Patients want to use traditional foods to improve their health: SA dietitian

Mpho Tshukudu, dietitian, functional-medicine practitioner and co-author of 'Eat Ting', is championing nutritious indigenous ingredients. She tells us more

05 August 2018 - 00:00 By Anna Trapido

When I was a little girl, cooking was my favourite household chore. And then at school I was good at maths and science so when I discovered that there was a discipline that covered both my areas of talent and interest I was delighted.
Even now, after all my academic training and despite the fact that I work with food and diets all day, I still love to cook. I still enjoy working with beautiful, healthy ingredients. I find it endlessly fascinating.
When I was a child my mother often complained that I was always asking so many questions. I am still like that. It is just the way my mind works and think it is the basis of what I do with my patients. Also, I suspect that the fact that I have food allergies myself has given me empathy with my patients. I have a practical understanding of how difficult such problems can be to deal with at first but also the experience to know that it can be done.
My first professional surprise came when I was doing my community service in a rural area. I discovered that a lot of what we had been taught in university was unsuited to the people and places in which I was working. The lists of healthy foods I had learnt were unfamiliar and alienating to the majority of patients. I had to engage with the reality of people's lives and explore ingredients that were available.There was a time patients were worried about being judged if they said that they liked indigenous ingredients and heritage foods. They thought people would think they were old-fashioned. Now I see more and more patients who are wanting to use the traditional food that they grew up with to improve their health.
My inspiration for my book Eat Ting grew out of wondering. When I studied functional medicine and was taught all about the ways that traditional European and Asian foods could be part of disease management, it made me wonder about how African ingredients could fit into that model.
I teamed up with writer/anthropologist Anna Trapido because I wanted to interweave my understanding of the healthy, organic, free-range, gluten-free, low GI indigenous and traditional African ingredients with an understanding of the history, sociology and anthropology of why we eat the way we do.There are so many wonderful indigenous ingredients I love but if I have to pick just one I think I will cheat a little bit and say morogo. We have over 60 varieties in Southern Africa, all very high in antioxidants, easy to grow, water-wise, delicious, cheap and versatile. They can be cooked in so many different ways - salads, soups, dried, fresh, crushed as powders, in baking - the possibilities are endless.On Women's Day I almost always end up working as it's an opportunity to give back. This year I am visiting a pre-school where the teachers have invited all the parents to come in on the holiday for a session about nutrition.TRY ONE OF MPHO TSHUKUDU'S RECIPESSPICED PUMPKIN SALAD
Serves: 6
1kg pumpkin or butternut, peeled and cubed
45ml (3 tbsp) olive oil
30ml (2 tbsp) caster sugar
200ml water
A 2cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 medium-hot chilli, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 2 limes
45ml (3 tbsp) chopped fresh coriander leaves
400g pumpkin stems (about 1 plastic supermarket packet), peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp dithotse tsa lerotse (wild melon seeds), optional

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
In a roasting dish, roast the pumpkin, tossed in the oil, until soft and golden (about 30 minutes).
While it cooks, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half.
Combine the ginger, chilli, lime zest and juice. Blend to a smooth paste, and then add to the sugar solution.
Add the coriander to the sugar solution and remove from heat.
When pumpkin is tender, spoon the chilli sauce over the top.
Return to oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and add salt and pepper to taste.
Top with raw pumpkin-stem pieces and dithotse tsa lerotse (wild melon seeds), and serve as a warm salad...

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