My approach to eating

Tastes Like Home

-Everything in moderation

Hi Everyone, No food is bad or unhealthy. What makes food bad or unhealthy is our approach to food. How we use and/or abuse it.

I am not in anyway going to attempt to convince you that you should switch to a vegetarian, vegan or raw diet. I have no intentions of telling you that you should cut out certain things from your diet. And I most certainly will not try to convince you that you should exclusively eat whole grains. Here’s what I am going to share with you: my philosophy about eating: everything in moderation. I’ll lay my case out simply and then offer up some things for you to ponder.

Ever so often we open the newspapers, a journal or magazine, turn on the radio or television or log on to the Internet only to be told that something we are eating is very bad for us. Some of us take drastic measures upon hearing such news. We radically change our diet, we cut out this so-called life-depleting item and go along happily, glad in our hearts that we are doing the right thing; we have removed the bad foods from our entire lives! Give it a year or two and the same media outlets are now reporting that the studies were wrong, that this once death-at-your-door food is now good for you! As a matter of fact, new studies show that you should eat (fill in the blank) in order to get your daily dose of (insert the nutrient). I tell you, the way they have us going, it’s a wonder that we eat anything at all.

20130105cynthiaRemember when eggs, milk and regular sugar got a bad reputation only to be redeemed? Remember when coconut oil was castigated for clogging our arteries and now it is the new wonder oil to use? And don’t get me started on how international marketing has marginalised all other oils to elevate olive oil and fill the coffers of big companies. With all the goings on: tests and studies that have us going to and fro and the shrewd marketing of certain food products, we the consumers are left at a loss. What are we to eat?

My answer is simple: unless your doctor has restricted your food intake in order to prevent ailment or some life-threatening disease, eat everything in moderation. Each food – raw or cooked – contains nutrients that our bodies need. Some foods contain more nutrients than others. For us to eat healthy, we have to balance all of it.

Eating local; eating seasonal

While the USA has suddenly focused on eating locally and seasonally, it is something that we in this region have been accustomed to doing for decades, and as long as we continue to shop at farmers’ and open air markets, we will continue to follow this best practice. Leave the supermarket shopping for the non-perishables and select items. Get your fruits and vegetables and if you can, your meat, poultry and seafood from the market. Shopping this way means that you are supporting the local and regional farmers, and thus supporting our economy.

Buying seasonally means that you are getting the food at its peak of freshness and nutritional content. What this means is that the seasonal food you buy has come to its natural maturation, it is ripe for the picking/harvesting and eating. Fresh and nutritional food = healthy food, regardless of what it is.

The celebrated coconut (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
The celebrated coconut (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Buying locally means that you know where your food is coming from. You’ll know who is planting and growing your food, who is rearing it and what it is being fed. More importantly, you’ll know the quality of the food that you are putting into your body and that of your family. That is healthy eating. We are still fortunate to be living in a part of the world where generally our food is not yet genetically modified. We don’t have to worry about organic because that is what our food is! Embrace it.

Let’s just look at the plethora of fruits we have and their nutritional value. Guavas are bombarded with nutrients and are a better source of Vitamin C than oranges! And the entire fruit can be eaten for nutritional benefits – vitamins and fibre. From the bark, to the fruit, to the seeds, Jamoon too is full of vitamin C and rich with antioxidants. Bananas are rich sources of potassium and they contain Vitamin B6, folate and soluble fibre. Pineapples have Manganese (not to be confused with Magnesium), and when we eat this fruit the mineral works in partnership with other enzymes that facilitate various metabolic processes in the body. Space does not permit me to list all the fruits and how good they are for us. We have it all right here. This is healthy food.

I couldn’t finish talking about fruits without mentioning the dear avocado that was banished because of false rumours that it is rich in cholesterol. Avocados are rich in a good type of fat – monounsaturated fat. While saturated fats increase the risk of certain diseases, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, decrease such risks. So don’t believe the hype. Eating healthy has never been this delicious.

I haven’t touched on vegetables, seafood, meats or poultry but I don’t think I need to, because you get the point. There is value in all foods.

Everything in moderation

Like I said in my opening paragraph, it is our approach to food that makes it bad and unhealthy for us. Therefore, I want to point out some things for you to ponder and I’ll leave the decision-making up to you. There is just one thing that I want you note – always keep an eye on your total intake (daily, weekly) whether that is caloric, cholesterol, sodium or sugar. In other words, if you had sugar with your coffee in the morning and a soda with your lunch, then perhaps for dinner, you might want to switch to water. Another example: if you had bacon, eggs and cheese at breakfast, then you might want to consider something less calorie-laden for lunch. Having said that, remember that your food intake should take into consideration your physical activity (meaning your work). Can you imagine me telling someone who’s job is a full-time gardener that he should not eat anything too calorie-laden at lunch because he had bacon and eggs for breakfast? Reason being that he might have already worked that breakfast off toiling all morning in the garden. Balance is what we should strive for.

Energy balance

Energy balance is when the amount of energy we take in (food & drink/calories) equals the amount that is used by the body for physical activity. Energy balance is a constant battle for many of us. Sometimes it is not just that we are eating more than we are burning through physical activity but other factors contribute to a lack of energy balance. The types of jobs we have, our own lack of knowledge about food, genetics and a lack of physical activity.

The redeemed avocado (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
The redeemed avocado (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

There is a lot to be said for physical activity, not only can it help us control or lose weight but it can also help to lower our blood pressure, and cholesterol. It can keep our hearts healthy, and prevent diabetes among other things. Find something that you enjoy doing and incorporate it as a part of your life. I’ve always hated exercising. I can’t get myself into a gym and buying the equipment to use at home was a joke because I could find a very good reason, every day not to work out. I came to the realisation that I do not like to be in motion and yet be in one place, I like to know that I am moving from point A to point B so the treadmill and elliptical machines were not doing it for me. Several years ago, I decided to try walking, early in the mornings. And you know what? I love it. I finally found a form of exercise that I enjoy. I go at my own pace, some days faster than others. But the important thing is that I am moving. I take in the sights and sounds along the trail, I plan my day, I see the sun rise, and it’s “me” time. Actually, I don’t think of it as exercising at all and that is what makes it fun. So find something that you enjoy doing and move.

Cooking

As you go about eating everything in moderation, there are little things that you can incorporate that make this approach to eating even healthier.

Try cooking at home at least 2 – 3 times a week. Doing this allows you to know exactly what you are putting into your body and your family’s. It is also money saving.

Think of portions and servings when you are preparing food. Bear in mind that portions and servings will always vary depending on who is eating. Men and women eat differently and growing teenagers eat differently than adult or smaller children.

Vary your cooking methods – fry, steam, boil, sauté, bake, braise, stew, roast, grill and broil. Changing up the way you prepare your food will bring variety to the palette and enjoyment for all. Grilled chicken tastes very different from a stewed chicken, versus fried chicken. Just by varying the cooking methods, you can prepare one ingredient in different ways and pair it up with a different vegetable or starch.

How about developing (or rather going back to) weekday and weekend meals? Perhaps this was different for you too? Growing up, weekday meals for us were sautéed vegetables (okra, bora, eggplant, squash, spinach, pumpkin etc.) along with shrimp or fish and weekend food was different because mom had more time in the kitchen so that’s when the roasts, pies (savoury and sweet) and other elaborate, time-consuming dishes were made and eaten.

When serving, vary the presentation – some days do family style, that’s when one big bowl, pan or platter is laid on the table and everyone helps himself or herself. And on other days, serve the food portioned out, this way you can control your food intake. You will think twice after eating to get up from the table to go and get more food once you’re done with your meal, and, if you wait about 10 minutes you will realise that you really don’t need that second helping after all.

My personal opinion is this – don’t be afraid to use whole milk, full fat mayonnaise, and drink regular Coke. Here’s why. Eating the foods the way they are in their fullness means that because they are rich, you will quickly become satiated with the taste. However, when you have the no-fat, low-fat, diet and lean versions, you can easily find yourself eating and drinking more because you are waiting to get that “hit”; the taste you are after. The other thing to note about the low-calorie versions of many foods is that with the fat taken out, it has been replaced with sugar and sodium to give it “taste”. So if you’re going to have a cookie, have a cookie and be done with it. I am sure one great cookie would suffice rather than eating 4 waiting to get the “hit” you are looking for.

A lot of what we need to eat and stay healthy already exists right here in the Caribbean, right here in our own backyards. All we have to do is look, take notice and act. Eat a variety of foods. Eat widely. Eat well. Eat everything in moderation.

Happy New Year!

Cynthia

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