By Dr Monique Thompson
LAST time was an epic failure in bringing this meaty topic to a close. We only got as far dealing with the practical issues surrounding the cost or economics of tackling obesity. As we have been doing of late, we shall continue by hitting the ground running.
Another big component of our obesity problem is education, and not only being educated on healthier eating habits, but also gaining an understanding of how what we eat correlates to chronic disease. Education is key because we are battling unhealthy cultural foods, bad culinary habits and sedentary lifestyles. Yes, eating more fruits and vegetables is a great start. In going a step further, what other foods out there are healthier options to what we purchase and consume now? I know that the general expectation is that the healthier options – such as whole grain pasta versus white processed pasta – are so much more expensive. In some instances, we would find that the healthier alternative is not much more than the nutritionally depleted item. Other aspects that need to be addressed include how to prepare these new, healthier foods. If you cook brown or wild rice like you cook processed, long-grain parboiled rice, you are going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. What are some of the foods we simply should not be eating? What are healthy portion sizes? What are vitamins, proteins, or trans-fatty acids? Where do they come from, and how do they affect my health etc? All of these items are important educational points.
While the government can have very practical and effective programmes geared toward healthy eating instituted within their educational facilities and workforce, as parents, spouses, caregivers, and older siblings we must take it upon ourselves to be aggressively proactive in learning how to live healthier lives and incorporating that into our homes one step at a time. Please note that education has to be followed by action if there is to be victory in the war against obesity.
Oh my, Bahamian culture! With our first controversial bout of carnival arriving here in May of this year, there were lots of conversations on Bahamian culture – “What is Bahamian culture?” What does it mean to be a Bahamian?” Invariably, our food will come up for every discussion. Peas n’ rice, macaroni, baked or fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, pea soup and doughboy, conch and fish every kind of way except wrong. Tell me about it! Hands down, our foods are delicious and savoury, but they are calorically dense and nutrient deficient. That means they have too much of the things in them that cause us to put on weight and develop heart problems, and not enough of the good things our bodies need to remain healthy and be highly functional.
Like many Western societies, we use too much salt, oil, and sugar (SOS) when preparing meals. Without going way too deep into the damage that has been done to societies because of these three food elements, suffice it to say that I have seen and treated individuals with a wide range of medical conditions, through fasting and an SOS-free diet. Contributing to the problem is that from a young age, our taste buds are trained all wrong. Grits do not taste right if it is not loaded with butter and salt. For some, coleslaw cannot be tolerated if it is not loaded with sugar. For those of us who have the awesome responsibility of cooking in our homes, let us take the opportunity to take it down a few notches. Using less SOS may be an adjustment for the household, but it pays off in time. A quick way to retrain your taste buds, so you can have an appreciation of how foods taste without added SOS, is to avoid them for seven to 10 days. Eating a strawberry after avoiding sugar for a week would blow your mind!
Being taught how to prepare delicious Bahamian foods in a manner that were healthier was one of the many great things that happened in my household growing up. From when my sister and I were younger, our mom pushed fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal, low-salt and sugar preparation of foods. She had portion sizes down to a science, and she would get on us for eating too fast and not chewing our foods properly. I can go on and on about how she fostered a love of great Bahamian food in us (she is a chef and caterer after all), while teaching us healthy alternatives and healthy eating habits. This is important because we now pass these healthy habits on to our children, which is exactly what we need as a society; to teach our kids better.
In closing, our foods are what they are. Realistically, we are not going to reverse or eliminate that aspect of our culture. Aside from healthier preparations, and better eating habits, we need to understand moderation. You know this concept is far removed from a people when “If you like it let it kill you” is a popular saying. No government or community venture can start to fix that problem. This behavioural change needs to start with the individual.
• Dr Monique Thompson is the founder of Cornerstone Healing Institute, an integrative family medicine clinic that focuses on educating patients on healthier lifestyles and preventing disease. Contact 356-0083 with any questions/comments. Visit www.chibahamas.com for more information.