Why getting in touch with nature helps us enjoy a healthy, balanced diet.
One day each week, Fat Chance! The no-going-back Weight Loss Workbook has the theme 'Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet'. The focus is on learning to truly enjoy eating a healthy diet. Why? Because healthy foods and a balanced diet are your weight-loss allies. As well as being good for you, they will help you lose weight!
Recent research suggests that eating a varied, healthy and balanced diet keeps us satisfied because our bodies do not need to search for missing nutrients by eating more. Conversely, if we do not eat a balanced diet our bodies are always searching for missing vitamins and minerals, keeping us hungry. We will eat more.
- Healthy foods tend to satisfy our hunger and reduce our appetite as they are often low-GI and high in fibre. They are lower in fat and calories, so simply by choosing healthy foods you will lose weight.
The best way to eat a healthy, balanced diet is to enjoy a wide variety of foods, at least half of which are fruit and vegetables. As a guide, try to eat a rainbow of food every day (that is, a colourful variety of food). It must be satisfying in taste, texture (such as crunch) and temperature (and freshly harvested food tastes the best). Focus on and enjoy what you can eat, not what you can’t.
It also helps to be more closely connected with nature, such as growing or even collecting your own food. For many cultures, including Maori and Samoan, this used to be the norm. I can’t help but think how life in South Auckland is so different to life in a Samoan village and wonder how this contributes to the weight issues faced by Samoans here in New Zealand.
From my own experience of living in Samoa I think of the fish, pigs, chickens, coconuts, taro, bananas, pawpaw, pineapple, palusami, cocoa and other fruit and vegetables that were grown, harvested and enjoyed straight from the sea or plantation. This memory motivates me to have my own vegetable garden today (as well as being a feeble attempt at some independence from the capitalist economy – so I don’t have to pay money for everything).
But having access to healthy foods is an issue for many because of both cost and location. I listened to a very interesting speaker at the recent Dietitians NZ* conference in Wellington: Dr Carol Wham, senior lecturer with the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at Massey University in Auckland. She was referring to preliminary findings from ongoing and as yet unpublished research into the nutritional well-being of elderly Maori.
Dr Wham indicated that nearly two-thirds of research participants viewed hapu and iwi as very important to their well-being. Many of those (38 per cent) indicated that traditional Maori foods or kai were important for practising their culture. Traditional kai include kaimoana (fish, pipis, tuatua, kina etc), muttonbird, wild pork, kumara, fermented corn, rewena bread, puha, pikopiko fronds, watercress and miro berries.
Preliminary findings indicated those who rated Maori foods as important to them tended to have better nutritional well-being, and those who rated Maori foods as not important to them tended to be at greater nutritional risk. In discussion, Dr Wham suggested a relationship between the nutritional well-being of Maori and access to traditional Maori foods, which were available to only 42 per cent of the participants most of the time. Where these foods are not available, this may impact on the quality of food eaten and consequently on health and well-being.
Those at greater nutritional risk may include many Maori who live away from their iwi or hapu area, who are less able to gather food from traditional sources. Those who live in their iwi or hapu area would, logically, be better able to access traditional foods. So availability and access to traditional foods is an important issue for Maori health and, one might even suggest, a rights issue. Lots to think about and very interesting!
For both Samoans and Maori (and Europeans), returning to our roots and reclaiming those traditional food gathering practices may be a key to overcoming obesity! Growing and harvesting your own fruit and vegetables, digging for pipis, going fishing and following the seasons helps us to appreciate not only what we eat but the functionality of our own bodies, giving us both a healthy diet and a much more holistic appreciation of well-being.
Until next time!
(*Please note: I am not a dietitian, I was there promoting my book to professionals in weight loss to use with their clients.)
Susan Maiava PhD is the author of Fat Chance! The no-going-back Weight Loss Workbook, available from Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, independent bookshops and Online at www.fatchance.co.nz (free delivery in NZ). RRP $39.99. Fat Chance! is ideal for groups. Professional enquiries also welcome.