Beer good for women, but moderation is key

THE SUN Newspaper- Christine Onwuachumba

Mrs. Dolapo Coker, a woman of many firsts, parades an intimidating profile. She is was the first female graduate of microbiology from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in 1972 and also the first female national president of the Nigeria Institute of Food Science and Technology.

Coker who holds a master’s degree in food science and nutrition from the University of Reading, England, trained and worked with the Food and Drug Administration of the United States of America; she was a research scientist at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Lagos, and worked with the Food and Drug Administration of Nigeria (now NAFDAC) in various capacities.

Recently, Coker, a retired director of the Federal Ministry of Health, celebrated her 70th birthday in Lagos. To mark the day, she presented two books, “The Buffet Table” and “It Was Grace,” to the public.

Speaking with Daily Sun, the nutrition consultant corrected some nutritional perceptions and revealed that beer is good for women, as long as they take it in moderation, like any other food.

What inspired your book, “The Buffet Table”?

As a nutritionist, I thought I should put my knowledge into a book so it could be beneficial to everybody. I thus had it in mind that, for my 70th birthday celebration, I would present the book, “The Buffet Table,” which I did in Lagos.

You know, at the buffet table, everybody takes and eats whatever they want. But I believe that anyone who is well informed stands the chance of eating right. Proceeds of the book will be put into a trust fund in the care of my church, the Cathedral Church, for the welfare of the physically-challenged. I am on the panel of the church’s social welfare service unit and I see that the physically-challenged are not cared for by government.

I want to help them realise their life ambitions. The second book, “It Was Grace,” is a book of testimonies and contains stories of near-death experiences that I passed through, which could have stopped me from getting to 70. The book was my takeaway at the birthday party.

What has life been like in the past 70 years?

It has not always been easy. I lost my husband very early (in my late 30s) and so I have been a single parent with three children; two boys and a girl. They are all married with children now. It was not easy but faith led me on.

Talking about food, there are conflicting opinions, to the extent that people with no medical condition are also advised to avoid certain foods. How does one know what to avoid?

When I give talks on nutrition anywhere, I let people know there is no good or bad food. Every food has its good side but the bad part is when you have too much of it. So, the watchword is moderation. For example, we all say water is best and we must drink it once we wake up every day. But do you know that too much water also means trouble?

What is the trouble?

You will feel uncomfortable and might even get to a stage of being dizzy because you have over-diluted everything in you. You are, therefore, bloated and uncomfortable.

Aside from that, what are the other health implications?

You eat food, including drinks, and your food is metabolised to be absorbed by the body. When you have water with it, this aids the rate of metabolism. But when you have more than enough water, the excess is going to further dilute what you have taken in, sit inside you and then give you unnecessary weight. I’m not talking about you putting on fat but about you becoming heavy. And then you start going to the bathroom more than you need to. Why are you over-working your system? So, you see, moderation is key.

For example, I gave a talk at an international symposium about two years ago, was organised by the Nigerian Breweries. My speech was on beer and the misconceptions surrounding it, which say beer gives big belly. That’s not true because if there is no moderation in anything, even the so-called juice, malt and minerals you drink, there will be problem.

If you take four bottles of, let us say, Fanta, you are over-doing it and it’s going to build fat in your body the same way four bottles of beer, malt, and so on will bring you fat. Everything must be in moderation. Besides, beer is made from natural things such as cereal, barley and hops, and these are organic things. So, they are just like food. It is when you drink too much of it that you invite trouble.

Do you drink beer?

Yes, I drink beer but in moderation, too. I take all brands of beer.

What about the alcohol in them?

I know my limits as an individual. For example, I usually mix my beer with soft drinks because soft drinks are too sweet for my liking. So, I would rather go for any beer that is bitter. In fact, the more bitter it is, the better.

But isn’t that sinful for a Christian who is actively engaged in church activities like you?

Do Christians not take wine? Does wine not have alcohol? Every wine does. It is fruit of the vine that is used to make wine. Wine is typically fermented and thus has alcohol, though the percentage of alcohol depends on the stage of fermentation.

Let me tell you, anything that is called fruit wine is not wine but fruit drink. Go and Google the meaning of wine and you will see it is something that is fermented and must have alcohol. So, all these concoctions that they call fruit wine, non-alcoholic wines and so on are not wine and should not be called wine at all. In fact, I run away from them because they are concoctions. That’s why you see some of them are blue, green, etc.

All those drinks they call fruit juices, does it ever occur to you that each pack has the same taste from year to year? But when you buy two oranges and eat them, do you not notice they both taste differently? So how come these packaged so-called “pure juice” you buy are forever the same taste? As a food scientist, I know what went wrong, that is, what was done to make them taste the same. So, I wouldn’t patronise them. I either blend my own juice or, preferably, eat my fruits like that for the benefit of the roughages. I am not saying we should not patronise these drinks, but it is important that we are careful about the amount we take in.

Back to the issue of beer, are you saying there is nothing indecent about a decently dressed woman being seen with a bottle of beer in public?

There is nothing indecent about it. It is a drink! But it becomes indecent when she takes it in excess and becomes a nuisance, whether as a man or a woman.

I had an aunt-in-law who died about three years ago at age 100. Even at her 100th year birthday party, she was drinking her beer and she was a staunch Christian. She never staggered for one day, how much more become a nuisance, because she knew her limits and understood that the drink was good for her.

I, for example, eat chocolate, ice cream and desserts. In fact, I must have a slice of cake every day and I even bake and keep it in the fridge to enable me eat cake every day, but I am well. Moderation is the word.

You retired from NAFDAC as a director; how come the agency focuses more on drugs than food?

That is a question I would not like to answer. It is a very unfortunate situation and that is because there is an imbalance; there is a belief that the head of NAFDAC must be a pharmacist.

I do not know why but they (pharmacists) have adopted a superiority position over food scientists. In fact, in developed countries, food scientists, nutritionists and dieticians are part of the medical teams that go around hospitals on ward rounds to give advice. A lot of things are going wrong in this country.

I say it anywhere and any day that food is primary health care. This is because, if you know the right food to eat and the amount to take, you won’t even need any drug; not even supplements. If I want calcium, I cook my soup with crabs. I am setting up a snail farm in my garden because snails are very good. Crayfish, too, is so powerful that I had to teach my children never to joke with it.

In fact, I started serving them ewedu cooked with crayfish and semolina once they were four months old, and, as parents abroad today, they do the same for their children. When people know what to eat, they are less likely to fall ill and won’t need drugs in the first place because it is cheaper to buy food than drugs.

You were born and raised in Lagos. What do you miss about the old Lagos?

Our house is just three minutes away from Tinubu Square on Lagos Island. The old Lagos was a lot different from what we have today. Now it is over-crowded and this is not good for development. Lagos has become very dirty.

When we were growing up, we grew up with government looking after the facilities. We grew up being trained in cleanliness both at home and in school. As far back as 1956, my mother, Mrs. Gibson Roberts, won a shield for the cleanest house in Lagos. That was still British Colony, though, but the fact remains that the British taught us cleanliness. Those days, you could not drop a piece of paper on the streets.

I attended Anglican Girls School and we were taught never to litter the ground; till today, I find it difficult to toss out paper or any other thing at all from my car. I drop them on the floor of my car and when I get home, I dispose of them. The gutters in those days were so clean that we used to make paper boats and do competition with them in the gutters. They were so clean that we could see their bottoms. But now, gutters are the dumping grounds for refuse and there is no more competition for any clean home. The health inspectors (Wole Wole) are no longer around.

These make people like us, born and bred in Lagos, very sad. It is really sad; what we need are strong, descent leaders who have a sense of purpose and who can put their foot down to say, lets us not let Lagos spoil.

How can that be with the population right now?

Everything is do-able if there is an objective. The population of China is many times ours but it is still not as filthy as it is in Lagos now. As of today in Lagos, the median of the express roads and all the dual carriageways are dumping grounds for garbage. That is an eyesore.


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