Eat local, stay healthy

The concept is simple, the shorter the span between ‘harvest to home’, the healthier the food, finds Nishitha Shrivastava

“I have put on oodles of weight since I moved here!” exclaims an affable, rotund Caucasian at the next table in a chic coffee shop.
Does that sound familiar to some of you?
In the absence of home (or comfort?) food, many expatriates tend to fall prey to the usual evils that are chips, fried foods, sodas, sugary beers, and Western takeout.
As did Canadian expat Neil Blazevic.
“It is really easy to gain weight in Uganda. The healthy local fare may not be to expats’ tastes and the alternatives tend to expand waistlines,” he says. But Blazevic successfully beat the bulge and lost 60 lbs (27 kgs) over the last year.
How, you ask? With the help of a few nutritional books, incorporating the Ugandan cuisine into his diet and sheer grit.
“I have always been on the heavier side. I was about 240 lbs (110 kgs) till two years ago,” states the 32-year-old. His first revelation to understanding diet and weight was the book ‘Why We Get Fat’ by Gary Taubes, subsequently, he read ‘The Four Hour Body’ by Tim Ferriss, which both advocate a high-fat/low-carb diet.
Blazevic realised that the diet suggestions promulgated in these books were already around him – the Ugandan cuisine.
“I adapted the diet in Kampala. I worked out what kind of foods would be easy to stock, what local meals work well in the diet, what restaurants have meals I enjoy which match the diet, and what snacks help keep me on track when I get a craving,” shares Blazevic.
One exception in the ‘Slow Carb Diet’ is the inclusion of beans/lentils.
“This worked for me, because I could have dishes with ebijanjalo (local beans) or Indian dal (lentil soup). I also added small amounts of the Ugandan traditional diet, which is rich in complex carbohydrates, with sweet potato, matooke, and posho as part of my office lunch. Ebinyebwa (groundnut stew) worked as part of my fat intake. I included leafy greens such as sukuma wiki (kale), spinach, dodo, and ebbugga (red spinach). Today, mukene (silver fish), nsenene (fried grasshoppers) and katunkuma (bitter little eggplant berries) are part of my diet. I often head to the local muchomo joint, get a 1/2 roast chicken, some sukuma wiki and kachumbari (a tomato, onion and chilli salad),” states Blazevic.
“One of the challenges of living abroad is often the adjustment to a new diet,” states certified nutritionist and health coach Anna Paola Crespi, of Apsara Health & Flow.

According to her, “We long for familiar tastes while often overlooking the fact that the local market has a lot more to offer. The risk is to spend a lot of money in products that “look like the comfort food from home”, but that are processed with low quality ingredients, stored for a long time in warehouses, often without serious control, and that potentially are unsuitable for digestion in a warm tropical climate. To truly enjoy the adventure, we need to eat as much as possible like the locals, eating locally is in fact healthier, more convenient, safer and culturally more stimulating than eating imported food.”

Malaysian-born, Ugandan by marriage, Kavitha Sserunkuma was trained to be a barrister/chartered secretary. But her love for ‘everything food’ led her to her professional gastronomic journey.
Currently, a self-employed chef, proprietor of Kampala Food Network Catering and Healthy Bites Kampala, she says, “Personally, I was always been a chubby child. Malaysia being a food haven didn’t help. Though not slim by any chance, today, I weigh 15 kg (33 lbs) less than in my early adult years. All thanks to adapting the local food into my Asian-influenced diet, healthier cooking methods and portion control,” says Sserunkuma.
According to the chef, eating local food has several advantages: it is easily sourced and helps us to eat well on a budget, eat seasonally and to eat food which is full of flavour and more packed with nutrients, as imported fruits lose nutrients rapidly in transit. Moreover, it supports the local economy, especially at the grassroots via farmers, and provides a safer food supply chain as if you know your farmers, you can know how well the food was grown.
Steamed food is very popular in Uganda, especially luwombo, she says, “And I find this a very good local food choice, teamed with brown rice.”