. We have to include fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, meat, fiber, dairy, and protein foods as important part of our daily meals. Besides this we also have to limit added sugars, saturated fats, sugary beverages, spices and salt intake.

We can design a balanced food plate according to our cultural, social, economic and traditional values. We must use some important rules to have a balanced food plate to meet our needs throughout the day. Fruits and Vegetables should make half of our plate as first major part. Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients that support good health. Choose fruits, like apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, and dark-green & red vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, okra and bitter-guard. 2nd part is whole grains, should be one fourth of our plate, with aim to make at least half our whole grains. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains. 3rd part of our food plate should be protein foods, one fourth of our plate, such as fish, chicken, goat meat, eggs, nuts, beans, whole or split pulses are all healthy, versatile protein sources. We can mix them into salads, and pair well with vegetables on a plate. As a fourth important part of our food plate we have to choose dairy. We can add in our meal a glass of milk, lassi or a cup of yogurt. We should keep in mind that everything we eat and drink matters. The right mix of foods in our meals can help us be healthier now and into the future. 

On other hand we should reduce our total fat intake, particularly our intake of saturated fats and Trans fats. As a nation we all are very much fond of eating parathas, omelette, nehari & aalo ki bhujiya in breakfasts. So there is also need to reduce our intake of foods high in cholesterol and have to increase our fiber intake. Use of sugar and foods high in simple carbohydrates in moderation. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinking enough water or other fluids throughout the day needs just planning & management, infact it’s not much related with economic status. Eating healthy is basically an eating sense, shaped by many factors, including our stage of life, situations, preferences, access to food, culture, traditions, and knowledge about balanced food and the personal decisions we make over time.

With an aim to build a healthy eating style we should focus on making healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy to get the nutrients we required. We should keep in mind the need to eat the right number of calories for us based on our age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. Building a healthier eating style can help us to avoid obesity and reduce risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

As a nation commonly, we eat three meals in a day, which are breakfast, lunch & dinner. A typical Pakistani breakfast, called nashta, consists of parathas, eggs, sheermal with tea or lassi, kulcha, chholay, qeema,  baqarkhwani, rusk, halwa poori, siri paye, nihari. A routine Pakistani lunch consists of meat curry along with rice or a pile of roti. Daal chawal and daal roti is among the most commonly taken dishes at lunch. Popular lunch dishes also may include aloo gosht (meat and potato curry) or any vegetable with mutton. Chicken dishes like chicken karahi are also popular. In Pakistan dinner is considered the main meal of the day as the whole family gathers for the occasion. Foods which are more oily and requires more spices and more preparation such as biryani, pulao, kofte, kebabs, qeema, korma are prepared. Lentils are also a dinnertime staple. These are served with roti or naan along with yogurt, pickle and salad. The dinner may sometimes be followed by fresh fruit, or on special occasions, traditional desserts like kheer, gulab jamun, shahi tukray, gajraila, qulfi or ras malai. Unfortunately, most of these foods are leading cause of weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and other physical and mental illness. There is a direct relation between our national food culture and public health issues. In this situation there is a big variation needed in our national food diary, changing how we eat is a major step on the way to get more fit, energetic, smarter and happier nation in the world. In short at each meal, our food plate should be 50% veggies & fruits, 20% lean protein, 5% Nuts, 10% dairy and 15% healthy carbohydrate, so need to switch to whole grains, brown bread, brown rice which has more nutrients and keeps us feeling fuller for longer.

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