Feature: Agriculture And Health Sectors Join Forces To Sensitise About Food Preparation

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Dietician with the CNCD, Julian Rowe (right) demonstrating the proper way to prepare cerain dishes, during the workshop.
(Image: BAS)
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As preparations for Agrofest 2012 move into high gear, vendors working at the three-day exhibition are being encouraged to utilise more local produce and explore healthy alternatives in the preparation of food.

The 50-odd vendors were taking part in an Agrofest 2012 Food Workshop on Wednesday at the Dining Club, Newton, Christ Church, where they were sensitised to the benefits of using home grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. They were also urged to minimise the use of salt, sugar and fat in their meals to assist in the control, prevention and reduction of chronic non-communicable diseases.

This marks the second year that Agrofest organisers, the Barbados Agricultural Society, have joined forces with the National Commission for Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCD) to sensitise participants on healthy cooking and eating practices.

Registered Dietician with the CNCD, Julian Rowe, speaking on the topic Health, Food and Taste: Can We Have It All?, stressed that health officials were not advising persons to cut sugar, salt or fat entirely from their diet, but that excessive amounts could lead to obesity and in turn, the onset of problems such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.

In addition, she explained that another challenge was that many Barbadians had the wrong perception of eating healthy. "This is where we run into problems as dieticians and nutritionists because persons always think that when we say eat healthy; we mean eat food that has no taste. So, people tend to run in the opposite direction because everyone wants to have food that is tasty," she pointed out.

Ms. Rowe observed that Barbadian society was conditioned in such a way that the popular, tasty foods were either high in salt, sugar or fat, or all three. "We need to challenges ourselves and we need to find out if we can use other flavourings that can make food appetising, and acceptable, but would not put our health at risk."

She said Barbadians must perceive the benefits of healthy lifestyles not only in terms of dollars and cents but the long-term health of the nation. "Can we see the prevention of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer, as a profit? These are questions we each have to ask ourselves," she maintained.

Ms. Rowe stated that some 15,000 persons in Barbados were living with diabetes; and 52,000 with high blood pressure, adding that the figures could be even higher since many persons were unaware that they had developed such diseases.

The dietician noted that of particular concern to health officials was the fact that a small island like Barbados had such a high prevalence of diabetes, with some 200 amputations per year, 12 strokes per week and 7 to 8 heart attacks per week.

"Most of our females are overweight or obese; the males are less than the females but that figure is changing as well…If we are all honest with ourselves, we can identify someone in our house or community who has diabetes or high blood pressure.

"The unfortunate thing is that we always say to ourselves, ???it is not going to happen to me’, ???those figures don’t relate to me’, or ???it is going to happen to someone else.’ It could happen to any one of us… We are all at risk," she maintained.

According to Ms. Rowe, there were many options available to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases; however, everyone must join the fight.

She said Barbadians must change the way they prepare their food, whether it is personally, for their family or for sale.

One of the first options for food preparation, Ms. Rowe posited, was using just lime to marinate meats instead of lime and salt. This, she said, would minimise the amount of salt used in the meal.

In addition, she encouraged the use of more fresh, natural herbs and spices including thyme, marjoram, garlic and chives. The dietitian also suggested adding these herbs near the end of cooking so as to maximise their flavour.

She noted that even though some persons may claim that they do not use salt when cooking, they should note that other ingredients may have a high sodium content. So, they could still end up going beyond the daily recommended salt intake for persons with high blood pressure -1500 mg.

"Another way to help reduce your salt intake is to limit the use of some of the seasonings, soup mixes, butters and margarines that we feel we have to use in every meal that we prepare. Some of these we grew up with, but that doesn’t mean we have to use all of them, especially if they are going to cause us harm."

Ms. Rowe pointed out that one teaspoon of lime and salt contained some 2400 mg of sodium; two tablespoons of local seasoning about 720 mg; one bouillon cube 2600 mg; two tablespoons of ketchup 220 mg and one tablespoon of cooking butter 224 mg; a total of some 6000 mg.

"Most people do not think of ketchup as [having a] high salt [content] but it really does. It is amazing to see how we use it so liberally. We add it to chips, burgers and to this and that. The question is do you really need to add at all?" the dietician queried.

The dietician also encouraged Barbadians to measure their ingredients, particularly salt, when cooking to ensure the correct amount is used. "We don’t measure, we pour and we add. If we taste it and its fine for us, we are good to go. However, the more salt you use, the more your taste buds will adjust. So, you can end up using much more salt than you actually need, all because your taste buds have adjusted to the amount you are using."

According to her, fresh foods should always be chosen over canned goods and labels should be read correctly to ascertain the prevalence of salt, sugar and fat.

Ms. Rowe suggested pan searing fish instead of frying and using low salt seasoning, with the latter available in several local sale outlets. Searing refers to a technique where the surface of the food such as meat is cooked at high temperature, so a brown crust forms.

She stressed that Barbadians must seriously think about the ways in which they prepare food, the ingredients used and the long term effects of excess salt, sugar and fat.

We as individuals have got to start looking at our health seriously and we need to ask ourselves some basic questions, such as: ???How important is our health to us?’ ???Does the prevention of these diseases give us any benefit? ???And, do we gain when we reduce the incidence of cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure?’ These are things we need to consider… our health is our most precious commodity," Ms. Rowe stressed.

andre.skeete@barbados.gov.bb

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