Marvin E. Reid | Don't let Christmas leftovers leave you sick for New Year
During the holiday season, we tend to dine on copious amounts of food. Inevitably, some is stored for Boxing Day and beyond. From preparation to storage, there are steps we need to take to ensure that a food feast doesn't become a food poisoning.
Each holiday, there are certain potential harmful consequences that arise from the merriments. These include:
1. Greater risk for food allergy responses
2. Weight gain
3. Food poisoning
Many persons will acquire food allergies during their lifetime. Allergies may be new. For example, you may have eaten a particular food a million times before, but on the million-plus-one occasion, you develop allergy symptoms. These may include itching of skin, rash, swelling of tongue, lips, and in severe cases, heart and lung failure, leading to death. In short, food allergies should not be taken lightly.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to know and avoid foods that cause the signs and symptoms of allergy in you. This may be difficult as sometimes the allergic material may be the seasoning that is used to prepare food. Therefore, if you discover that you have food allergies, your best line of defence is that if you have not prepared or supervised the preparation of the food, be public about your allergies to the host/chef/waiter/waitress. The rule of thumb is that if you are unsure about the food, then it's best not to consume.
Additionally, you may choose to walk with some anti-allergy medications and wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that lets others know that you have a food allergy in case you have a reaction and you are unable to communicate.
Weight gain over the holidays is the bane of many persons. It is the subject of many New Year's resolutions. The truth is that weight gain results from increased consumption of energy or calories compared to what we expend on a daily basis. From a practical perspective, the amount and composition of the foods we consume will dictate the amount of energy we consume. The Ministry of Health has published a food-based guideline to assist Jamaicans in making healthier food choices. The food guide is a plate depicting the recommended proportions of six food groups for healthy eating. It seeks to promote variety, adequacy, balance, and control.
The size of each food group segment reflects the volume the group should contribute to the total daily diet. In addition, the food guide promotes the drinking of water and participation in physical activity. Items such as salty and sugary food and highly processed products, the intakes of which should be reduced, are not depicted in the food guide.
For the tech savvy, there are also apps 'Calorie Counter' to 'MyFitnessPal' - that can be used.
Here are some tips to help reduce the likelihood of gaining weight:
1. Try to avoid being hungry before that big gathering.
2. Consume extra portions of vegetables. Avoid using salad dressings.
3. Choose grilled or baked meats where possible.
4. Consume lean portion.
5. Reduce or avoid gravy where possible.
6. Eat slowly.
7. Drink water.
Food poisoning presents as abdominal bloating, pain, cramps with vomiting and diarrhoea after eating a meal contaminated by germs such as the bacteria salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or a virus such as the norovirus. The illness may begin within hours or within a day or two of consuming the affected food. Food may become contaminated at any stage in food storage or preparation, but typically, the following factors may contribute:
• Not cooking food thoroughly (particularly meat)
• Not correctly storing food that needs to be chilled at below 5C
• Leaving cooked food for too long at warm temperatures
• Not sufficiently reheating previously cooked food
• Someone who is ill or who has dirty hands touching the food
• Eating food that has passed its "use by" date
• The spread of bacteria between contaminated foods (cross-contamination) such as occurring when using the same cutting board for raw vegetables and raw meat.
Most cases of food poisoning are self-limiting, that is, they will resolve without any significant complications. The main potential source of problem is becoming dehydrated, especially in the elderly and the young. Thus, you should rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Try to drink plenty of water, even if you can only sip it. Additionally, oral rehydration solutions (ORS), which are available from pharmacies or coconut water are recommended. If symptoms are severe (intense and or prolonged) then, you should visit your doctor.
- Professor Marvin E. Reid is the Acting Director for the Caribbean Institute for Health Research - CAIHR. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org