Officials met in Thimphu this week to talk about food. It is on refreshments served during official meetings and functions.

The health ministry’s Department of Public Health (DoPH) wants offices and organisations to serve fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, yoghurt or curd, and low-fat milk instead of momos and other junk.

This is doable. Everyone should prioritise it as we are already combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which have become a major public health concern.

Health reports show that in 2020, there were 250.9 suffering from hypertension in every 10,000 people, 82.1 suffering from diabetes, 34.6 suffering from alcohol liver disease, 15.9 from depression and 19.9 from cancer.

NCDs  cost the economy.  Referral cost of treating NCDs cost the government millions. In a country that grades the quality of food with fat, oil and meat, Bhutanese have always been vulnerable to NCDs. Alcohol and doma add to the problem along with changing lifestyles and lack of physical activity.

Many urban residents are into processed food. They boast of indulging in imported foods from other countries. It’s time we watch our diet to remain healthy. We have to change our food habits.

Since we can no longer afford to remain unconcerned about our eating habits, starting with refreshment is the first step. A cup of suja and desi, health experts say, is the unhealthiest refreshment.

The initiative also comes at a time when we have studies that show 87 percent of Bhutanese do not consume five servings of fruits and vegetables.

The health ministry has taken the lead role  in creating awareness and sensitise healthy dietary practices. It will help people adopt healthy food habits and also reduce exposure to NCDs.

DoPH officials  said they would assess and monitor if officials are practising it. A circular to all offices to initiate healthy refreshments is necessary. Everyone should be convinced that their lives depend on what they eat.

The problem, however, is the availability and affordability of those healthy refreshments. Local fruits and vegetables are seasonal. The healthier food alternatives can also be expensive.

We are yet to know the health benefits of imported fruits and vegetables. With rumours rife that it is chemical-laden, it could be toxic and injurious to health. Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) have a huge mandate to ensure that only good quality fruits and vegetables are imported. Just assuring it is safe to consume is not enough. It’s time they conduct a proper test and convince the public.

For the rest of us, let us not forget that to live better, we have to eat better.