Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Dubai food bloggers launch campaign across UAE to spread awareness about food choices

Dubai-based food experts Judy Sebastian and Louise Steen have initiated Safe and Healthy Food UAE, an online and offline campaign to help consumers make better food choices.
Judy Sebastian, left, and Louise Steen say #Sahfuae will lead to greater interaction among people concerned about what they eat. Duncan Chard for The National
Judy Sebastian, left, and Louise Steen say #Sahfuae will lead to greater interaction among people concerned about what they eat. Duncan Chard for The National

Is farmed fish safer than wild-caught fish? What does ­gluten-free actually mean?

With growing awareness about what goes into produce before it reaches the consumer, reading labels and making ­shopping-cart choices can be daunting. To help health-­conscious buyers, Dubai-based food-safety consultant Judy ­Sebastian and health researcher Louise Steen have initiated Safe and Healthy Food UAE (#Sahfuae), an online and offline interactive campaign that kicked off with its first workshop on “What’s in your Trolley?” this month.

Sebastian and Steen, who are also food bloggers, have decided to share their knowledge through a two-pronged approach – workshops and social media.

The workshops are free to attend and tackle issues such as balancing nutrients, safety in food preparation, making sustainable choices when dining out, and buying meats and vegetables.

Meanwhile, the conversation is kept going on social media, where users are invited to ask questions, using the campaign hashtag. Steen will provide feedback on nutrition while Sebastian will advise on safety.

“Our main focus is taking our research on food out there and relating it to the setting we have in the UAE, helping consumers make the best possible choices,” says Steen, who operates the My Healthy Dxb website. “Judy and I decided we had to lessen the gap in people’s knowledge about the food they eat.

“The hashtag will facilitate interaction with people concerned about what they put in their mouths,” she says. “We will be able to connect with like-minded people around town, who can tag the campaign to their pictures or ask us questions, start discussions, and build it organically. We also hope to get other experts and doctors involved so that they can weigh in as well. ”

Sebastian says health and safety are two sides of the same coin.

“They are overlapping notions, but while healthy eating is about going raw and looking at the nutritional value, food safety talks about sustainability,” says the 27-year-old consultant, who is the creator of the FoodSheBlogged website.

Sometimes what may be considered healthy might not always be safe.

Sebastian, who has seven years of experience as a food safety consultant in the UAE, sheds light on that debateusing fish as an example. “Which one should you buy? Wild-caught or farmed? A lot of consumers are put off by the mechanisation of the food industry, but they don’t realise the reason behind it,” she says.

“If you were to rely on fish from an unknown source, you are exposing yourself to the bigger risk of mercury or lead poisoning as opposed to fish from a responsible farm where you know the water conditions are controlled.”

She says wild-caught fish may suffer in quality because they are of exposure to ocean threats, such as predators and pollution. As for farmed fish, “the biggest challenge would be fat build-up because of the lack of space”.

Marine researchers, who have studied the issue, suggest eating a mix of farmed and wild seafood, sticking to fish lower in the food chain in the wild, and checking for excessive ­antibiotics or hormones in the farmed variety.

While Sebastian deals with safety, Steen specialises in the quality of food at the micro nutrients level.

“There is much more to food than calories,” says Steen. “When you consume food close to the natural source, such as freshly picked, naturally grown vegetables, that is when you get all vital micronutrients.”

If local produce is not an ­option, Steen recommends opting for frozen produce, especially during the summer. “Products that are produced for export are picked unripe so they haven’t absorbed all the nutrients. But when producers grow fruits and vegetables for freezing, they leave it on the plant for longer, and the freezing protects the nutrients.” Sebastian says it is a fine ­balance between selecting natural or opting for mechanised produce.

“There is not one answer, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. That’s why we have started this to be able to disseminate as much research-backed information so that consumers can make ­informed decisions.”

Sebastian’s tips are on FoodSheBlogged and Louise can be followed on My Healthy DXB. Use #Safhuae to send them a question on Twitter. The next workshop will be held after the summer