On Thursday, 18 June, health professionals came together to mark the launch of a new website that promotes healthier eating. Emphasising the value of preserving traditional dishes, the Ismaili Nutrition Centre will help families incorporate health and nutrition into the preparation of their daily meals.
As one of the only means of finding out about the dietary content of a number of African, South Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, the Nutrition Centre presents an innovation in the sphere of nutrition. The data that it presents to the general public had only previously been accessible to those in health-related fields.
Nearly 100 health professionals attended the launch event for the online Nutrition Centre at the Ismaili Centre in London. Geoff Dessent, Deputy Director of Health and Well-being in Health Improvement and Protection, from the United Kingdom Department of Health, spoke highly of the initiative.
“I commend you for this website,” said Dessent during his keynote address. “It is often very difficult to bring the information together and disseminate it to very different audiences,” he noted. “You have got a professional audience and a consumer audience and it seems to me you have served both these audiences very very well.”
Dessent, who heads up teams on Children and Young People, Health and Work and Nutrition and Physical Activity, told the audience some of the key tasks he deals with across the UK include making healthy food affordable, setting standards for healthy eating in schools and providing the infrastructure to make healthy choices easier.
He referred to the Ismaili Nutrition Centre as being well-placed as part of a wider health context, commenting that “the timing of this healthy initiative could not be better. It is absolutely in tune with everything we are doing.”
The launch event was opened by Dr Qahir Manji, Chairman of the Aga Khan Health Board for the UK, who explained that the data was based on a study on the composition of South Asian foods that was conducted in the late 1990s. It broke new ground by providing, for the first time, a culturally appropriate resource for health professionals and dietitians.
“The challenge was how to convert that data into diet,” said Azmina Govindji, a Registered Dietitian and television nutritionist who contributed to the creation of the website. “We had to convert the facts and figures into user friendly advice.”
In a bold move, the website opted to include recipes that are not healthy to eat on a regular basis – an unusual feature for a site about nutrition. However, Govindji, who is also a media spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association and a member of the British Heart Foundation Ethnic Strategy Committee, explained that this decision fits with a broader objective of the website.
“It is important for people to have an awareness of where they are now – it is one of the first steps to behavioural change,” she told the audience. “This knowledge is part of giving families the tools to find healthy options within their own cultural traditions.”
The Nutrition Centre has been supported by major health organisations, including the British Dietetic Association and the British Heart Foundation. It is hoped that the website will reach the grassroots of communities in the UK and around the world.
Dietitians who attended the launch event were eager to share the new website with their patients and colleagues. Loretta Cox, who works with 60 dietitians at Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I will pass it on to every dietitian I work with, and they will go and pass it on to their friends. I can probably speak for all dietitians when I say that we will find it a very useful tool.”
Farhat Hamid, who is part of the Department of Health's Change4Life Campaign, believes that the Ismaili Nutrition Centre will enable families to set their food agenda in a more informed and independent way. Hamid, who also works for the NHS as part of the Equality Delivery Team, described the site as the “missing link” in the Asian community.
During the question and answer session that followed the formal presentations, one member of the audience raised a dilemma: “Man cannot live on nutrition alone. What about taste?”
Govindji acknowledged that making the dishes healthier changes their flavour, but noted that the Nutrition Centre team is rising to the challenge of creating nutritious recipes that are tasty.
Afterwards, Fatima Mohamed, practice nurse in Bayswater and Brentford, agreed, adding that “nutritious food becomes something you enjoy after you start eating it. You realise that your palate and your taste has changed and your body feels so much better with healthy food.”
“The Ismaili Nutrition Centre will allow more people to experience these changes,” she said. “It is a beacon, a real beacon.”