Nazima Qureshi: Nutrition through Inspiration.
“O humankind, eat from whatever is on earth that is allowed and is pure and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is your open enemy.” (The Holy Qur’an 2:168)
This ayah from the holy Quran clearly states the importance of eating good and proper food. The emphasis is of course on the “Halal” part; which refers to the food being allowed. But equally important is the word “Tayyab” which can be translated in English as pure, good, healthy, and delicious. We know well what is halal or not, but what about the pure and healthy part. Here is where Nazima Qureshi comes in.
Nazima is a Mississauga based registered nutritionist and dietician. Her very successful blog is teeming with delicious and practical recipes for those seeking healthier food choices. It is a treasure trove of information and practical advice for everyone but her focus is Muslim women. Here she is sharing her thoughts and giving useful advice on how to turn over a new leaf towards food consciousness.
The Link Canada: What made you enter the field of nutrition? Were you one of those children who sit on the kitchen counter and help their mother? Or was it a conscious decision that you made at some point during your academic journey to pursue this career?
Nazima: When I was about 15, I accompanied my dad to visit a Dietitian to discuss his diabetes. This was the first time I was introduced to the field of dietetics and I was intrigued with the relationship between the food we eat and the impact it has on our health. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t follow any of the dietitian’s advice because it wasn’t relevant to the South Asian diet. After this encounter, I got interested in the science of nutrition and decided to pursue my education in this field. I went on to get my Bachelors of Applied Science in Nutrition and my Masters of Public Health in Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Link Canada: Do you think it is a challenge to merge the South Asian culinary traditions with health consciousness? It is no secret that food from that part of the world tends to be heavy in spices, oil, and meat.
Nazima: I don’t think South Asian foods are necessarily unhealthy, but rather the pattern of eating, which consists of a lot of carbs, meat, and very little plant based foods. A misconception amongst the South Asian community is that if you want to start eating healthy, you have to give up those authentic flavours and just eating boring old salad and grilled chicken every single day. This is absolutely not true and so one of the things I love to do is merge those authentic South Asian flavours into a healthier pattern of eating.
The Link Canada: Your blog is very well laid out and is rich with relevant information. But one thing struck me. The first few words which meet the eye are “Helping Muslim women live healthier and happier lives.” Why just women and more specifically why just Muslim? Why not let a wider audience benefit from your work?
Nazima: When I was studying nutrition, I noticed that there was a huge gap in the Muslim and South Asian community when it comes to health and nutrition information. When I was 15 and visited the dietitian with my father, I didn’t quite understand why he didn’t just follow her recommendations. At that time, I thought it was just a lack of compliance, but the more I learned about nutrition the more I realized it needed to be personalized to the many societal and cultural influences in order to be effective. Telling a person that grew up eating ethnic food to eat more steamed vegetables just isn’t going to cut it.
There are many nutrition services targeted to the wider population, but very little to none that are specific to the Muslim community. I decided to focus on females within the Muslim community because in most households, the woman is responsible for the nutrition of all generations. So if I can influence a change in the way the woman cooks and eats, it is likely that there will be a positive impact on the health of the whole family. My husband is a personal trainer and he focuses on the male population, so it works out well! I also realized that in order to have the greatest impact on the health of the population, I can’t be everything to everyone, so I decided to focus on a population that not only do I know really well but also has many gaps in the area of health. I also find that by being so specific and providing services to Muslim women, I am being more inclusive for this population.
The Link Canada: Most of your recipes represent an excellent balance of taste and nutrition. How are your recipes born? Do you try to find healthier versions of known recipes or first you think of ingredients you would like to use and then put together the recipe?
Nazima: My recipes are influenced by many things, such as seasonality of produce, ease of replicating recipes for my readers, and flavour. Although the nutrition profile is quite important to my recipes, the most important thing is that it tastes good. If it does, people will make it again and again. With certain classic items like pancakes or muffins, I work on creating healthier versions, which usually goes through many rounds of recipe testing before there is a perfect recipe. My almost 2-year-old daughter is the best taste tester! I know that if she approves of the recipe, it is a winner.
The Link Canada: Good health stems from two main sources. Proper nutrition and regular exercise. Do you think Muslim women especially those from South Asia do not get the right amount of physical activity? If yes then how do you try to fill this gap when you deal with your clients?
Nazima: Unfortunately, many Muslim women put themselves last. Taking time out to exercise sometimes feels like a luxury because it is something you are doing for just you. However, I really emphasize the importance of exercising as a form of self-care with all of my clients. If women take the time out to take care of themselves and exercise, they will be able to take better care of others! In the past, I have led mom and baby exercise classes. However, with my daughter getting older, I cannot commit the amount of time it takes to train one on one or through in person classes, so I do provide workout plans to women that are interested in working out from home. I find it difficult to leave the house some days, so I am a big advocate of taking time out to workout even it is at home.
The Link Canada: Now a cliché question that I ask everyone. How does being Canadian affect your work and how does being a Muslim? Which has the larger share?
Nazima: Being Canadian and Muslim has provided me with so many opportunities in this area of work. I have been able to position myself as a Muslim Nutrition Expert in both the non-Muslim and Muslim community. I have dietitians from across Canada asking me for advice on working with Muslim clients. In the Muslim arena, I have been able to use social media as a platform to reach out to Muslims and raise awareness about the importance of health in our daily lives.
The Link Canada: It is no secret that Muslims in general consume a lot of meat. Nearly every meal must have a meat based dish, while paradoxically Ahadees teach us that Rasul Allah (PBUH) and his family members were not regular consumers of meat. In fact, sometimes they would not eat meat based food for two months or even longer. What is your opinion on this?
Nazima: I agree that we have become huge consumers of meat and can benefit with a reduction in the amount of meat consumed. However, it should not be replaced with carbohydrates such as white rice, but rather more plant based foods. There are really two issues with this, the high consumption of meat and the low consumption of vegetables. Half of your plate (at least) should be filled with veggies. Unfortunately, veggies only make a rare appearance and are usually overcooked, reducing many of the nutrients. To get the most benefit, increase your vegetable intake through salads and lightly cooked veggies. The recommended amount of meat is only about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand!
The Link Canada: This question is related to the one before. What is your opinion about veganism. As an expert in this field tell us if you think it is a good nutritive path to take or is it just a fad?
Nazima: People choose to lead a vegan lifestyle for many reasons, mostly due to personal values and ethics. So based on this, I wouldn’t say it is a fad, and should be respected. However, if someone does decided to shift to veganism, I would suggest that they see a Registered Dietitian to ensure they are meeting all of their nutrient needs. It is quite possible to do so, but can be difficult to figure out on your own.
Now, does this mean this is the only healthy way of eating? Absolutely not. However, the healthiest way to eat is consuming more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruit. I also think that many people vary in where they are with their personal health and therefore it can be difficult to identify one single way of eating as the best or healthiest.
The Link Canada: Can you give five brief pieces of advice to those seeking a healthy life style.
1. Cook more often. The more home cooked meals you are eating, the less you are eating out and have more control of what goes in your body on a daily basis.
2. Eat half a plate of vegetables at lunch and dinner. This is probably the hardest for many people, simply because they may not know delicious ways to prepare vegetables. Check out the recipes on my website and get cooking!
3. Eat at least one meal daily together as a family. Health goes beyond just nutrients. Eating with your family can improve your social and mental well-being. If you have young children, this is also a great opportunity to model healthy eating behaviour. Eating together also means the TV and phones are off, resulting in a more mindful eating experience.
4. Limit reliance on packaged foods. When you are shopping at the grocery store, majority of your items should be fresh. Packaged items that have long ingredients lists should generally be avoided, as they are often high in calories, fat, sodium/sugar.
5. Shop locally when you can. In the summer time, buy your produce from your local farmers’ market. Think about how much energy goes into produce that comes from abroad! You will not only be eating more nutritious foods but also having an impact on the environmental footprint.
The Link Canada: Anything else you would like to add about yourself and your work?
Nazima: I hope that through my work I can help Muslim women shift away from fad diets, develop positive relationships with food, and improve their overall quality of life. Healthy doesn’t have to be hard or boring. In fact, it can be colourful and delicious!
You can follow Nutrition by Nazima here: