COLUMN – Veg and fruit your better bet
Most people know it’s important to eat fruit and vegetables every day to stay healthy; yet most fall short of filling up with these goodies loaded with nutrients.
“We don’t eat enough, and we don’t serve enough. We look at them as something that we basically sprinkle on our food,” says Donna Barker, a nutritionist with the Ministry of Health.
According to Barker, the Barbados Dietary Guidelines, produced by the National Nutrition Centre, recommends more than five servings, combining fruits and vegetables, a day; but Barbadians have much catching up to do.
“If we look at data produced in Barbados in the Health Of The Nation study done in 2012, it shows that 81.9 per cent of Barbadians consume fewer than five servings a day, and they are now suggesting that we have more than five servings a day. So this is something that we have to look at for ourselves.”
Concerned that the island is grappling with the problem of overeating, which is driving the rapid rise in non-communicable diseases –– hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks –– Barker stressed that more thought must be given to the composition of meals.
“Our meals are made of starch and protein, and then a little vegetable. We can do our bodies good by consuming local fruits and vegetables.”
Listing the substantial benefits of fruits and vegetables, Barker stressed this was all the more reason for vendors to offer more
than just the familiar to their customers.
“The papaws, the melons, the citrus fruits . . . we have our soursops, sugar apples, carambola, sapodilla. We can put them into different recipes and offer them to the public: fresh fruit salad, frozen fruit, fruit smoothies, blended juices and parfaits.
“People tend to concentrate on broccoli and beans, and carrots; but there is a whole lot more. We can use dasheen leaves, callaloo, the different types of beans, different types of leaves –– spinach and so on.
“We can use fruit in different ways at breakfast time –– fruit salad, whole fruits; you can add cucumber and tomato to your sandwiches; use things like grapes, cashews, fat pork, dunks and apples as snacks. All of these are loaded with vitamins.”
Even more than adding fruits and vegetables to one’s diet, Barker wants to see more local produce incorporated into meals. This week, the nutritionist delivered this message to local food vendors gearing up for this year’s Agrofest being held under the theme Inclusive Agriculture, Strengthening Linkages, Creating Energies.
“If we are looking at improving the health of the our country, our personal health, we have to look at making gradual changes –– getting more fruits and vegetables on the plate. Half of our plate should be vegetables, and the other half divided into two quarters — a quarter starch, a quarter protein.
“I know that is not normally how Bajans eat, but we can start working at it because we know the benefits of it,” Barker advised.
She first challenged the food vendors to know their fruits and vegetables.
“If we look at it from the culinary point of view, vegetables are less sweet, they are more savoury, usually served as part of the main meal, raw or cooked. Fruits are sweeter, tart; they are more often served as a snack or dessert, usually raw, or can be made into juices.”
Barker pointed out that local fruits and vegetables were filled with nutrients, and this was all the more reason for vendors to add them to the pot to spice up their servings.
“If we look at fruits and vegetables and the nutrients they provide, compared with animal products, they are generally lower in calories, they have fibre which you don’t get from animal products, and they contain lots of vitamins which would include the antioxidants that protect us from things like cancer, heart disease and so on.
“They have sugar, they have minerals, calcium, iron, and potassium and they have a lot of fibre, and they are watery. Lots of times we don’t drink enough water, and if you eats lots of them you get added water.”
For most of us, the taste of the food we buy is just as important as the price and quality, and, according to Barker, this is all the more reason for vendors to support local farmers.
“When you buy something that is picked two or three days before it is sold to you rather than its being packaged and shipped, you usually get a better quality. Local produce tastes better because it isn’t picked at the time all the nutrients break down, and you are actually benefiting from that.
“For example, things with vitamin C –– limes and lemons –– they start to break down after a time and in a week their nutritional value is reduced by half. So it’s better to buy local.
“So we want to buy local and there are lots of benefits in terms of buying local: fruits and vegetables are basically fresher, and because of that they taste better. It helps to support the local economy; the money stays here and it benefits the whole environment.”