Enjoy a healthy New Year with adequate exercise, moderate eating and drinking | Sunday Observer

Enjoy a healthy New Year with adequate exercise, moderate eating and drinking

9 April, 2023

The National New Year is almost upon us with Easter and Thai Pongal close on Sunday today its heels. This is also the time when many persons with compromised immune systems put their controlled diets on hold, to

Here, Medical Coordinator of the Suwa Diviya Program Dr. Chamari Pandithage tells the Sunday Observer about a new approach to dealing with this problem by the organisation she represents.



Q. In a few days time we will be celebrating the National New Year. As most Sri Lankan households get ready for this happy occasion, elderly members with compromised immune systems are often tempted to put on hold the controlled diets prescribed to them by their nutritionists to enjoy the season, arguing that this would be only a temporary measure and any harm to their bodies will thus be minimal. Do you agree? If not, why not ?

A. High blood sugar is one of the main causes of reduced immunity. If you eat a lot of foods and beverages high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, which the body processes as sugar, you may be reducing your body's ability to ward off disease. When your immune system is compromised, you are more likely to get sick. Your immune system can also be weakened by smoking and alcohol. There's no doubt that limiting how much added sugar you consume promotes your overall health and immune function.

To boost your immunity you ought to maintain a healthy weight. Binge eating during the festivals also means your body is filling up with extra calories and toxins that might make you feel sick or lethargic. You also tend to eat an increased amount of dairy products, fried, saturated and unsaturated fats, sweets, and ready to eat snacks. Eating this kind of food may have an impact on your gut health, indigestion, bloating flatulence, etc. in the long term.


Q. Since most food today is bought from outside replacing the home made clean and safe meals served in households during New Years of yester-year, what are the chances of one ending up with food poisoning or diarrhoea from ingesting raw materials not washed well and containing higher toxins?

Dr. Chamari Pandithage

A. A short answer is highly likely. High-risk food left in the temperature danger zone (between 5 °C and 60 °C) can have increased levels of food poisoning bacteria. Incorrect handling can contaminate the food with food poisoning bacteria. There is no control over cooking methods so chances of getting food poisoning are relatively higher than eating from home.

Additionally, eating out regularly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.


Q. Bites such as manioc fried and peanuts as well as jak fried chips, cutlets and spicy prawns, pork and meat are the usual dishes served before the main meal during the New Year. How healthy are these bites especially for those with cholesterol diabetes and hypertension?

A. Fried foods are high in saturated fat and trans fat, so they promote plaque buildup in arteries that can put you at risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. It's also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Altering cooking methods such as air frying, baking can also help improve the quality of the food and reduce oil consumption.


Q.Can you suggest nutritious local foods to eat during the season and healthy options if they are not available?

A. Fresh fruits and vegetables eaten raw as possible are the best nutrient rich foods we can consume at any time. During festivities this may prove to be difficult. Here are a few better options. Jaggery has a good amount of iron and is less processed compared to sugar so replacing sugar with jaggery will be healthier. If there is a choice, take dry fruits instead of kavili, cakes, and ice creams.

Don’t add sugar in your beverages or desserts; instead add natural sugars in the form of dates, fresh fruit, pure honey, raisins or jaggery. It won’t necessarily reduce calories, but it will weaken the negative consequences of too much refined sugar. However if you are already a diabetic, then even jaggery, dry fruits can increase your blood sugar, so use them sparingly.

For a few days, eat light meals. Switch to salads, soups, dal, vegetables, oats and fresh fruits. Another option may be to have multigrain vegetable sandwiches, instead of full meals to avoid heaviness, acidity and bloating. It is light on your stomach yet full of flavour. Take small and frequent meals. Don’t starve yourself. High fibre food items are important to maintain a healthy bowel system, so eat plenty of fresh fruits, salads, whole grains and whole pulses.


Q. Oils you can recommend for cooking these foods according to their benefits?

A. The healthiest oils are those that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of fats can help lower your risk of heart disease when used instead of saturated fats. Any oil that can withstand high cooking temperatures that can be used for roasting, frying and deep-frying will be the best option during festivities. Coconut oil is extremely stable as a cooking oil and has numerous other health benefits, making it a top choice for frying your foods. Also try to avoid reusing the same oil for frying. As mentioned above, altering the cooking method is a better option.


Q. Advice to housewives who purchase readymade food items from outdoor markets without checking their labels?

A. It is extremely important to read labels before you buy any food item. If you’re not familiar with the concept of nutrition labelling, please educate yourself. Labels show some key points about the nutrients in the food item that impact your health. Look for foods that contain more of the nutrients you want to get more of and less of the nutrients you may want to limit. Nutrients to get less of: Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Added Sugars. Also labels give us so much vital information pertaining to the particular item such as expiry date, manufacture date, where it was produced and packed. Get in the habit of always checking the label before purchasing.


Q. What about sweetened drinks or fizzy drinks?

A. During this time learn to say NO to carbonated drinks, sodas and alcohol drinks. Avoid cocktails and mocktails, as they are high in calories. You should keep yourself hydrated, so take plenty of liquids in the form of water, coconut water, fresh juices, green tea, ginger tea, and clear soups.


Q. What about wine and alcohol which are also freely available at this time around?

A. According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe limit for alcohol. So try to avoid it as much as possible. The best way to remove or flush out toxins from your body is by drinking 12 to 15 glasses of water. Not only does it help with hydration but also breaks down carbohydrates quickly. Put a reminder on your phone to drink water regularly.


Q. What about smoking? Is it also a no-no?

A. Yes. Smoking can cause diabetes in 50 percent of smokers as well as numerous other conditions including lung cancer


Q. NCDs are the No. 1 cause of death and disability globally. The ‘Big Five’ of NCDs are heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and mental health and wellbeing. What has caused this epidemic?

A. Chronic non-communicable diseases are the number one cause of death and disability in the world. NCDs share four major risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets Many NCDs can be prevented by reducing these common risk factors.


Q. As the Medical Coordinator of the Suwa diviya Program, tell us what this organisation is doing and has already done to create healthy environments for the public to prevent them from developing early Non Communicable diseases (NCDs)

A. Suwa diviya is a not-for-profit organisation, focusing on creating educational awareness on prevention and management of diabetes. It is headed by Consultant Physician with a special interest in Diabetes, Dr Kayathri Periasamy. I am currently the Medical Co-ordinator of the project and we have a pool of resource persons including GPs, dieticians and nutritionists, physiotherapists and recovery specialists, Clinical Psychologists and Counsellors.

Up to now we have educated and screened more than 900 people through webinars, seminars and workshops in the corporate sector and community. We have a separate dedicated page on social media and we regularly post valuable information regarding healthy lifestyles. While educating the people about how they can prevent diabetes, and the urgent need for that, we also provide awareness on how to live healthy with diabetes and how others can be supportive. The idea is to create a culture of living healthy within society, and at work places.


Q. Plans for the future with particular attention to excessive consumption of unhealthy foods during our several festive seasons?

A. We hope to conduct a competition online on our Facebook account. We will call in for healthy recipes of traditional Sri Lankan sweet meats or any healthy alternatives. Winners will get prizes in keeping with our healthy lifestyle theme such as vouchers from health food restaurants and athletic clothing stores. We also hope to start Diabetes Support Groups for the first time in Sri Lanka. Another plan in the pipeline is to educate schoolchildren on making proud choices. We hope to link up with GP clinics to help support their diabetes patient education programs in the future.


Q. Do you have any advice for our readers on how to enjoy a healthy New Year?

A. Eat mindful rather than mindless to keep your body fit and healthy during this festive season as we have Avurudu, Eid and Easter to look forward to in less than a month.

Take small portions of meals, so that your stomach is not full and you are not over eating. Monitor your portions. Try to avoid second serving. Eat slowly to avoid taking a second serving and enjoy the taste of the food. As per saying out of sight, out of mind, keep the sweets, fried, savoury food items out of sight or at a hidden place where you need extra effort to find them, rather than on shelves where they are easily visible and available. Try to use a limited quantity of oil for cooking. Include good fats in the diet from nuts and seeds. Good fats are essential for vitamin D assimilation.

Avoid visiting friends or relatives on an empty stomach, as you tend to eat more unhealthy food when you’re hungry.

Serve healthy drinks like fresh lime water, green tea, soups and detox drinks. In this way you can convince and motivate your guests also to eat wisely and have the right diet during festivals.

Exercise regularly: Compulsory walking and some light exercises are very important any time of the day to avoid extra fat on your body, besides burning calories, if you have eaten extra.. Even a thirty-minute workout can go a long way.