Jamaica is blessed with an abundance of local foods and traditional cuisine can provide the basis of a healthy diet. The rise in chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer accompanied changes in eating habits and lifestyles, many of which are based on foreign influences. While we do need some imported food products, we should not neglect our highly nutritious local ones, some of which are reviewed here.
Persons avoid pear because they fear the high fat levels, being 89% of this food. The fat however is mainly mono-unsaturated, the same type of ‘good fat’ found in olive oil, which is 100% fat. Avocados are also rich in soluble fibre, which reduces blood cholesterol levels, potassium to lower blood pressure, magnesium good for menopausal women, folic acid for pregnant women and supplies vitamins A and E, antioxidants to boost the immune system. As with all foods, portion control will keep the calories in check. Instead of eating a whole pear with bulla, why not try including one slice of avocado with your salad on a more regular basis.
Persons with hypertension fear the sodium in coconut water, but with only 60mg per cup, this is still low and comparable to the 30mg of boxed juice. An added benefit of coconut water is its high potassium content active against high blood pressure and it is fat free. The diuretic effect is useful in flushing out infections of the bladder, a cheaper source of this benefit than cranberry juice and with much less calories, being only 50 per cup.
Classified as a starchy food, breadfruit is often feared by persons with diabetes and those trying to lose weight. Never fear, it takes two slices of breadfruit to give the same amount of calories as one slice of brown bread but it has four times the dietary fibre, to help cleanse your bowels of unwanted waste. The carbohydrate is of the complex type and its high soluble fibre content helps to control blood sugar levels, unlike the insoluble fibre of bran bread. Moreover, breadfruit is low in sodium and high in potassium, good news for those with hypertension. The raw fruit is a good source of vitamin C and this is better retained when roasted than if boiled. There is no need for frying, which is probably the basis of the misconception on caloric content.
Game and organ meats
Meat eaters can also benefit from selecting local foods. The local liver is described as more tender and tastier than imported liver and the nutritional benefits include iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamins A, E and B. Free-range animals, have an advantage over cultivated animals in terms of the lower fat and calorie levels. A three-ounce serving of local goat, for instance, has only 160 calories with less than 9g fat compared with imported mutton at 267 calories and 21.6g fat. As a child, I remember enjoying the meat of guinea pig and rabbit at my aunt in St. Elizabeth and these provide even fewer calories and fat than a goat. For those in this parish who still eat frog’s legs, these delicacies give only 73 calories and 0.3g fat for the same three ounces of flesh.