Healthy eating during Thingyan

13 April 2018
Healthy eating during Thingyan
Dr Hsu Nwe Zaw, Nestlé Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager

The Thingyan holiday provides a good chance for families to cook up some special food. But are people eating the right thing when it comes to a nutritious diet?
Mizzima asked Dr Hsu Nwe Zaw, Nestlé Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager for her views on healthy eating during the festival.
People in Myanmar tend to consume a lot of traditional food and drinks during Thingyan. Which one is your favourite?
Thingyan marks the most important festive season in Myanmar, and it’s definitely the best occasion for people to enjoy a feast full of our traditional dishes.
My favourite traditional Thingyan snacks include the “Mont Lone Yay Paw”, or floating sweet dumpling made from glutinous and ordinary rice, toddy palm juice, and coconut slices; as well as the “Mont Let Saung”, which is also rice-based and uses the same ingredients as “Mont Lone Yay Paw”. Since both dishes are rice-based snacks that contain carbohydrates, they are healthy and can provide us energy.
Many people like to eat vegetarian food during Thingyan. Are this good enough for us to stay healthy?
As many of our traditional dishes for Thingyan are rice and fruits-based, the majority of food consumed during this period is vegetarian. This also means that people will have a higher intake of carbohydrates and sugar and a lower intake of protein, iron, calcium and fat as compared to their everyday diet.
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is very important for us to stay healthy and nutrient-sufficient during the festive period. Therefore, while enjoying Myanmar’s traditional delicacies, everyone should also remember to have a balanced diet during Thingyan. Some options include:
Calcium-rich food such as tofu, soymilk, turnip and bok choy; Iron-rich food including whole grain bread, green leafy vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale), raisins, beans, nuts, apricots and prunes.
It’s also important to note that there are some foods which may prevent the absorption of healthy nutrients such as iron – including tea, coffee and the Burmese favourite, tea leaf salad.
During festive occasions such as Thingyan, most of people in Myanmar travel extensively and our level of physical activity increases, so people tend to get tired or get sick easily. What is your advice for us to avoid that from happening?
While we spend time on the road travelling to other cities, most of us may forget to eat healthy. Given that nutritious food becomes less accessible in some areas of the country, people also tend to get tired or get sick easily.
So if you feel fatigued, fall sick easily due to a low immune system or lack concentration, these are symptoms of a possible deficiency of an essential nutrient that your body needs – Iron.
Iron is needed for our red blood cells to transport oxygen and is an important mineral for brain function and is critical in anyone’s daily performance. Because iron is essential during times of rapid growth and development, pregnant women and young children may need even more iron-rich foods in their diet. Yet, most people in Myanmar are not aware of the importance of iron in their bodies.
Although not all iron deficiencies are caused by dietary reasons, low intake and low bioavailability of dietary iron is indeed one of the major causes of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia (IDA). Eating a well-balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods including green leafy vegetables, raisins and nuts may help you prevent iron deficiency, develop a strong body and better brain functions.
What other advice can you share on maintaining a healthy diet and nutrition intake during Thingyan, or in general?
Nutrition is a very important issue in Myanmar that deserves much more attention than what it has today. In order to build a strong nation together, we not only need a stronger economy and stronger business, but also a stronger population with stronger families – and this starts with a strong body and strong brain.
There are important nutrients needed for us to stay healthy and strong, such as vitamins, water and carbohydrates, which can all be easily obtained through our daily meals. While people in Myanmar have consume a sufficient amount of water and carbohydrates, we tend to overlook the need for minerals and vitamins when planning our daily diet.
Minerals that come from our daily food are important for many of our body functions. For example, iron is needed for our red blood cells to transport oxygen, while calcium and magnesium are important for our bone structure. Minerals are best obtained through a varied diet rather than supplements.
Vitamins help to regulate chemical reactions in the body. There are 13 different types of vitamins, including vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, and K. Because most vitamins cannot be made in the body, we must obtain them through our diet.
While many of us today live a very busy lifestyle, it is good to form a habit of planning our meals in advance to ensure adequate nutrition intake on a daily basis.
How is nutrient deficiency affecting people in Myanmar, and what has Nestlé being doing in addressing this issue in Myanmar?
Myanmar has the third largest group of younger generation population with high micronutrient deficiency in Southeast Asia.
In Myanmar, approximately one out of three children under five years of age is lacking in Vitamin A intake, and one out of five school-aged children has Iodine deficiency. Meanwhile, about 30 per cent of our children are suffering from stunting (falling below in height for age), which is the most prevalent form of under-nutrition.
Moreover, roughly six out of 10 school-going children, seven out of 10 pregnant women and one out of two child-bearing women is suffering from iron deficiency, which means that for a family of five, one of them could possibly be iron deficient.
At Nestlé Bear Brand Myanmar, we have been actively raising awareness around iron deficiency since last year, which is a very prevalent health issue that has been neglected.
To date, our social movement campaign which raises awareness on iron and family health has reached out to the majority of the population in Myanmar through a series of television infomercials, leaflet distribution in public areas, informative articles in newspapers, health journals and Facebook communication.
This is just the beginning of Nestlé’s journey and there is much more to accomplish. We are committed to helping families in Myanmar fight against nutrition deficiencies, and strengthening emerging families in Myanmar for a better life.