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  • Kinsley Chinkuli

The Importance of Achieving “Health and Wellness”: How Green Banana Flour Plays a Part

We are living in uncertain times with the onslaught of the Corona Virus taking its toll on a global stage. More than ever, people have been conscious and concerned about their health and well-being. Millions of people have died from the infectious disease on all 5 continents, many of them had underlying health conditions. It is a no brainer that as members of society we owe it to ourselves and those around us, to look after ourselves.

One topic that comes up time and time again that embodies the importance of looking after ourselves is the concept of health and wellness. This can be categorized as more than just physical health, it is a holistic and multidimensional concept. It comprises physical, intellectual, emotional, environmental, social and spiritual wellness. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (illness).”[1] Further, WHO defines wellness as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups,” and wellness is expressed as “a positive approach to living”. The ultimate difference between health and wellness is that health is the goal and wellness is the active process of achieving it. You truly cannot have health without achieving wellness. I for one believe that we should work towards obtaining wellness to achieve and sustain good health, without which all else is compromised.

Our diet can play a key factor in how we feel and ultimately plays an important role in achieving wellness. I would like to narrow the focus on one particular niche food that may not be well known to many but is fast becoming a remedy to help alleviate the dangers of consuming too much protein. This is especially true for those suffering from conditions such as diabetes, as I will explain later, as well as digestive problems. Another disease that is more global and widespread, and is associated with the intake of certain foods is Celiac disease. Coeliac is a genetic autoimmune disease where the intake of gluten causes damage to the small intestines. When people with Coeliac disease consume gluten, their bodies initiate an immune response that attacks the small intestines. The attack damages the lining and wall of the small intestines, which leads to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients. Coeliac disease can develop in people of any age and if left untreated, it can lead to more serious health problems. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people worldwide suffer from Coeliac disease-related complications. In the US alone, 2.5 million people are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term severe health complications. This presents an interesting opportunity to introduce gluten free foods that can help those affected to fight the consequences of this disease.

We all can agree that Zambia is a country endowed with a vast amount of natural resources combined with arable land where her soils make farming a no brainer. This, together with a tropical climate that allows for the growth of exotic tropical fruits that have many health benefits. One fruit that is indigenous to the Zambian climate, whose benefits I found surprising is the banana peel.

Allow me to introduce you to Green Banana Flour; this is a food base product that can be used in most pastry/baking-based foods instead of regular flours, like wheat, which contain high levels of gluten. Bananas are a tropical food and grow very well in Zambia, this coupled with the availability of plentiful water makes the country a fine location for the production of green banana flour. Clearly this is a niche product that is gaining recognition, I was quite impressed with the uniqueness of its taste and benefits. More surprising was the relatively small existence of a market servicing locations that consume base foods high in gluten content. North America has one of the highest rates of gluten related diseases in the world. According to Future Market Insights (FMI) North America will remain one of the most profitable markets for gluten free products with a market share of 25.5% in 2031. This for me presents a market opportunity for a Zambian product that can be exported to a niche market in need of green banana flour for base products where a country consumes the most amounts of pasta (Food-Business-news estimates that the US consumes a total of 2.7 million tons of pasta annually)[2]. On the domestic side, the market will require some much-needed breakthrough in awareness. Health and wellness in Zambia is a topic that is slowly coming to the fore as more and more people start to take notice of the importance of keeping healthy and fit. This is a trend I have noticed with the number of people you see running early in the morning in groups and the amount of people attending fitness bootcamps as well. The other aspect of wellness on the other hand, the physical side especially in relation to the medical arena has always been a topic that most Zambians have shied away from. This I mean in terms of becoming aware of the minor complications people suffer that some may think are negligible but will affect them over time. All this of course must be taken seriously as it affects the quality of life of Zambians and ultimately contributes to the life expectancy of the population. What would be ideal is a comprehensive study in Zambia on the diseases affecting not just gluten related health problems but also the many other diet-linked conditions affecting the population. It would be good to have statistics on the number of patients living with diabetes and other conditions. Type 1 diabetes, like Coeliac disease, is also an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin converts sugar into energy and so when insulin is low, blood sugar levels tend to rise. Patients with type 1 diabetes have trouble producing insulin on their own and therefore have to resort to taking insulin injections to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Gluten is often found in foods that contain excess sugar and carbohydrates which can severely increase your blood sugar levels. This means consumers with type 1 diabetes cannot enjoy some these foods. With green banana flour and products that have this ingredient as a base food, diabetics will be able to have certain baked foods that will have no consequences to their health and wellness. Green banana flour can be used in the baking of a variety of foods that can be used as an alternative to gluten based foods. It is evident that green banana flour has the potential to be a great export food product for the Zambian agri business value chain. With markets such as North America and Europe in mind, the product has the potential to be a significant foreign exchange earner for the exporter. It must be noted that this is a niche product, and green banana flour requires a certain level of expertise which is available in Zambia. Susan Burdett at the Ant Hill Kitchen is doing a remarkable job in bringing awareness to the health benefits of green banana flour, her recipes are innovative and her brownies are to die for; be sure to check her out in her interview conducted by Umoyo in their podcast show on YouTube. However, I reckon there will be need for a considerable amount of help from other stakeholders as well, and institutions such as the Ministry of Health will be a valuable partner in bringing awareness to complications such as Coeliac disease. This will bring considerable attention to the need for individuals to pay attention to their health. And with great products like green banana flour, they will be able to ensure that they achieve good health and wellness. [1][2]

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