The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the question of health like nothing before. Unfortunately, the focus has been on treating symptoms and using technology to the exclusion of other options. While modern medicine has brought forth some spectacular achievements, we must remember the old adage ‘our weaknesses are often extensions of our strengths’.
Modern medicines’ ability to treat symptoms and save lives in the 20th century seems to have led to a blinkered view on the world, which gets stuck on treating symptoms. At the same time, while there are some efforts related to nutrition, too many of these are trapped in academic debate and the ordinary public is left perplexed about what is healthy eating and what is not.
“The time, therefore, is ripe to popularise what healthy eating is. It’s not complicated, its common sense and straightforward. It’s not new either. We now know, from a scientific perspective, just how nutritionally rich nearly all traditional cuisines were/are. These can form the basis of healthy eating across the 10 (ten) provinces in Zambia. They can also be improved upon,” Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB) National Coordinator, Mutinta Nketani said.
Ms. Nketani noted, “Sadly, the position is that people are not paying nearly enough attention to the potential of nutrition and healthy eating, what the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) call the ‘Inner – Mask.’ Food plays many roles: Food is the social glue, a cultural expression, an economic commodity, and a source of nutrition. The amount, variety and nutritional quality and safety of foods in diets are largely affected by the availability and accessibility of different foods, both on the market and from farmers’ own production.
We cannot predict what will happen with this virus but whatever happens, we will be better off if we eat healthy food. Apart from helping to cope and recover better from COVID-19, it will also lower the number of new cases of many modern diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancers.
“People who eat a well-balanced diet of natural food and avoid unhealthy, processed food have stronger immune systems that help them to cope and heal from infectious diseases,” Ms. Nketani advised.
Eat a variety of nutritious, wholesome food that is produced without heavy use of toxic sprays and has no added chemicals. Eat how most grandmothers taught their children to eat. Eat how most grandmothers taught their children to eat. Learn about and celebrate your traditional diet, while improving it wherever you can, using modern scientific knowledge. Eat a variety of food. Eat a balanced diet. Eat natural foods. It’s not complicated.
Of course, you must also do all the protective actions such as washing hands regularly, keeping a distance from people and wearing a cloth face mask. That is understood. But over and above all this is the critical importance of being healthy, of strengthening your body’s immune system to reduce the severity or serious effects of the virus and help it to heal should you catch it.
Food is essential to our immune system and good health in general and not just any food, but naturally grown, safe, diverse and nutritious food. This has been largely neglected in all the information shared about COVID-19. In short, a variety of nutritious, natural food is medicine!
Meanwhile, the Zambian government has developed: The Zambian Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) that are grounded on the sustainable food systems approach, driven by the understanding that adoption of the guidelines is, to a larger extent, dependent on a sustainable food system. Further, the FBDGs also encourage the consumption of fresh, unprocessed or minimally processed foods as a critical part of sustainable healthy diets.
For the Zambian FBDGs, sustainability was defined according to FAO/WHO (2019): Healthy diets from sustainable food systems are dietary patterns that promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and wellbeing; have low environmental pressure and impact; are accessible, affordable, safe and equitable; and are culturally acceptable (FAO and WHO, 2019).
According to the Zambian Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs), foods are divided into macronutrients (nutrients required by the body in larger amounts) and micronutrients (nutrients required by the body in smaller amounts). Most foods are mixtures of nutrients. Most of them have a few essential nutrients, with some nutrients in large amounts and others in small amounts or none at all.
Food groups are grouped according to the key and similar nutrients that they contain in large amounts. Each of the six food groups has a unique and important role to play in the body. The six Zambian food groups are: (1) cereals and starchy roots and tubers; (2) vegetables; (3) fruits; (4) pulses, legumes and nuts; (5) animal source foods such as insects, poultry, fish and meats; and (6) dairy.
COVID-19 is a wakeup call to us all. Let’s turn the tide away from over-processed foods that are often grown using chemicals and instead build a healthy norm, by eating a great variety of nutritious, locally produced natural foods, including indigenous crops and vegetables that we have often dropped from our diets.