Excessive starch, sweetmeats, foods laden with oil, fats, salt, impacts on diabetic, heart patients : Don’t binge eat this festive season | Sunday Observer

Excessive starch, sweetmeats, foods laden with oil, fats, salt, impacts on diabetic, heart patients : Don’t binge eat this festive season

The festive season at this time around is a time for food indulgence and putting one’s regular eating habits on hold. Already the air is filled with the scent of Christmas cakes and puddings in readiness for Christmas Day. In some homes the season starts early with delicious meals being served days before, at every meal. Spicy mixed fried rice, fried chicken , cuttle fish, prawns, replace the normal rice and curry meal with vegetables. Come Christmas other items are added to the festive table such as the cake, puddings, ice cream, wine and alcohol.

While staying off all these mouth watering delicacies could be difficult, it is important to remember that every piece of that rich Christmas cake and crunchy chicken leg or spicy prawn and batter fried cuttle fish can add to whatever health issues you already have without your knowledge. In children and adolescents it could lay the foundation for the early development of a host of non communicable diseases ( NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, damage the liver ( with excessive alcohol and smoking) and cardiac problems. The best way to avoid this risk while also enjoying the festive meal, is to control the portions you eat and choose healthy alternatives, such as salads and nuts especially, if you already have compromised immune systems.

Senior Cardiac Surgeon, Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, Dr Namal Gamage shares with the Sunday Observer some of his concerns and some tips on how to Eat Right this festive season without exposing oneself to unnecessary adverse health impacts.

Excerpts …

Q. With three days to go before Christmas and a week before the dawn of a new year, the festive season has already begun. Can eating too many sweetmeats and spicy food served at every meal during this week lead to adverse health impacts on those celebrating the season?

A. Yes that type of eating serves as a starting point to create the habit of bad eating. Given the large number of religious, cultural and seasonal festivals in the country the cumulative effect on the people who are vulnerable would be significant.

Q. What are the foods likely to cause the most harm to our body system if taken in excess?

A. Sweets, fatty or oily food, excessive salty food and artificially flavoured or coloured food.

Q. As you are a specialist in the cardiac field do you see a close link between overeating and excessive eating to cardiac diseases? Is there a danger of this happening during festive seasons when people put their usual eating habits on hold?

A. Yes. Over-eating sweets and starch is bad for diabetics, salt worsens high blood pressure, heavy fatty meals sometimes trigger off bad heart attacks which may prove fatal at times.

Q. Excessive fatty meals, alcohol indulgence and smoking during this time – how do they impact on our health?

A. Excessive fatty meals can lead to myocardial infractions especially, in prone people during the festive night itself. Alcohol indulgence and smoking with very irregular eating patterns during festive periods aggravate the same.

Q. Diabetes Melitus, especially Type 2 is said to be the most widely prevalent form of diabetes in Sri Lanka and is usually caused by obesity, lack of exercise and eating too many fatty, starchy and sugary foods. A recent study shows that around 30 % of Colombo’s population including children as young as 8 years are pre-diabetic. Is there a connection between diabetes and heart diseases?

A. Yes nearly 70 to 75 per cent patients with Ischaemic heart disease also suffer from diabetes.

Q. Will changing our diet and eating habits help reduce these risks?

A. Certainly. Bad eating habits start early in childhood in most people leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, hypercholesterolaemia or elevated blood cholesterol levels, and Ischaemic heart disease in early adulthood.

Q. To bring us back to the subject of eating the right foods at this time around, what role does the way we prepare our festive season play? For example, sweetmeats like kavum and kokis , butter cake, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, Breudher, milk toffees and coconut toffees , jellies, ice creams, and fruit salad served in almost every home that celebrates the festive season?

A. We should move away from gifting sweetmeats, oily foods, ice cream, alcohol, cigarette to friends and neighbours. Instead we should cultivate the habit of giving fruits, nuts and natural drink beverages, etc. to our beloved ones. Of those mentioned, fruit salad is very good but without ice cream. Consuming the others must be in modest amounts and one must be restrictive to one’s own self.

Q. What methods do you recommend as safe for our health? Frying? Steaming? Baking? Microwaving? Why?

A. Steaming, baking and microwaving are not bad. Frying – especially, deep frying is not very good. Using the same oil over and over again is a disaster as too many toxic substances tend to accumulate in the oil.

If frying is essential one may use unsaturated oil varieties such as soy oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil and olive oil. Air frying is a much better way. Always try to eat vegetables and fruits raw, unadulterated and as fresh as possible.

Q. What about bites like fried cutlets, cuttle fish, peanuts, cadjunuts and manioc chips served with drinks?

A. Except for peanuts and cadjunuts the rest are problem creators. Cuttlefish, prawn, crab, red meat originating from mammals are foods with a high amount of cholesterol. Frying them worsens the situation by adding saturated fatty acids to them.

Alcohol in addition damages the liver which may end up one day as fully blown cirrhosis. Therefore, one should be aware of holding or participating in cocktail parties as singular organs such as the heart and liver (and the brain) are hampered.”

Q. Iced coffee? Sugary drinks?

A. Just one or two sips only.

Q. Who are those most at risk to these health risks? Children? Youth? Elderly? Or any other? Why? (Explain in detail how and what the impacts are on each category).

A. All are vulnerable in various ways. As mentioned above these bad eating habits mostly start in childhood and in teenage.

Most non communicable diseases take their starting point very secretly and without the knowledge of anybody at a very young age.

Some bad habit when grownup as an adult may trigger off the last illness ending his or her life at once.

Q. What are the first symptoms to look for?

A. Symptoms are rare. Biochemical denominators such as some blood tests can show the onset of disaster much more early. Overweight, obesity related problems may be considered as first symptoms.

Q. Is there a difference in symptoms shown in children and those in adults?

A. As mentioned above symptoms during childhood are obesity and overweight related. But in adults those are directly disease related.

Q. Can these symptoms be reversed if detected early?

A. Yes to some extent, but I believe not 100%. Therefore, as most people say most of the time prevention is good, better and best.

Q. In the past few years, have you seen more patients coming to your wards with complaints of chest pains more than in previous years?

A. Due to an abundance of health education in various modalities the influx is more or less static. The future may be brighter.

Q. Is it true that the age of admission of such patients with heart problems has also decreased and younger patients are being admitted? What are the current ages and the gender?

A. No, the people are more aware and cautious now. They seek medical advice and support for a slightest doubt.

Q. Briefly spell out the golden rules for eating right during the festive season.

A. Eat as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. Avoid fat, oil, sweet, salt, excessive starch and meat. Avoid artificial flavours and colouring. Eat a smaller quantity. Drink ample amounts of water every day.

Q Your message to the public?

A. Eat to survive and to keep the body and soul healthy to serve mankind. Please, please do not live to eat. All in all Sri Lankans eat excessive meals most of the time. For example, people in some rice exporting countries eat 20 to 25 kilos of rice per year whereas one Sri Lankan would eat about 120 kilos a year. This shows where we stand.

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