Easter: Time for a dietary reflection

From farm to fork - raw foods are full of nutritional medicine. Picture: LANCE SEETO

In this Easter Sunday food special, chef Lance Seeto suggests that we use this unique opportunity to slow down our way of life, and shares his nutritional views on how the whole family can make changes to become more healthy

It is now or never. Whether it’s cyclones, tsunamis or contagious viruses, it seems like Mother Nature is providing us with a good reason to re-think about our health as COVID has dramatically changed the world and the way we live. The 11pm curfew, unemployment and business closures has given us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop and make some changes. The global pandemic has irreversibly changed the way we eat with many families learning to cook at home to save money. With generations of family at home, it is an ideal time to share cooking and nutritional knowledge with everyone in the house. Grandparents can teach their grandchildren some of their ancestral recipes and their knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs. Mums and dads can prepare new recipes using fresh vegetables they wouldn’t normally eat, whilst the kids can teach the family a thing or two that they’ve learned at school about nutrition. There is so much generational knowledge in one Fijian household, that we shouldn’t waste this opportunity to learn from each other.

EATING THE WRONG FUEL

I’m not a doctor but I have spent nearly two decades researching, listening and learning from nutritionists and biochemists to understand the basics of where modern-day sickness has come from. Some is caused by genetics, some is caused by our exposure to dangerous chemicals in the air, soil and water, but much of it comes from what we are eating. There is a direct link between our lifelong diet and the sickness and disease we are likely to encounter as we age.  My past membership of the Australian College of Nutrition and Environment Medicine (ACNEM) has given me an awakened insight into what we are doing wrong and has given me the tools to help correct them. We need to understand a little biochemistry on how the human body works. The food we crave and eat is primarily fuel for our cells, not just our hungry appetite. It gets broken down into nutrients and those vitamins, minerals and enzymes feed each and every one of the billions of cells in our body. But here’s the thing. Each cell needs specific food to stay healthy whether it is a skin, bone, brain, blood, organ, joints or hair cell. The brain needs good fats, our joints need silica, our blood requires iron and so on.  So, when we do not eat a broad-spectrum of fresh foods, we basically deprive some cells of the fuel they need to stay in shape. They can still function, but not at their optimal level. To make it worse, our industrialised way of life allows us to consume processed foods, pesticide-sprayed crops and artificial chemicals that humans were not designed to eat. Like all living creatures on Earth, we are supposed to be eating fresh foods and clean water. Artificial chemicals in food can cause our cells to eventually get sick. Given long enough time, these sick cells will begin causing health problems as we age. The most common food ingredients that are causing this danger in the average Fijian diet are an excess consumption of cooking oil, salt, carbs (sugar) and artificial enhancers found in many packaged snacks and confectionary. In my decades of observations travelling across the islands, iTaukei Fijians are consuming too much bread, margarine (oil) and sweet drinks, whilst Indian Fijians are eating way too much oil and sugar, and not enough fresh fruits, raw vegetables and nutritional liquids.

Foods to eat and avoid.Picture: LANCE SEETO

FLUSH AND BROOM REGULARLY

The other huge mistake that many make is to leave those dangerous foods inside the body for too long, allowing unnatural and artificial chemicals to enter your internal system. Sure, who doesn’t love the odd naughty and nutrition-bare processed foods, but if you eat them, make sure you rid of them quickly. If you are not going to the washroom as many times as you sit down to eat then you may have a constipation problem. If you do not go to do your number two’s a few times a day, you are most likely clogged up, leaving bad foods inside your body. So, what do we do when we have a blocked drain at home? We unblock it with caustic soda to dissolve the blockage or manually force a stick down the pipe to push the obstruction through. The same principles apply to humans – without the soda and stick! We are designed to eat, move around and then poop, just like our pets, birds, fish and farm animals. The concept is simple. We shove food down our mouths, which begin a long trek along the digestive tract to extract out the good and sometimes bad chemicals from the food, and eventually we poop out the unneeded waste. Flushing and brooming are some of the most important cornerstones of healthy eating. We flush with water to push food particles along the tubes faster, and we eat fibrous foods to help broom the tubes and remove anything that gets stuck. This simple daily routine is rarely understood or practised because we lack basic biochemistry knowledge of how our body works. An easy way to learn is to watch the wild animal kingdom and see how they eat, walkabout and then poop. For humans we can help the process of cleaning our digestive pipes by regularly drinking warm liquids to flush and dissolve oils, and eat more raw fibrous foods like salads and fruits to broom.

Learning to make healthy foods look attractive is key. Picture: LANCE SEETO

ASK YOUR GRANDPARENTS

If you are lucky enough to enjoy the company of family elders, they are a wealth of medicinal knowledge. The Fijian way of life with large and extended families under one roof offers a golden opportunity to learn from the elderly on why they think they have lived to a ripe old age. Many will tell you that they don’t eat the rubbish foods of this generation, and eat very little salt, sugar and processed vegetable oils. Most are probably vegetarians, or at least pescatarians, as they may also eat seafood. Back in the day before shops and supermarkets, the elders and their ancestors ate from the land and sea with virtually none of the processed ingredients we eat today. These fresh foods provided them with wide variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre that sustained them for generations without NCDs. These foods also provided with them their natural medicines to help heal and repair including roots, leaves, seaweeds, natural oils and the Tree of Life coconut palm. This ancestral medicinal knowledge, whether you are of iTaukei, Indian or Asian descent, should be learned by everyone in the family. Each of these main Fijian cultures derives their medicinal food knowledge from thousands of years of civilization in their respective regions. As descendants, you share their same DNA and the chance to learn your people’s optimum diet to stay healthy and live longer.

Trick your family into eating more fruit by making fruit bowls with honey and mint. Picture: LANCE SEETO

CHILDREN HOLD THE KEY

Despite all the money we spend to combat and create awareness of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), it is difficult to get people to change their eating habits. For Pacific Islanders in the 21st century, NCDs have ravaged our communities but it is our own choice of eating nutritionless food that has exacerbated the problem. Most people just eat what they want without thought of its nutritional value. Our cravings and eating habits are formed when we are very young. That first taste of sweetness from a fizzy drink or lolly, or that salty oiliness from a packet of beans or chips will influence a child’s eating habits well into adulthood. This is why children hold the key to breaking the spread of NCDs if we can educate them when they are young to eat like their grandparents. Many of this current generation simply do not understand or were never educated about the bad foods that contribute to early death of friends and relatives from diabetes, heart disease and cancers. They have grown accustomed to eating those foods their whole life. I have long held the belief that Fiji has a unique opportunity to break the NCD cycle by not exposing children to the bad foods so early in life. Before they can walk or talk, parents should not offer these bad foods to their infant child, even if the parents themselves love to eat them. Instead of fizzy or sugary drinks, give them water and bu. Instead of salty chips, offer fresh fruit. Instead of oily foods cooked in processed oil, offer them something steamed or grilled. By doing this, children will not learn to crave salt, sugar and oil so early in their life. They may decide to eat the bad foods later in life but at least as parents, you gave them every opportunity to love fresh foods without spoiling their tastebuds with junk.

Hidden sugars in the things we eat and drink. Picture: LANCE SEETO

While we may not be able to afford the indulgences of the past, Easter 2021 does offer a one-time nutritional gift to the world  – a chance to reflect on your family’s health and make the changes now. So as Christians today reflect in prayer on the meaning of Easter, let’s all learn how to live a long and prosperous life by changing the way we eat.

Happy Easter and enjoy these delicious raw fruit and vegetable recipes to prepare at home.

* Lance Seeto is the host of FBC-TV’s Exotic Delights and chef/owner of KANU Gastropub in Nadi.

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