Mitahara: Food Is Medicine

“The term “Mitahara’’ translates to the habit of moderation, an approach we incorporate into our practice. As the name suggests, Mitahara is a social business model working to inspire people to live healthier and longer lives by supporting healthy food consumption. Mitahara promotes the consumption of plant-based, local, wholesome and moderate eating that is great for human health (to reduce the risk of developing metabolic conditions and also to maintain a healthier lifestyle) and better for the planet (helps reduce food waste and helps in biodiversity),” says Bijaya Raj Poudel, Executive Director of Mitahara.

Recognising that causes of major non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are in part due to improper diet, Mitahara fosters sustainable consumption practices through nutrition counselling, meal planning packages, promoting workplace food and nutrition education, school nutrition programmes, and by sourcing, production, and promotion of healthy and balanced foods. Mitahara promotes integrated preventive health care service in Nepal with the potential to improve public health and wellbeing significantly.

The team comprises of members from diverse backgrounds – nutritionists, food recipe creators, sustainability advocates, and development practitioners. They share a common belief in ‘food’ and that ‘what we can do matters’.

“Witnessing rapid changes in what people ate when we were children and now is so different,” says Poudel pointing out to modern consumption patterns in Nepal which have dramatically changed to refined and processed food. “Staple foods are becoming more refined and processed, fat and meat intake is increasing, processed dairy products and other processed foods are consumed more than before, and a larger number of meals are eaten outside the home while junk food is replacing main meals,” Poudel shares on a note of concern.

As a nutritionist expert and development practitioner, he saw the gap in how the value of food for overall health is not understood by most Nepalis. “This was an opportunity and need in the area of preventive health. We realised that many people are still unaware and uninformed about the impact of food on their overall health. Hence, informing people about healthy food and its potential advantages, risks, and impact of healthy food on human health is a must,” he shares.

Mitahara looks at meal planning and nutritional service through the lens of multifaceted factors. It combines scientific knowledge of nutrition and the social and behavioural aspect of an individual while providing meal planning. It also takes into consideration an individual’s culture, lifestyle and profession while recommending meals. While providing continuous support to guide them through private messaging. Mitahara offers personalised service, also communicating other factors that can create better health for their clients. The team provides personalised nutrition plans, meal recommendations, and coaching to help clients build lasting, healthy habits.

Though Mitahara was officially registered in 2019, it began actively working after the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020. The team considers themselves fortunate to be promoted by its well-wishers and supporters who believe in ‘food as a medicine’ concept and also those who have benefited from their services. “Nutrition and meal planning being a new concept, we have to first educate and inform people about its importance before we offer them our services and provide long-term support,” says Poudel.

People nowadays want a quick fix to everything. However, practicing a healthier lifestyle is a process, and shortcuts don’t exist. He talks about how difficult it is to convince people that good health is achieved through food and lifestyle. And that is a constant challenge for Mitahara to ensure that its clients are constantly motivated. A lot of effort is put into customising the service based on individual personalities.

Health matters to everyone irrespective of age or gender. Mitahara focuses on the overall population but its services specifically target people with clinical and metabolic conditions. It further plans to expand its services to other parts of Nepal and to enhance the current diet clinic to a preventive health care clinic. “We are now in the phase of research and development of food packaging, processing and production. We will soon come up with our own products that are healthier and better for humans and the planet,” says Poudel.

Mitahara is currently promoting itself through social media, outreach programmes such as nutrition assessment camps, and also collaborating with various like-minded companies. However, the organisation believes its first and most important promoters to be its clients and patrons who have experienced its services.

A lot of people still believe in and rely on medicine and hospitals. Though being treated by experts is very important, food and lifestyle play a vital role in keeping good health. The company aims to build some breakers before people opt for medical care. However, it is a challenge as people still do not believe in food.

To sensitise people about food and nutrition, in 2021, Mitahara initiated Workplace Food and Nutrition Seminars targeting people working in offices located in urban Kathmandu. Through this programme, they reached over 800 individuals. The seminar is a three-hour programme that covers the components of the importance of balanced food, non-communicable diseases and the role of diet and exercise for overall health, digestive issues, effects of substance abuse and junk food on health, and skills such as reading food labels while purchasing packaged foods. The programme received tremendous response from companies and employees who stated that it substantially changed their consumption patterns at home and in office. Mitahara is committed to reaching half-million adults and children by the end of 2027 through a workplace food and nutrition programme.

“We realised that people are almost living in ‘denial’ of the fact that food can really play an important role in their overall health and well-being,” says Poudel. And this needs to change, he believes. Mitahara is also busting myths surrounding food such as eating healthy is expensive.

Mitahara business model is focused on wider outreach and business scalability, says Poudel who continually strives to encompass innovative solutions that resonate with the masses and are simpler to adopt.

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Abhishek Chitrakar

Abhishek Chitrakar is a writer at Business360. He is also pursuing his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is mostly interested in entrepreneurship, tech and automobiles.

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