DAYA’S DIET – listen to your gut and test the tastes

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The Gibraltar Health Authority’s health promotion officer and Hatha Yoga therapist Daya Dewfall supports the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park’s initiative to promote Meatless Mondays, Veggie Wednesdays or Fruity Fridays with local restaurants, schools and homes, as she reckons it will be beneficial to everyone’s wellbeing and will also break the cuisine routine towards constructive experimentation with other cultures’ gastronomy.

Daya’s own upbringing wasn’t carnivore-oriented because meat used to be more expensive than today and hence reserved to festive feasts, while everyday meals were mostly vegetarian or vegan. This taught her to explore different takes on main courses other than chunks of meat and strings of molten cheese, and opened her mind to alternative sources of protein, adjusting to the texture of pulses and beans that nowadays make most Millennials cringe.

Daya Dewfall, Health Promotion Officer

She is a firm supporter of nutritional education virtually since weaning, because early instilling good habits since childhood can be a lifelong success story. She admits that it is a challenge, especially in western society where salty and sugary processed foods are piling up on stores’ shelves at competitive prices, and peer pressure can influence what type of food a child perceives as ‘treat’.

“If your child is a fussy eater, it’s easier to fix their dinner with chips or hot dogs or whatever they enjoy, as long as they don’t go to bed on an empty stomach. But, when educating your children, you can’t assume a defeatist attitude every time they turn your advice down, and you can’t give in every time they throw tantrums at the dinner table. Without forcing, you should encourage them to try new flavours over and over again, as they may refuse it the first time but later warm up to it.”

She recalls making handmade-spread sandwiches for her daughter to take to nursery: “I used to cut the fresh bread in small portions and arranged the morsels in her lunchbox. Soon, I realised she often traded her healthy sandwich for her buddies’ crisps, and I had to allow her snacking on crisps once in a while.”

Whether it is a question of coveting the forbidden fruit or a question of the neighbour’s grass being always greener, it is undeniable that parents cannot permanently shelter their toddlers from the lures of society, foodwise or otherwise, but with regards to food, they can indeed break the vicious circle of anticipating sugary treats or fast food as a reward by reinforcing positive behaviour with treats other than food, and making sure that snack time always includes something fresh and wholesome yet delicious, from milk and biscuits to a handful of mixed nuts and seeds, or fruit salad.

Of course, the government cannot impose an outright prohibition on fatty food or enforce so-called healthy eating, but it can indeed raise awareness about informed choice with the general frame is that everything is good in moderation.

Daya wouldn’t push youngsters to a totally vegan diet unless they freely go for it, but she suggests a more varied and balanced choice of kids’ meals at local eateries: instead of the usual nuggets and chips or spaghetti and meatballs, it would be advisable to list – as several restaurants already do – half portions of ‘adult food’ for children as well, so they acquire the taste for a balanced meal and still associate it with being a treat for the mere fact they are dining out.

“Restaurant portions are too generous anyways,” she says, “but we tend to clear them off because they taste good or we paid for the full plate. Instead, you should listen to your instinct and stop eating the moment you slow down or rest the fork on the plate for a pause: that is when your stomach is telling your brain that no more is needed or wanted.”

As the Health Promotion Officer, Daya holds regular public awareness days on many conditions that can affect our health, and she stresses how important a varied diet, balanced around the five-a-day rule, is to prevent most of them, especially cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Living longer is a blessing only if one can live better, and the foundations for serene senior years are laid down since childhood by learning how to juggle one’s rainbow of veggies around one’s busy lifestyle as well as dot it with yummy treats without developing addiction.

She warns, however, that healthy diet is not automatically synonymous with slimming diet, and if it is true that everyone should adhere to a balanced diet no matter what their body mass is, conversely, one must not turn vegetarian or vegan only in the hope of shedding the stones faster than they can say Za’atar Man’ouche.

Perhaps a sudden withdrawal of animal product from all meals will result in weight loss at first, but when meat is replaced with carbs and pulses, these are very nutritional and their daily intake must be watched. The main benefit of a vegan diet is helping reduce cholesterol deposits in your arteries, as long as you don’t overindulge in breaded, battered and fried delicacies.

“As much as Public Health wants to tackle obesity and encourage sensible weight loss, I’d say that if you are comfortable in your skin, you shouldn’t overly stress about the extra kilos, as long as you can hold up an active lifestyle. It is important to gently exercise daily for at least thirty minutes, even in chunks of 5-10 minutes, and preferably outdoors. Whenever you realise you are short of breath after a brisk walk or a short trip upstairs, it is time you downsized your portions.”

On the other hand, Daya frowns on protein-only or soup-only diets: “They are okay for a short period, if you need to rid your midriff of those unsightly lumps and bumps on time to wear that special frock at that special occasion, but in the long term, they can take its toll on your vitamin and mineral levels.”

The bottom line to your waistline is: ‘follow your gut’ – and eat to satisfy hunger but not gluttony.

words | Elena Scialtiel