Sunday, 7 January 2018

Don’t lose weight and eat more fat?

We’ve all heard the dietary advice to reduce fat, sugar and salt and increase fibre. We’re all aware that obesity is on the increase and we are told this is a bad thing. I’ve just been reading a couple of interesting nutrition articles (yes, once in a while I hark back to my nutritionist days and read some research) that challenge some of my prior knowledge and even the advice that I have given people in the past. Much of what I read was familiar, but some new angles on it came to light.

So, we think we need to reduce fat. But what does that actually mean? The research actually shows that it is not so much about reducing fat in our diet as it is about increasing a particular kind of fat – polyunsaturated fatty acids (also known as PUFAs) and within that especially what is known as ‘n-3’ and ‘n-6’ fatty acids. It seems that if we really want to reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, we should concentrate on increasing PUFAs in our diet rather than focusing on cutting back saturated and monounsaturated fats.

So, where can PUFAs be found? Good sources include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds  (for all three of these some are better sources of n-6 and n-3 than others), avocados and oily fish (like salmon, herring or tuna). Typically if you are trying to lose weight, you might avoid these foods due to their fat content, but it is probably more to your advantage to increase these foods in your diet than it is to lose weight! Much to my chagrin I have been reading that being overweight can even increase life-expectancy, rather than decrease it (though this doesn’t mean that if you are happily slim I am about to advocate a weight-gain program) – what is more important is behavioural patterns and the kinds of foods we eat, rather than our actual size.

Also, if you reduce fats but just end up increasing refined carbohydrates to replace them you could possibly be making things worse. Instead, when eating carbohydrates, make sure that you are having them in the form of whole grains, vegetables and fruits. If you are familiar with the Glycaemic Index, you want to focus on low GI rather than high GI carbs. These foods can all have a positive impact on your health.

Coming back to the issue of size. While ‘normal’ weight people have lower levels of disease, there currently isn’t any real proof that if an overweight person loses weight, they reduce their disease risk. What seems to be more important is adjusting behaviour rather than size. In fact, many people who try to lose weight often end up putting it back on again, and then trying to lose it again, and it becomes something of a cycle. It seems that this constant up and down is more harmful than staying a consistent weight, harmful for both your body and emotional state!

In summary, if you want to improve your health and reduce disease risk, focus on what you can increase rather than on what you can decrease. Focus less on losing weight and more on listening to your body and mind, taking note of how food affects your mood, concentration, energy levels, fullness, hunger, ease of bowel movement and appetite. Enjoy your food! Focus less on reducing fat and calories and more on eating yummy foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. And finally, don’t forget to stay active – another vital ingredient for healthy living.

Let’s be amazed over our incredible bodies. Every cell is a miracle – beautifully designed! I like to remember that we are all wonderfully created, formed and fashioned by a God who loves us without partiality. So, here’s to more yummy food!!

P.S. The above comments are based on the two articles listed below. These articles look at a vast range of studies and compare and contrast them to see what common threads emerge. If you look on the internet you will find a load of people saying opposing things, and it’s true that advice changes as new research emerges and what I have written may need adapting in ten years’ time, but let’s be careful who we believe!

Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2011) Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 10:9

Liu, A. et al. (2017) A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition Journal 16:53

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

An African at heart?

A couple of weeks ago the church I attend in Mbeya, Majengo Baptist, celebrated the induction of a new pastor. After coming back from a trip, I discovered I had been appointed a member of the organising committee! I cynically assumed I was appointed because I am wealthy (in the eyes of people here), and all committee members had to contribute money to the costs of the event. But to be fair, I have never been asked to be on a committee before and I have attended the church for a good number of years, so although this may have been a contributing factor, I’m sure it wasn’t the only reason; they probably just thought it was about time I took my turn!

When I first found out I was on the committee and they explained about needing to make a contribution, I asked to see the budget so that I could understand how the costs were being worked out. Most of the budget was for food. They were anticipating catering for around 300 people! The event would be held in the new church building (on the same plot of land as the current church), which at the moment is little more than a roofless shell but is significantly bigger than our current building, so money was also needed to hire plastic chairs (to supplement all the wooden pews that were moved there from the current church) and to decorate the stage area. People were also asked to bring any tarpaulin they had to create some kind of covering against either sun or rain (thankfully it didn’t rain). The budget seemed reasonable, except for the oil. They had included 20 litres of cooking oil! I confess I couldn’t hold back the nutritionist in me and suggested they reduce it. Lo and behold, at the next committee meeting (the only one I actually succeeded in attending), they announced what I had said, agreed to reduce it and joked that I should teach them how to cook using less oil! I was somewhat embarrassed but it was all in good fun, and I think they did reduce it a tiny bit as I think they ‘only’ bought 15 litres in the end. The rest of the meeting seemed to be about who hadn’t paid their contributions yet, whether we should serve chicken to the important guests and what colour clothes we should wear to show we were the committee members. Like committee meetings the world over, it seemed to take very long time to achieve very little!

The day (a Saturday) came and I turned up around 9am to help with the food prep. I came armed with a chopping board, knife and potato peeler as I had a hunch they might come in handy, as well as a kanga (local cloth) to wrap around me for an apron. Other than the fact I was told I shouldn’t use a kanga that is mostly white when working in the kitchen, I seemed to fit in. I set to peeling and chopping carrots. A small group of children soon gathered round me – they all know me as I have taught most of them in Sunday school. They were fascinated by the peeler and were soon taking it in turns to peel the carrots while I was busy chopping. They were also fascinated by how fast I chopped – that’s the benefit of using a board (which I have never seen a Tanzanian using). We sat outside on some steps as we worked away. The other helpers seemed to get a kick out of seeing me there, and enjoyed how I was learning to do things their way.

After the carrots it was peppers. We had some good maths lessons as we went, as they counted out how many slices of peppers I was cutting, and then we did some subtraction and a bit of English. Next was a big basket of tomatoes (at which point I had to move to a shady spot, as I was in the direct sun and it was strong). Finally I helped grate some ginger (by which point I had a nice fat blister on my finger). After that there didn’t seem to be much else I could do, so I wandered over to where the induction service was in full swing and listened in to a visiting pastor preach for a bit. It was great to hear him switch briefly into the Nyakyusa language and promote the Nyakyusa Bible! (This is one of the languages that we are working with – we hope the New Testament will be published in 2018).

Finally the service was over after much singing and dancing around the newly inducted pastor and the giving of gifts (of which there seemed to be a lot, including things like new suits for him to wear). I was assigned to help serve the important people (the pastors), who ate in the pastor’s office and the Sunday school room, but I soon realised I wasn’t really needed there, so I went to help serve the long queue of people outside. There was rice, cooked bananas, beans, beef and a hot chili sauce and the inevitable sodas. I had already eaten (I was urged to do so before we started serving, as others involved in cooking were also doing, otherwise we’d be eating very late after everything was over). The queue went on and on, I’m sure some people there had essentially come for a free meal rather than because they cared about the induction service. The children were all made to wait until last which, on reflection, is the exact opposite of what seems to happen at celebrations in England!

And then the dish washing began. Piles of plates to wash in buckets (on the floor, being filled from an outside tap), with an old bit of sacking as the dishcloth. The plates were very greasy and the water was cold, so even after washing with lots of soap and rinsing, they still felt greasy! I helped with this for a while, but it seems that dish-washing is what the younger girls (teenagers) are supposed to do, so I was able to hand it over, which is a good job as my back couldn’t take much more bending in awkward positions! After making sure all the plates had been gathered, it seemed like there was little more I could do, so I said goodbyes and started to head off, but before I had got very far one of the ladies asked if she could borrow my knife and board to cut up a chicken. It turned out there was a whole cooked chicken left, and some rice, and so now it was the committee members’ turn to get a treat (i.e. chicken meat) and have a soda.

It had been a long day and this is a long blog! And I haven’t even mentioned the smokey wood fires, the massive cooking pots, eating rice with hands (the rice being so greasy that it sticks together), the need to add purifying tables to the pre-meal hand-washing water due to the current outbreak of cholera in the region and my sunburn!

The next day the new pastor thanked me for helping, and told me people had asked him if I had been born in Africa! Someone else commented that though I am an ‘mzungu’ on the outside (i.e. I have white skin) I am an African at heart! While unfortunately this isn’t really true (I am all too aware of how often I don’t know how to behave in this culture and how different my thinking can be), I took it as huge complement, and I thank God that in so many ways I do feel that this is my home and that I am an accepted part of the church family.

As I reflected on the whole event, I was struck by how on one level it is just like an induction service in England – with visiting pastors, lots of guests, a church service, food and a busy team of people in the background making it all run smoothly. But on another level it was so totally different, from cooking outside over wooden fires to dancing with gifts up to the pastor to brightly coloured cloth bedecking the stage to the absolute necessity of sodas being provided (maybe that’s not so different from the absolute necessity of a British church providing cups of tea)!

It was certainly an experience I won’t forget, and I pray that I may continue to serve as part of the body of Christ in Majengo Baptist Church, as God leads me, despite the deep cultural differences that sometimes threaten to overwhelm me and make ‘church’ something I sometimes find very hard to attend. Please pray with me that this church might grow in maturity, that the new pastor would grow in wisdom, that God’s Word would be taught faithfully and that as a body we might be “growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).

Friday, 2 June 2017

A wonderful opportunity or a waste of time?

“The pastor will meet us in Mbalizi at 8.30am.” I picked up my two Tanzanian colleagues en route and arrived in Mbalizi at precisely 8.30am. The pastor was, indeed, already there, but he hadn’t expected us to be on time! He still had some shopping to do and the shop he needed to go to was still shut. While we waited, he invited us all to a little cafĂ© to get breakfast. I declined to eat what the others chose – chicken, stock (with flat globules floating attractively on top) and chapattis (greasy but yummy). I couldn’t quite stomach that for breakfast and was glad I’d already had my porridge!

We had been invited to teach at a seminar in a village church in the Malila language area. The pastor was a former student of mine, someone I had taught at Southern Bible College (Tanzania Assemblies of God), and who was keen for me to visit his church and teach. He had got in touch with me through one of his fellow students, Oscar, who now works with us as a Bible translator. So Oscar came along too, together with Heri, a Malila colleague who would be able to teach people how to read their language.

We finally left Mbalizi at the time I thought the seminar was supposed to start! The village proved to be further from the main road than we had anticipated (a good 40 minute drive), and the road was quite rough and included a somewhat rickety bridge! However, we travelled safely, even if my car did get covered in dust (inside and out).

We had been told that we would have a morning and evening session on Saturday, an opportunity to preach in the Sunday morning service and another session on Sunday evening. We prepared to teach a number of topics: The importance of reading the Bible so that we can grow spiritually; how to read the Bible carefully and meditate on it; Bible overview; the need to love and value our children and teach them God’s Word; how to read the Malila language. We did indeed have all three sessions, however, over half of each session turned out to be choirs singing, so I had a lot less time than anticipated to teach! The choirs sang and danced with gusto and the sound system was loud – I found stuffing toilet paper in my ears helped make the volume bearable. My favourite songs were the ones sung without the sound system, where I was actually able to understand the words rather than them being drowned out by the music. By the end of two days I felt like I had spent a disproportionate amount of time sitting around compared to teaching. Each day we spent a good hour getting there and another hour getting home (after an unnerving drive in the dark). Each day I was in the village for about eight hours, but was only teaching for a couple of those. It felt like a very inefficient use of my time. But was it?

There were up to a hundred people there, from more than one church, who seemed to engage well. We were warmly welcomed by all, food was provided for everyone and all our expenses were covered. They even gave us a gift towards the project as well as a large sack of peanuts and another of maize. The pastor said more than once that he wants me to go back and teach for a whole week next year, though I find it hard to know whether the enthusiasm is to do with my white skin (which is very rarely seen there and so sadly people often see us as something of an attraction and even as superior) or a genuine desire for the things I teach, so I might be declining that invitation! However, usually we are the ones arranging workshops, encouraging churches to get on board, struggling to get people to contribute to the costs and therefore covering most of the costs ourselves. While this has the advantage of us being able to do things as we want (from setting the schedule to inviting participants from multiple denominations) and being necessary in new situations where we’re not known, it was refreshing this time to be invited and provided for.

So was it a waste of time? I don’t think so. But I do have to frequently remind myself that God’s economy is different to humans’, and trust that He can and will multiply the work of our hands.