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Jun 2, 2011

Grab a fork and dig in, Healthy Living means healthy eating

Poor nutrition is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in all age groups. This why the message is reiterated by every health official: the key to healthy living is eating right and exercise. Caribbean Nutrition Day celebrated was on June first under the theme: “Healthy Eating & Active Living”. The day is observed each year in recognition of the important role that nutrition plays in health. But while fitting in physical activity requires a personal commitment; sticking to healthy eating can prove to be a challenge.

Marleni Cuellar reporting

There is a large population of people who are reliant on food service providers to fulfill their nutritional needs. But how much do we know what we are putting into our bodies? And how can we select foods that are best for our health. We checked in with Ministry of Health’s nutritionist Robyn Daly for some advice.

Robyn Daly, Nutritionist, Ministry of Health

“We do have healthy options in Belize we have a large variety of foods, we have like corn based foods, soups we have the traditional rice and beans chicken and things like that. Things to look at for healthy options is really the preparation and how much of that you’re actually eating.  So that’s what would make it healthy. the portions that you’re having per meal and how it is prepared.”

Two of the main things to be mindful of are portions and servings. A portion is the amount of food that you choose to eat for a meal: big or small. A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or eight ounces of milk. So one portion of food can contain several servings like if you have five slices of bread with your lunch.

Robyn Daly

“A portion, let’s look at a traditional meal. Most people have rice most days of the week so a serving of rice is half cup. So if you have no idea what half cup looks like? It’s normally like a fist. You would have to visualize what it is. You’d have to be in tuned with how serving looks. So visualize it helps and looking at what is served to you. So if you’re having your dinner plate and three-fourths of your dinner plate have rice on it then that’s a lot. Also looking at balance; we want to utilize the six food groups. So we want to have some whole grains, your carbohydrates food, your rice your potatoes and things like that. You want to also have fruits and veg. You’re supposed to be having five servings of fruits and veg a day and there’s no secret about it most of us are not having it.”

On prepackaged food, suggested servings are included in the label and even our traditional foods have suggested servings. The portion size though is closely tied to your activity level.

Robyn Daly

“So let’s say for somebody who is physically active, a medium size person, maybe between 5’4” or 5’6” and their active maybe three to 4 times a week doing some time of activity. They could safely to maintain their weight they could safely to maintain their weight. They can simply consume two thousand two hundred calories per day. So it varies accordingly to how much activity you are doing and your build.  So somebody who is not, somebody who has diabetes or less activity should be taking in less.  So all of these things can give an indication as to how much food you should be having per day.”

The third point, Robyn makes about finding the healthier option is to ask questions.

Robyn Daly

“We should know at least what our food is prepared out of. if they’re using shortening, if they’re using vegetable oils. We are paying or the food so we should have an idea of what they use to make the food. I would say it is safe within your rights to ask if you’re’ unsure. Sometimes you do know what they’re using and sometimes many restaurants they’re cooks are proud to tell you that they are proud to be using vegetable oils. They don’t mind saying it. Other places you might have to look around and try to find out but it is within everybody’s right when you’re purchasing food to find out what’s in it.”

This, Robyn points out, can be a shared responsibility with the food providers.

Robyn Daly

“They can advertise what they are preparing. Many places do it already. Sometimes they would say fresh natural juices and it would actually say it is without sugar, freshly squeezed, freshly prepared. The meals are you can see. Obviously grilled and bakes choices are better than fried and of course if you’re eating something fried I see no point in asking what was it fried with. It is within our rights to ask. We’re putting it inside our bodies and we’re paying for it. so I think a good indication would be for them to advertise or to state that the food was fried with vegetable oils so people should not worry about high cholesterol increasing their saturated fat intake or trans fat and things like that based on what the food prepared with.”

This process of educating food providers was initiated today in celebration of Caribbean Nutrition Day.

Robyn Daly

“For this year’s activities for nutrition day we are having a seminar where we are trying to enlighten and empower food service providers to improve their level of cooking that they are giving us the consumers. We need to share the knowledge with them with the high level of incidences of diabetes of heart disease of heart condition. They need to understand that many of us look to them to provide our daily meals. They should take a bit of responsibility in providing a meal that is balanced and healthy enough for us to consume.”

The Ministry of Health will also develop Food Based Dietary Guidelines which will further help to promote a healthier Belizean diet.

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