“O mankind: Eat of what is lawful and good on earth” (Quran 2:168).
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet remains a challenge for our community, increasingly, and worryingly, it is not a problem that is just isolated to the older generation. Tower Hamlets, where the college is based, has the second highest prevalence of obesity in the country for children at year 6 in schools.
Our usual approach to ‘dieting’ has been to skip a meal or certain foods to reduce our fat intake. This usually results in intermittent snacking on unhealthy foods. There is now growing evidence that indicates we cannot look at our fat intake in isolation but rather our overall dietary pattern. Commonly, the Muslim diet in the UK has involved high amounts of red meat, sugary drinks and low amounts of fruits and vegetables, a pattern that has been linked to higher risk of heart disease. The more balanced approach is the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ which is also high in fat, but from different sources such as olive oil or plants. Their diets are typified by large amounts of vegetables, fruits and nuts combined with cheese and yoghurt. The Mediterranean-style diet appears to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome (factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes).
Polyunsaturated fats or ‘good’ fats which are found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts and seeds can help reduce the risk type 2 diabetes. NHS Tower Hamlets report that diabetes prevalence is higher here than elsewhere in London and this is particularly linked to the high proportion of Bangladeshis in the population. A healthy intake of omega-3 fats from fish helps prevent heart disease and importantly if you suffer from diabetes, eating fish can be beneficial in protecting against having a heart attack.
Three tips to a healthier diet, how to replace the ‘bad’ fats with ‘good’:
1. Cut down on your intake of ‘bad’ saturated fats, this means less red meat and less full-fat dairy products. You can start by replacing red meat with poultry and fish and change full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, to lower fat versions.
2. Start buying liquid vegetable oils that are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These are usually available in the same stores, look at olive oil or sunflower oil as a healthier alternative to butter.
3. Try and ensure that you have a good source of omega-3 fat every day; you’ll find omega-3 particularly in fish.
Replacing your ‘bad’ saturated fats with ‘good’ unsaturated fats is a simple step to having a healthier diet and helping to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Dr Na’eem Ahmed is a Paediatric Academic trainee in London, current Chief Executive of Selfless and also a visiting research fellow at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (affiliate to Harvard Medical School)