Posted on 02/25/2013 at 02:20:34 PM by Student BloggerBy Sam Scott
As nutritionists, we rarely promote the consumption of ice cream. But here in Rwanda, I am urged to think differently about the sweet, chilly victim of American dietitians.
I would probably not be the first to suggest that we could consider ranking a given food item in terms of its net benefit to overall health, both physical and mental. Although ice cream may not be the best for the body, it makes most of us happy and some of us (including myself) very happy. What good is a healthy body without a healthy mind? Is physical health more important than mental health? These are tough questions, but I would argue that a healthy body means very little in the presence of an unhealthy mind.
Shouldn't we, as promoters of physical health, understand the relationship between what we eat and how we feel and support a lifestyle and diet in which the net equation results in the maximum benefit?
Moderation, of course, is critical to this argument. As someone in the field of nutrition, I would not recommend eating ice cream every day, or as a strategy to fight depression (actually, I think that the law of diminishing returns applies here…that is, if you eat ice cream every day, then the benefit to mental health will be smaller each time), but I do feel that many of us feel unnecessary guilt during our occasional adventures into ice cream heaven, which may be related to criminalization of ice cream and other “unhealthy” foods by my well-intending nutrition kin.
Butare is the home of the National University of Rwanda, with around 13,000 students. Every person I talk to has a story about how the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s affected their life and family. Post-conflict depression is a practically ubiquitous mental health issue in Rwanda. If, for 15 minutes, someone is able to enter a happy space and enjoy ice cream then, as a nutritionist, I recommend eating ice cream.
I feel that we must look beyond the data to see the practical implications of our recommendations. If we analyze the NHANES dataset for example, and find that consumption of ice cream is associated with poor cardiovascular health, and therefore conclude that people shouldn't eat ice cream, I feel that we are not seeing the whole picture.
Maybe this is all an attempt to justify the bowl of chocolate peanut butter ice cream I ate last night. I feel a bit devilish saying so, but I think that overall I am healthier for having eaten that bowl of ice cream.