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28.11.2005 Health

Can your food prevent and heal diseases?

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A GNA Feature by Yaa Oforiwah Acquah

Accra, Nov 28, GNA - Invitees at a buffet dinner could not understand why a mother could scream like a mad woman to cause public stir to convince her innocent children why they must load their plates with vegetables.

This anxious mother may be mad, but she was mindful of the numerous health benefits good eating habits would bring to her home. Good food can help build the body, protect the body from contracting diseases and also help to heal diseases.

Whoever desires to live long and healthily have no other option but to eat fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, which are the main sources of, and rich in the needed minerals, proteins, vitamins and the other nutritional requirements needed by the body.

It is important for everyone, therefore, to look for the necessary pieces of information on good food, and avoid those that produce too much of the dreaded cholesterol that make the body sick.

Cutting down on fats, carbohydrates, sugars and salts, is the sure means of preventing diabetes, blood pressures and strokes, which are wreaking lives worldwide.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) facts relating to chronic diseases, those diseases are now the major causes of deaths and disability worldwide.

Since 2002 till date, non-communicable conditions including cardiovascular diseases (CVD); diabetes; obesity; cancer and respiratory diseases have been identified as now accounting for 59 per cent of the 57 million deaths annually and 46 per cent of the global disease burden.

The risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and alcohol, which are the cause of the majority of the chronic diseases.

Heart attacks and strokes kill about 12 million people every year while another 3.9 million die from hypertension and other heart conditions according to the world body, which has concluded that more than one billion adults worldwide are overweight, with at least 300 million of them being clinically obese.

The figures, frightening as they are, go on and on but the truth is that a change in dietary habits, physical activity and tobacco control have a major impact in reducing the rates of these chronic diseases often in relative short time.

This is because people worldwide are consuming more foods that are energy-dense - high in sugar and or saturated fats or excessively salty.

It was, therefore, not out of place when the quest of Ghana and other African countries to reduce and prevent diseases on the Continent by encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles, took a Ghanaian and Togolese delegation to Glodjigbe, Benin to observe the nutritional impact of a Regenerative Health Project there.

The delegation led by Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Ghana's Health Minister, visited the International Centre for the Experimentation and Valorisation of African Resources (CIEVRA), which is simply called the Regenerative Health Advance Project Centre in Benin to study its positive nutritional impact, which has enhanced the health and promoted the quality of life of the people in the project community. The 47-member delegation comprising 27 from Ghana and 20 from Togo was made up of experts from the Ministry of Health; Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Ministry of Education and Sports and the Centre for Research into Plant Medicine at Akwapim-Mampong.

The tour was also to offer members first hand information on the project and to find the possibility of replicating it in Ghana and Togo. The Regenerative Health Project funded by a Beninois Sam Doussou, an energy advisor, ensure that people who live in the community adopt healthier lifestyles by eating low-salt and low-fat foods such as grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts and all other foodstuffs, which are mainly home grown.

These include bananas; plantain; papaw; pineapples; oranges; grapefruits and groundnuts, which are grown in large quantities on the compound of the project site. They also refrain from smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages while maintaining a regular exercising regimen.

These measures help to heal people from high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes and check obesity which has been confirmed by the WHO, which says, established scientific evidence shows that there are major health benefits in:

*Eating more fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and whole grains.

*Daily physical activity

*Moving from saturated annual fats to unsaturated vegetable oil-based fats,

*Cutting the amount of fatty, salty and sugary foods in the diet,

*Maintaining a normal body weight (Body Mass Index BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9) and

*Stopping smoking.

Addressing the group, Major Quashigah said Ghana now needed a Ministry of Health that would promote disease prevention in a process that would eventually help to reduce the number of hospital beds needed instead of increasing them.

"This is the time to restructure our health system to promote prevention than treatment," he said, and added that he was totally convinced good health could be attained through the promotion of the best foods that would build the body rather than break it down with diseases.

Quoting Genesis 1:29 to support the Ministry of Health's quest to replicate the project in Ghana, Major Quashigah said: "God really wants us to eat the fruits and seeds", adding "what we eat will give us a better and higher life expectancy".

Describing the visit as a "walk through Africa", the Minister said it should open a window of opportunity to endorse the concept in Ghana for the good health of the people.

Adoption of the project calls for the improvement in Ghana's agricultural practices through the adoption of organic food production to reverse inorganic food production, which introduce diseases into the body.

Mr T. K. D. Amesimeku, Ghana's Ambassador to Benin, who welcomed the delegation, asked the Ghanaian delegation "to spread the good news you have heard and seen which would in future help to reduce the disease burden of our motherland."

Briefing the delegation on the need to promote regenerative health, Prince Immanuel (rpt) Immanuel Ben Yehuda, the Project's spokesman, said it encouraged holistic living since there could be no development of a people who were constantly sick.

Sickness, he said, had become a big business in the Western World where million of dollars were spent on the production of a single medicine.

"We see this as a waste because in 38 years we have adopted a preventive health system through food and exercising and for 38 years, not even one person has contracted any form of disease except for one stroke and one cancer cases each among the over 3,000 people in Dimona." He expressed regret that over 15 million African children had died from malnutrition though Africa could reduce the disease burden by 25 per cent if it kept its environment and water sources clean.

"We must stop following the West now, eat what our ancestors ate by encouraging the people to eat nuts, fresh fruits, grains, vegetables instead of the commercially produced products," he said, adding that the food one ate could be the medicine that could heal and build healthy bodies.

Mr Sar Yadiel, another official of the Project, who spoke on Genetic Modification, said the concept caused chemical reactions that were destructive to both humans and the environment.

The Project, he said, did not only cater for the health needs of the people but also catered for the soil as the best way to produce the best food.

"The challenge, therefore, is for Africa to be very critical of what it is offered be it food or technology to save the Continent from the numerous health hazards plaguing it."

Dr Archie Sittie, Deputy Director of the Centre for Scientific Research into plant Medicine, said it was not too late for Ghanaians to adopt new eating habits to help to reduce the disease burden of the country.

"I believe that you can always make the difference to suit your situation as afar as the eating habits are concerned. "People should also be concerned about the chemicals used in growing food; they should rely on the natural ones so that the soil and the environment would also be taken care of as well, he said. As a way forward to the national quest, the Ministry of Health is holding a three-day forum on health to sensitise the public on the need to promote preventive health care.

The forum is also to create awareness on the multi-sectoral nature of health, initiate a process for the development of a new health policy and demonstrate the impact of health on wealth creation. It is discussing a paradigm shift in health policy development with emphasis on promotional and preventive health.

Participants from several ministries, traditional rulers, religious bodies, development partners and traditional medicine practitioners have already agreed that the forum was necessary because a comprehensive health care system in any nation should embrace a promotional, preventive and curative aspects that was multi-dimensional in nature. This means that the attainment of good health and vitality are dependent on effective collaboration among ministries, departments and agencies whose activities and responsibilities have an impact on the health of the people.

Medications are becoming more and more expensive especially those for hypertension and other non-communicable diseases so why should one not eat the best foods to keep one healthy and fit all year round even in old age.