The secret to good nutrition

“Remove sugar from the breakfast table, out of sight, out of mind!” by Kawthar Hashem
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What a pleasure it was to catch Kawther Hashem to get her diet tips! A nutritionist from King’s College London, Kawther took her first position as a Development Nutritionist at Unilever before going on to work for Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, on the successful Children’s Food Campaign. Kawther then left Sustain, due to lack of funding, to work for Consumers International as nutrition and food safety programme assistant before joining Consensus Action on Salt and Health and World Action on Salt and Health in 2012. Wow that’s a busy few years with some excellent experience!

Even more impressive Kawthar then went on to complete a Masters in Food Policy at City University London and is now responsible for coordinating the Action on Sugar project.

Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods. Action on Sugar is supported by 23 expert advisors.

We had the chance to ask her a few questions about her and here’s a glimpse of that interview;

Us: What do you love most about your career?

Kawthar: I like the fact that my job involves working with the Government and the food and drink industry to improve the food options available in supermarkets. I feel by putting pressure on governments and the food industry and working behind the scenes we have been able to improve the food on the UK supermarket shelves by reducing the amount of salt and now we are doing this for sugar in the UK and worldwide.

Us: A balance diet is vital, especially during the month of Ramadan. What would be your advice on adopting a balanced food diet during the month and beyond?

  Kawthar:    My top tips:

  •  Avoid caffeine-based drinks such as tea, coffee and cola. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.
  •  Try to have complex carbohydrates for iftar and suhur – Complex carbohydrates are foods that help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. They are found in foods such as barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour and basmati rice. Fiber-rich foods are also digested slowly and include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin on, vegetables such as green beans, and almost all fruit, including apricots, prunes and figs.
  • Foods to avoid are the fast-burning, heavily processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour), as well as fatty food (such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets).
  •  For suhur try to have slow releasing fiber breakfast such as a bowl of shredded wheat or muesli and a pear or orange OR a bowl of porridge with milk with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Try to avoid adding salt to your food and eating salty food, this can make feel thirsty.

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My top tips for reducing the amount of sugar you eat: 

  • Remove sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses from the breakfast table- out of sight, out of mind!
  • Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
  • Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
  • Instead of having sweetened yogurt, have plain yogurt and add fresh fruit or dried fruit
  • When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Buy sugar-free or low-calorie drinks.
  • Compare the sugar content of different foods and choose the lower sugar and calorie option.
  • Sauces and condiments such as ketchup, HP sauce, pickles and mayonnaise can be as much as 30 per cent sugar, while sweet chili sauce can be up to a whopping 70 per cent sugar. Try to cut down by using low-sugar or sugar-free alternatives such as a tomato-based pasta sauce instead of ketchup, pesto, harissa or plain mustard instead of pickles, or hommous instead of mayonnaise.
  • Salad dressing can be another source of hidden sugar. Try the classic combination of a good virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar (this often contains sugar too, so check the label), or olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Sprinkle on some dried or fresh herbs for added flavor.

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A big thanks to Kawthar for these wonderful tips! We can feel an excellent follow-up on her as a feature as a Woman in Focus. Such a wonderful alternative choice of career and one that can truly benefit our community. Congratulations Kawthar on your wonderful achievements and we look forward to interviewing you again soon!

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