|The Nutritional Expert
by WAJIHA JAWAID
"You are what you eat; a healthy diet is important to lead an active life", says clinical nutritionist Muzamila Mughal, who aims to change people's lives with her profound knowledge of food and nutrition. After completing her Masters in Food and Nutrition from University of Karachi, she worked at different hospitals as a nutritional expert. Currently she has been working as a Clinical Nutritionist at Aga Khan University Hospital. Recently MAG contacted Muzamila to get tips on healthy living. Excerpts:
What inspired you to pursue your career as a nutritionist?
I was always interested in the field of medicine but not in pure clinical practice but at the same time I also wanted to serve the mankind. That is the reason I chose this profession. It really helps me change the people's lives.
How would you describe the nature of your job?
As a nutritionist, I come into contact with different patients everyday, who come directly to me or referred by other doctors. I identify their problems by going through the reports of their lab tests, medical history and dietary patterns. Sometimes patient's physical condition is also helpful for me to diagnose his problem. On the basis of these details, a decision is made whether the patient needs dietary modifications or medical aid. The nutritional requirement of a patient met with road accident is entirely different from a patient who is on dialysis.
Please share with us some commonly found eating disorders?
The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexics usually have a body image of themselves as being ideal persons with an extremely petite frame. They follow starvation on extreme level. They avoid eating and think that they will gain weight even with the consumption of simple food items such as water and fruits. Bulimia is also quite similar to anorexia. People with bulimia eat certain food items such as chocolates and ice creams in an excessive amount and then try to compensate in extreme ways, such as forced vomiting or excessive exercise, to prevent weight gain. Eating disorders are mostly related to psychological factors and such patients usually get admitted in psychological wards. Princess Diana was also a patient of bulimia.
What do you think where are our youth going wrong in terms of nutrition?
Our youth is going wrong in every manner but media is mainly responsible for it. Youngsters consider media celebrities as their role models. To get a body like them they can do anything. I have seen cases where youngsters have taken serious steps to prevent weight gain. A girl drunk detergents to wash up the body fats and eventually she expired because of its excessive consumption.
What is obesity? How does it affect a person?
There is a certain criterion which helps to judge whether the person's weight is appropriate according to its height and age, which is called body mass index (BMI). A person can be underweight, overweight, moderately obese or severely obese according to that scale. The problem of obesity begins when the food consumption of a person exceeds its energy expenditure. Obesity has become a serious problem nowadays since we have been leading a fast pace life. We have started relying on labour saving gadgets and we do not work enough to burn the excess calories. It can leave serious impacts on person's health. In women, obesity increases the chances of infertility. Obesity also leads to different health complications such as heart diseases, hypertension and kidney failure.
When someone is ready to start making nutrition changes for fat loss, how do you counsel them?
My main emphasis is on dietary modifications. In second phase I advise my patients to increase physical activities for an active lifestyle. Finally I tackle deficiency to overcome any health complications.
How should we inculcate healthy food habits in our children?
Unfortunately, our children are also leading a sedentary lifestyle. Modern lifestyle has changed their way of living. Instead of outdoor games, they prefer to watch television and play computer games for hours. To protect a child from serious health complications parents should limit his time he spends in front of television and playing computer games and force him to play outside games. Do not give your child fried or oily food items. Feed him healthy and nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables. According to latest guidelines of British Dietetic Association if a child has a family history of diabetes or hypertension then there is a chance that he may develop the gene for the disease at the age of 2 years. It is therefore recommended to bring dietary changes in the life of child from the age of 2 to 5 years.
Do you think most of the diseases, from which people suffer today, are mainly related to the nutritional aspect?
The poor eating habits are obviously an important factor but I believe environmental factors have also contributed a lot to it. Again, I would blame media for it; they promote unhealthy stuff such as use of soft drinks in a positive manner and choose sportspersons as the role models. It was a tradition in villages to serve lassi to the guests but now even they serve cold drinks as refreshment.
Is there any difference in the nutritional value of organic and non-organic food?
Organic foods are produced by using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They have high nutritive value than non-organic food items. Abroad they give special emphasis in the intake of organic foods.
How important it is to have seasonal fruits and vegetables?
Nature has defined a lot of things for us which we are even not aware of. There are fruits and vegetables grow in different seasons are beneficial for us in many ways. In winter, there are lots of yellow and orange coloured fruits available in market. They are rich in vitamin C and are helpful in healing wounds. In summer, purple colour is very prominent on fruits and vegetables racks.
How can we overcome the habit of emotional eating?
It's true that most people find relief in eating, they eat to overcome depression, boredom, loneliness and anxiety. The best way to overcome emotional eating is to engage oneself in some work. One can also eat healthy stuff such as cucumber, carrot or bran biscuits in case of such hunger pangs.
Please tell us three myths in dieting that really annoy you?
People avoid roti as if it will make them fat. It is totally wrong because body needs a limited amount of carbohydrate to generate energy which is required to perform body functions. Another is that people skip breakfast to stay slim, which is again wrong as they will end up eating more in the later part of the day. Some people avoid drinking water thinking it will turn them into a fat person. It is also wrong because water help remove toxic material out of body.
Can you briefly chalk out a diet plan, which all age-groups can follow for leading a healthy and obese-free life?
For breakfast, have complex carbohydrates such as cereals or brown bread with milk. Have a fruit as a mid morning snack. For lunch, have salad with fruit or yogurt. For dinner, have one roti with curry. If you feel hungry in between meals have fruits or assorted nuts as snacks.
Please share some of your crucial tips for better eating and better living.
Drink lots of water to keep your body well hydrated. Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. Prefer healthy food and avoid packaged items. Consult a nutritionist for an expert opinion.