Original post : 10 Nov 2013

South Asian workshop

As a nutritionist I work with Joanna Moss at Greenlanes Children's centre to support healthy eating and provide guidance for changing diets and lifestyles.  Having run some very successful groups, we decided that we should address the South Asian population to try and make them more aware of health related issues.

Heart disease is the largest killer in the UK, averaging around 65, 000 deaths a year. As a population we are all prone to eating the wrong types of foods and not exercising enough.  Some ethnic groups are far more prone to developing health related complications and as our population has become more diverse it includes people from many different ethnicities whose health may be at risk. 

The South Asian population are up to six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and are one and a half times more likely to suffer from heart disease than white people (Diabetes UK and British heart foundation).  The reason for this increased risk is unclear but research has pointed to a mixture of genetics (family history), lack of exercise and eating habits.    Being overweight also plays a big part in the probability of developing a heart or diabetic condition which can further lead to stroke or renal failure.

The aim of the course was to introduce the concept that less oil and salt could be used when cooking as well as promoting the idea that more fruit and vegetables should be eaten.  Sugar was also a priority to be reduced, as many South Asians have a sweet tooth.  Indian restaurants may not be well known for their desserts, however at home their is a tradition of preparing delicious desserts that are unfortunately full of fats and sugars.

Using lots of oil and salt in cooking is a big factor in South Asian culture.  Initially the group was against the idea of using less.  Tradition is powerful and change is not easy as South Asian women not only have to please their husbands but often their mothers-in-law too.  The greatest worry was that the taste of the food would be altered.  To get over this barrier it was suggested that they gradually reduced the amounts used so their family's taste buds would get used to the changes gradually.

During the course food was cooked using healthier methods.  The group was keen to try this and there were few complaints.  The biggest success was making a carrot halva where the milk used was skimmed rather than full fat and the sugar was cut by three quarters.

To support the course, material from the British Heart Foundation was used.  We ordered handout books in a variety of languages, mainly Urdu, which proved very useful.  Members of the group whose English was not very good found these useful and also took them home for their mother-in-law to read.

The evaluation of the course which lasted for five weeks, took place on the last week with healthy dishes being cooked and shared.  All the ladies felt they had changed their cooking methods to use less oil and salt.  

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