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Diet’s influence on health: Know the nexus

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By Yahya Barrow & Ebrima Colley

Meeting the dictates of society has gripped almost all of us. Call it social competition or conformity in its highest order. The struggle and aspiration of an average Gambian are to be at level with the latest status quo society dictates. Precisely, we are obsessed with the possession of latest brand of cell phones, cloths, shoes and even mansions. It’s always about externalities which are largely ephemeral. And social events become an avenue to display one’s wealth. Or should I say to camouflage? Imagine a person in a rental house struggling to make ends meet, yet, begs and takes loans just to have a lavish naming ceremony. But one fundamental thing that we tend to neglect is our diet. Is it because what’s in the stomach is actually not visible to the eye? Share your thought with me later.

Rigorous scientific investigations established that diet has more influence on both personal and public health than we could actually imagine. According to WHO, “A healthy diet helps to protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, heart diseases, stroke and cancer.” Sadly, many people don’t acknowledge diet’s influence on health. As an intern food inspector at FSQA in mid-2020, I can’t recall the number of debates I had with friends just to convince them that being a food inspector is actually a worthwhile job.

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I recall an incident narrated to me by a friend that there was a massive condemnation of chicken legs in Brikama market. Unfortunately, the chicken was later merely dumped in the outskirt of their village. He said the villagers later became aware of it and went there to distribute among themselves. In his words, “the Chaaaa sound of a frying chicken was to be heard in every compound that week.” Lol! By the way, have you heard about “condemned and consumed” (CC)?

It’s my belief that when we focus and give due concern to what we eat, there would be a significant decrease in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) prevalence. Nationally, the creation of institutions like Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA), National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), and even posting food inspectors at the ports of entry is an endeavor to deliver safe, quality and nutritious food to the population; hence a better public health through diet. Thus, there is an acknowledgment from the state that diet is crucial to good health. Don’t ask me about the efficacy and effectiveness of the mentioned institutions.

Know that you aren’t healthy and shall never stay free from even preventable diseases if your diet is entirely based on junk foods. Human growth and development are guaranteed and the body’s immunity is boosted when we habitually eat balance diet. The reverse is true. Therefore, eat healthy to stay healthy. Remember, if we refuse to spend on a farmer for his produce to stay healthy, we will spend on a pharmacist for their products (medicines) when we fall sick, just to stay healthy. It is worth noting that when medications are taken for one thing (indication), they cause another (side/adverse effects).

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In the treatment or management of most non-communicable diseases, especially diabetes, hypertension, stroke, etc., adherence to dietary measures/advice is as important (or even more important) as taking medications. No disease can be treated or well-managed if dietary control is inadequate, poor or lacking. Diet plays an important role in our body’s defense mechanism. Your health is dependent on your diet, not your medications. Lots of diseases are emerging due to what we eat of the artificial stuffs, not foods in their natural forms.

Not all conditions require a pharmacological treatment. Some merely need a dietary intervention. Thus, it is very important, quite necessary and highly significant to have a dietician and/or a nutritionist in any given health facility, especially the hospitals that will help guide the patients on the diet they should be on throughout their admission and even after discharge in relation to their diseases or conditions.

It is rather tragic that even the major referral hospital doesn’t have one. The golden rule is that: eat natural and you shall be healthy. If we do not take our diet seriously and modify our lifestyles, medications shall be our food. Our bodies shall become mini pharmacies or drug stores. The pharma industry is excelling while the farming industries are dying slowly because we chose to live unhealthy by living a sedentary lifestyle. You either pay the farmer now or pay the pharmacy later. The choice is yours.

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