By Laurene Boateng
Four years have come and gone so fast and the campaign season is here again. This time round, the race to the presidential palace is even hotter, as our incumbent gentle giant and his team are bowing out, to give way to a new set of faces.
As Election Day draws nigh with the passage of each moment, our politicians are also intensifying their efforts to win more votes for their respective parties. Consequently, they have no time at all for the essentials of life such as healthy eating and a good rest amongst others.
My attention was drawn to this fact as I was flipping through channels last week Thursday evening and stumbled upon a programme on one of the television stations where a female host was interviewing a leading member of one of the big political parties. The hostess first commented on his rapidly greying hair and he in response, attributed it to the stress of campaigning. He then went on to give a rundown of his normal eating habits on the campaign trail, and listening to him left my dietitian's mind deeply disturbed.
According to him, breakfast and a late dinner were the only meals that could be counted upon. (He however noted that he did not like to have heavy meals too late so he had a cup of tea or something else instead.) He also mentioned that in between the early breakfast and late dinner, they made do with what was available (or unavailable). The impression I got was that, during the day, they were too busy to even think of meals.
My beef is, habits once learned are hard to break, and furthermore unhealthy eating and lifestyle behaviors have been widely implicated in the current upward surge of chronic lifestyle related diseases. Stress and exhaustion coupled with under-nutrition or unhealthy eating habits make a dangerous combination. Dear Politicians, Ghana needs you alive irrespective of your political inclination, read on and get informed.
Firstly, I would like to commend the aspiring candidate for his commitment to having breakfast at least, before starting out. The benefits of having breakfast are enormous and all and sundry on the campaign wagon should be encouraged to have breakfast before hitting the road. The research evidence suggests that breakfast eaters: get more essential vitamins and minerals that breakfast skippers rarely compensate for in other meals; get more bone-building calcium (from mainly milk products) throughout the day; have more normal/consistent weight; have a reduced risk for developing diabetes and heart diseases; are less likely to overeat or snack during the day and have lower cholesterol levels.
Secondly, I encourage the movers and the shakers who do the itinerary planning for the presidential and parliamentary hopefuls, to include meal planning on their agenda. This will involve planning where, when and what our politicians will be eating on the trail. The ideal situation will be to schedule breaks during the day where all and sundry will stop and sit down to eat a proper meal. However looking at the mad rush for votes, this may not be possible practically. I have outlined a few suggestions below to help make eating, healthier on the trail. Like I mentioned earlier, schedule specific eating times during the day where everyone sits down to a hearty meal. It's easier to adhere to this suggestion when everyone is involved, not just the big men.
Carry healthy snacks like fresh fruit, (tangerines, bananas and apples are fine options because they can be eaten conveniently) roasted or boiled corn-on-the cob, popcorn (watch the salt) etc along with you to combat hunger in between meals and to boost your fiber and micronutrient intake.
If you anticipate delays which could result in missing lunch often, invest in roomy lunch bags and have the catering team pack tuna or vegetable sandwiches (no pastries here please!) with fruit juice ( insist on 100% fruit or freshly squeezed juice, not any over-processed, preservative-laden variant) to munch on in between stops. This will help keep at bay any hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes that can result from going for long periods without food.
Watch what you are drinking. Many soft drinks and beverages contain as many calories as a small meal. We don't want our politicians sporting pot bellies as side effects of their occupation. The caffeine in cola-based soft drinks and energy drinks will mask the effects of fatigue momentarily, but will not necessarily resolve the cause, so limit their intake to the barest minimum and instead remember to take a good rest after a hard day's work.
Good old water is still the best beverage. Drink lots of water, a dehydrated body functions less efficiently. Do not depend on the thirst mechanism before you drink water. Usually by the time you begin to feel thirsty, your body has already shifted into dehydration mode.
Do get a good dose of physical activity; get down from your vehicles during stops (the drivers should take particular note here) and stretch a few muscles or jog on the spot for a couple of minutes to help get your body mechanisms working more efficiently.
Thirdly, concerning the actual content of the meals you choose, follow these healthy eating tips:
Choose lean portions of meats and remove the skin from poultry before eating.
Choose plenty of cut up vegetables with your meals to boost fiber intake. The benefits of fiber are too fabulous to miss, in the name of political campaigning.
Skim off excess oil from gravies, stews and oily soups like groundnut soup and palm soup.
Watch portion sizes of starchy foods like fufu, rice, yam, ampesi, kenkey etc. In excess of your body's requirements, they may contribute to unnecessary weight gain.
Avoid high fat condiments like mayonnaise and salad cream.
Take your time to properly chew your food and savour the flavours to promote better digestion.
Some day soon the campaigning will be over but our politicians and their followers will have their bodies to live with for a long time. So dear Politicians, even if you don't make it to the plush presidential palace currently under construction around the 37 area, this country will need your input as part of a vibrant opposition, helping to put the government in power on its toes. Follow these simple guidelines and hopefully, we will not be seeing you in the dietitian's office with a referral from your doctor, for dietetic intervention, for any chronic, diet and lifestyle related disease. Good Luck in your campaigning and may Ghana our motherland, emerge the ultimate winner come December 7th.
(The writer is a dietetic intern (MPhil Dietetics) of the School of Allied Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, University of Ghana.)