HEALTH MATTERS

Guard against unhealthy food, drinks to keep Covid-19 at bay

Healthier alternatives to trans fats and Sugary drinks should be encouraged by the state

In Summary

• Sustained consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages precipitates kidney diseases or failure

• It catalyses risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and liver disease, exposing one to severe Covid-19 symptoms

Sugar-sweetened beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages
Image: COURTESY

Proper nutrition and hydration (especially during the current Covid-19 crisis) cannot be gainsaid. Those on a well-balanced diet tend to be healthier, with stronger immune systems. This means one is at a reduced risk of suffering from chronic maladies and infectious diseases.

It’s apparent, thus, the need for us to consume fresh, unprocessed food of a differing variety every day to boost our immune systems. We should drink enough water, avoid sugar, excess fats and salt to significantly lower the risk of becoming overweight, obesity and suffering from diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among others.

Sugary drinks, also known as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), are any drinks sweetened with various forms of processed sugars, like brown sugar. Examples of these are sodas. Sustained consumption of SSBs precipitates kidney diseases or failure, along with causing or heightening the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and liver disease. Most people with such underlying conditions are currently at greater risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Unhealthy fats, such as trans fats (TFAs), on the other hand, are a form of unsaturated fats that may occur naturally, as in red meat, whole milk and other dairy products. Moderate intake of these products is not harmful. However, artificial trans-fats, also known as industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats, are hazardous to health. These fats occur largely when vegetable oils are chemically altered to extend shelf-life.

TFAs are hazardous in that they lead to cholesterol build-up in the walls of blood vessels, making them hard and narrow. This increases pressure on the heart to pump blood through them, and hence may cause coronary artery disease. If the fatty deposits within the arteries tear or rupture, a blood clot may form and block blood flow to a part of the heart, causing a heart attack; or to a part of your brain, causing a stroke. There is, thus, a surge in the potential for a heart attack or stroke in affected persons.

Its thus apparent that our lifestyles of ingesting copious amounts of SSBs or foods laden with TFAs pose a potentially potent physiological load on our bodies. The gravity of this situation is manifested in the inaction and/or reluctance of the society to act in limiting the prevalence of these two potential causes of non-communicable diseases.

Healthy diet
Healthy diet
Image: COURTESY

At a time when most people are currently in lockdown/quarantine in efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19, proper nutrition and hydration as explained above is key. Balanced diets and reduced processed foods rich in TFAs and SSBs are advised to boost immune systems.

More concerning is the lack of awareness or purposeful ignorance of the consumer of the detrimental effects of these foods. This is manifest in the continued consistent purchase and consumption of these food products supposedly oblivious of the possible health drawbacks that may afflict them and their children in the future. The bright side of this is that lifestyle and consumption patterns are subject to change if the society wills it and pursues action to this effect.

There are existing stumbling blocks to this issue; soft drink manufacturing companies seem to have a stranglehold on the market. Their adverts enticing the public to purchase these products are all over mainstream and social media. As tobacco companies are compelled to inform customers of their hazardous effects, so should these firms be compelled to notify their clientele of the risks associated with their products.

The regulations under the Food Drugs & Chemical Substances Act (Cap 254) are unattuned to modern trends and practices in this area. These require constant review and updating to align with modern industry trends and evolved products. These include the Food, Drugs and Chemical Substances (Food Labelling, Additives and Standards) Regulations of 1978, 2010, 2012 and 2015.

While a total end to the consumption of these products countrywide and worldwide may be unachievable, it is feasible that a substantial reduction in TFA food products and SSBs can be attained. Healthier alternatives to TFAs and SSBs can also be encouraged by the state via incentives, for example, via favourable tax obligations for companies producing and selling healthier soft drinks and less hazardous additives used as preservatives in place of industrially produced trans-fats.

Consumer awareness exercises on the adverse effects of SSBs and Trans-fats among the public should be spearheaded by relevant government departments/agencies.

With the knowledge of possible health risks posed present for all to understand, it is high time all stakeholders in this industry work together to reduce the consumption of these products for the benefit of current and future generations.  

Philip Musamia and Elizabeth Mbugua

International Institute for Legislative Affairs

Edited by T Jalio