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Eat out, but do it right
November 21, 2019 | 12:33 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan
 
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While fast food restaurants have dotted Oman’s landscape for decades, a new wave of restaurants that serve healthy food have now entered the Sultanate as well. These restaurants, while they do pay heed to taste, also know the importance of serving quality food, with the aim of making a trip to the restaurant not a guilty, damaging experience, but one that is largely guilt-free and satisfying.

“What are your plans for the weekend?” Come Tuesday or Wednesday, everyone starts making plans for the weekend. Once Thursday evening has rolled around and the sun has set on the last work day of the seven, comes that time of the week that we all have been eagerly and impatiently looking forward to. It’s a time to catch up with friends, blow off steam, putting behind you the cares of the office.

A big part of your weekend plans – wherever you are in the world – is going out for a meal.

As the menu is put in front of you and you run your eyes down the list of many dishes they have, tendrils of doubt begin to snake around your steely resolve. Yes, you’ve been looking forward to dinner, but you surely weren’t looking forward to the calories that came with it, were you?



Around the world, a growing number of people are becoming increasingly conscious about what they are putting in their mouths. After decades of witnessing the harmful impact of fast food on their health, they are finally turning away from it in pursuit of healthier foods. While many adults in their 30s and 40s are increasingly adopting healthier lifestyles – and many others have been doing so for many years – this message is also seeping down into the younger generation, who are keen to take ownership of their own diets, and not let a craving or addiction to fast food govern their food choices.

Nutritive and safe food



Hayley Loomes is the founder of Nourish Kitchen, a meal prep service that offers healthy, fresh cooked food that prioritise nutritive and safe food that contains little to no trans fats and sugars, and plenty of the right nutrients. Their menus vary to keep their customers satisfied while attempting to ensure the food they serve remains healthy.

“Our kitchen is based in Al Ghubra North where clients can come to order and collect meals, since we don’t have a dine in service yet,” she told T Weekly. “We have created varied and nutritious menus made from whole, fresh foods. We deliver healthy and balanced meals to homes and offices, all of which are portion controlled with zero additives or refined sugar and plenty of good fats and superfoods. Our programmes are nutritionally balanced to promote optimal health and vary week by week to keep customers satisfied.

“Nourish Kitchen also has a small range of healthy meals and snacks available to buy from the shelves of Al Meera stores (Azaiba and Mawaleh branches) and we also attend events, selling meals and promoting our packages at races, wellness and activity days,” added Hayley.

Hayley decided to set up Nourish Kitchen after arriving in the Middle East and realising that it did not have many options for healthy food. She therefore worked on making healthy foods at home, and felt that this was something other people would benefit from as well. While she did start by creating recipes and menus for adults, of late, she has decided to diversify and provide child-friendly menus as well, so that they can learn the importance of eating healthy from an early age.

“Having lived an active lifestyle for many years, I found myself at a loss after a year of living in the Middle East. I was eating all the wrong things and barely moving my body,” she admitted.

“I had gained weight and felt sluggish and unhappy within myself. In the summer of 2015 I decided to do something about it. The big change happened after a few months when I joined a CrossFit class. I didn’t want my efforts at the box to go to waste, so I studied nutrition online and made changes in my lifestyle.

“Those around me noticed the results achieved in my own health and fitness journey and they asked for advice and encouraged me to start educating them too,” added Hayley.

“I provided healthy dinners for friends, shared my own recipes and gave them tips on how to make healthy food that was delicious. An idea was born and I decided to take the leap of faith, leaving my teaching career to start Nourish Kitchen.

“We bring a convenient and tasty option to the shelves, where there is a big gap in the market,” she went on to say.

“We are in discussions with other retailers to provide in further stores and are now making enquiries and planning to develop a larger range, to include microwaveable meals and a possible frozen ready meal range. Our most recent line of business is an exciting opportunity to develop a range of meals for young children, focusing on balanced lunches and snacks which we are currently supplying to a small group of nurseries.”



Eating the right food the right way

While Hayley Loomes has set up Nourish Kitchen to help provide a healthy alternative to those who want to eat out from time to time, she is not the only one to recognise the increasing number of people looking for quality food while eating out. Maz Mistry is the business development manager of Healthy Kitchen Oman, a venture that was set up by champion Omani bodybuilder Mohammed Al Zadjali, and today has nearly 800 customers ordering healthy meals from them.

“Our owners were into the healthy food scene. One of our owners is Mohammed Al Zadjali, who is himself a bodybuilder and a fitness lover, while the other is Abdullah Al Hinai,” he explained.

“In Oman we are among the largest brands to do with healthy eating, and we are proud to be 100 per cent Omani. There are other brands that are there as well, but some of them are franchises from overseas. We have been in the market for nearly three years.

“A lot of people we meet often have a misconception that eating healthy is only done when you want to lose weight. You don’t have to eat healthy just to get thin. It is a key to a healthy lifestyle,” added Maz Mistry.

“Some people ask us questions such as ‘for how long should I eat this food’ or ‘if I eat this food, will I lose weight?’ That is a bit of a misconception because healthy eating is key to a healthy life. We look into making people adopt a healthy lifestyle. There are three components to this: eating healthy, regular exercise, and a good amount of rest.”

While Mohammed knew the importance of eating right on his quest to build the sort of body required for competitive bodybuilding championships, he wanted to give back to Oman and show people that while it was necessary to eat right, it wasn’t as hard as people made it out to be. He therefore shared with people what he knew he did best: eating the right foods the right way.

“We don’t have some sort of magic formula...it’s not like you will eat our food and suddenly become thin,” added Maz of Healthy Kitchen. “You eat healthy food and you will get closer to developing a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people are now understanding this. Our customers look into how many carbohydrates, how much protein, how many vitamins and how much fat they need, so they are becoming more and more aware. We also have an on-site nutritionist and a special consultation room, where we can actually check your body mass index and the like.

Healthy food is not always bland

“There is now an increase in the demand for healthy food among people, as well as the variety of healthy food available,” he explained .

“We have more than 140 items on our menu. People have this misconception that if you eat healthy food, you are just eating boring, boiled food with salt and pepper. There are several varieties of food that we sell. All of our sauces and breads are also homemade. “About 90 per cent of the items on our menu have been verified by our nutritionist and she has shared the calorie count, as well as the amount of macros available, that is the amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals present in each dish.

Both Hayley and Maz agree that junk food has indeed invaded many areas of our lives, leading to a raft of completely avoidable health issues, including diabetes, obesity, heart trouble and many other problems.

Once these troubles develop, those who suffer from them are destined to face a life of pain and suffering, until they take quick action to reverse the trend. There are, of course, a number of factors that do influence a person’s desire to eat fast food, and while a lack of awareness is one reason, that they are convenient and more importantly, cheap, is another cause for many making a quick trip to the supermarket and stocking up on fizzy drinks, crisps and snacks.

Restaurants too are keen to display their offers of more unhealthy food at lesser prices, often on large billboards and important street intersections, not to mention online and on glossy pamphlets that are often seen in public, from where they scream out their offers in an attempt to rope in naïve customers, in the hope that peer pressure will lead to them bringing their friends into the restaurants with them.

Hayley Loomes said, “Unfortunately, people have become accustomed to cheap, highly processed junk food being highly available which may cost less than going to the grocery store and making your own meals at home. Many trendy health foods and some organic items do cost more but when you look past these items and focus on real food and natural ingredients, that’s when you see that nutritious food does not have to cost the earth.

“The cost of groceries as single person or small family can add up, but providing customers with portioned meals that are fully prepared means you are paying for what you use with no waste and no hassle,” she added.

Buy fresh and local

“The new generation is becoming more and more aware that these are not viable options if they wish to sustain a healthy lifestyle. There are many young working people who do not have the time or energy to commit to shopping, preparing and cooking their own food yet still want to achieve or maintain health and wellness. I attempted to identify gaps in the local market, and planned a solution that is healthy, convenient and exciting.”

Maz Mistry added, “A lot of people do not simply have the time to make food, so they prefer a convenient option. Many of them – especially at lunch – just prefer walking into a supermarket and buying something unhealthy off the shelves, which is harmful to them, particularly if there are so many healthy options available. One of the reasons people eat unhealthily is because of pressure to fit in and try new restaurants with their friends.”

Of course, there are many who know the dangers of eating unhealthy food, but might not know of the right balance in which to eat good food. While there are hundreds of clean eating recipes available online, Hayley is only too happy to share her principles behind eating safe food, in the fervent hopes that others will benefit from her advice.

“I believe in educating people to eat food that they enjoy, food that tastes amazing and is also happens to be nutritionally dense,” she explained. “Our plans are not restrictive and we do not believe in cutting whole food groups, everything should be enjoyed in moderation. Our programmes are nutritionally balanced to promote optimal health and we buy the freshest fish, meat, eggs, green and root vegetables, whole grains and seeds we can find.

“We buy local produce whenever possible and use fresh herbs and spices, rock and sea salt in our dishes,” she went on to say.

“We also choose ingredients for their functional role, as well as for their taste, look and feel. For example, we think the pomegranate seeds we use to garnish salad are really pretty, but they’re also full of antioxidants and the crushed almonds on top of your Moroccan inspired dinner not only add crunch but up the vitamin, mineral and fibre content.”

“We have plans to open in every governorate in Oman, and then hopefully look at franchise options outside,” said Maz Mistry. “Our ingredients are locally sourced. We prefer using a lot of Omani products over those that come from other countries, because imported products do tend to lose their freshness, which will not be the case with Omani products.”

While these restaurants do definitely encourage people to eat healthy, the root of getting fit involves understanding how junk food affects the mind.



Say no to junk food

The chemicals and high amounts of sugar and salt present in processed foods often affect the pleasure centres of the brain, causing the mind to associate the consumption of junk food with instant happiness. However, such short-term gain does lead to long-term pain. The body gets used to the dopamine – the happiness hormone produced by the brain when things are going well – and expects to receive a daily fix of dopamine, which is provided through junk food. A sudden stop to the consumption of junk food will lead to withdrawal symptoms that manifest themselves in the form of mood swings, frustration and boredom, among others.

“Junk food has a lot of salt and sugar, compared to the fresh fruit and vegetables that we eat at home,” said Anuya Phule, a psychotherapist at Hatat Polyclinic. “When we are exposed to these foods at a very young age, the taste buds send a signal to the brain, and we get a high that is caused due to euphoria created by the chemical changes in the brain, due to the ingredients in this food, not the food itself. This happy feeling is one of temporary euphoria.

“They get used to this feeling of happiness, so when parents use junk food such as chocolate, pizza and fries to compensate for any emotional distress they may be feeling, they are only reinforcing this addiction to junk food.

“There is a vicious cycle to this, because when you stop eating junk food, the euphoria goes away, so you eat more. When the euphoria goes away, you also feel sad, so you resort to comfort eating, and this resumes the cycle and makes it worse,” she added. “The way you stop this is by not introducing so much junk food to children when they are young, and bring in them discipline,” explained Phule. “Don’t be too strict with them, but do tell them the harmful effects of junk food. Limit their junk food to once a week. ”

Nutritionists and doctors in Oman also added that the fondness for and frequency with which people consumed alarming amounts of junk food was also responsible for them developing lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and heart problems at younger and younger ages. The media knows how to target children these days,” said a nutritionist.

“Parents are fully aware of what is there in junk food. Children today -Previously, parents were aware of how much was needed, they came through life that way, by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. But today’s children only want to eat tasty snacks. Involve your children in some calorie-burning activity because children can burn calories very easily.”

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