The secret enemy inside your Christmas-New Year meals

We’ve had more than our fair share of illnesses in 2020 but the festivities could worsen the situation

In Summary

•The government can lead by refining policy and legislation around controlling and even eliminating consumption of TFAs and sugar-sweetened beverages to suit current global standards. 

Chapatis are an unmistakable christmas delicacy.
Chapatis are an unmistakable christmas delicacy.
Image: FILE

Merry seasons’ greetings fellow Kenyan residents! You’ll correct me if I am wrong but I have more of an assurance than a feeling that the majority of us will while revelling in the festivities, be partaking of the finer foods, snacks, pastries, beverages and more.

On that Christmas or New Year lunch or dinner and similarly in the ensuing days you and your kin will devour chapatis, rice, doughnuts, burgers, hotdogs, chips, meat and chicken aplenty.

These will be washed down by sodas and other sugary drinks. Afterwards while relaxing, someone will smoke a cigarette in near proximity to the non-smokers in the group.

While all this occurs in the effervescent atmosphere that is Christmas/ New Year when we delight in rekindling family and friendship bonds, it is key to note that our merry-making also exposes us to disease causing factors. I know we’ve had more than our fair share of illnesses in 2020 with coronavirus and others but please indulge me a little longer.

The great food we enjoy or the ingredients its cooked with, is laden with artificial Trans-Fatty Acids (TFAs). TFAs are parts of fat molecules which are industrially produced and added to food products sold in supermarkets to extend shelf-life.

TFAs are found in processed food products like hydrogenated vegetable oils, cakes, cookies and pies, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough; biscuits and rolls, fried foods; fries/crisps, doughnuts and fried chicken, non-dairy coffee creamer, stick margarine.

TFA accumulation can cause cholesterol to build up in blood vessels leading to high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, blood clots thus heart attacks or stroke, insulin resistance which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The drinks we’ll consume are sweetened with various artificial sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose.

Research has shown that sustained consumers of Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) increase their risk of suffering kidney diseases, tooth decay and cavities, obesity, heart and liver disease, diabetes, gout, bone weakness and arthritis.    

Need I mention the cigarette smoke?  Alright, I will. Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body. It causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis plus premature or low-birth weight babies.

It increases risk of tuberculosis, eye diseases, and problems of the immune system; rheumatoid arthritis. Second hand smoke exposure causes stroke, lung cancer, and coronary heart disease in adults.

In children there's increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms and slowed lung growth.

The ailments mentioned are non-communicable and a majority affect the respiratory system. This is the principal target for covid-19. It has been manifested that those with underlying conditions (referring to those nursing some of the diseases above prior to contracting covid-19) are at greatest risk of succumbing to coronavirus.

 This year, we have all borne witness to the economic, financial and social havoc that a disease pandemic can wreak upon a society. Lives have been lost and others changed dramatically, jobs lost, businesses closed, loans defaulted on, debts piled up, property lost, savings depleted and the fall out still persists.

We note that people will not become obese, develop heart disease or cancer in two weeks but the little proclivities developed in a few days are nurtured into habits and lifestyles that lead to some of these ailments.

The risks posed by what we consume are apparent. The question then is what do we do?

The government can lead by refining policy and legislation around controlling and even eliminating consumption of TFAs and sugar-sweetened beverages to suit current global standards.

Further, it should seek to contain enticing advertisement to the public to indulge frequently in these products either through incentivising firms producing alternative healthy food products or introducing taxes or surcharges on some of these risky products. Spreading awareness on the risks associated with some of these foods would also be a welcome positive.

As for us, being apprehensive of the health risks some of our foods pose let's govern ourselves accordingly. While not advocating a hiatus from eating or extended periods of fasting, we humbly implore you to consume in moderation (except for the cigarettes of course, these you can abandon altogether).

We’re sure we haven’t dampened your Christmas spirit.

Happy holidays everyone!   

Philip Musamia leads policy development & legislative engagement at the International Institute for Legislative Affairs

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