Saturday, April 13, 2024

Healthy food alternatives

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IN 2009, I ATTENDED the launch of Government’s Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) for Barbados, the main goal of which is the reduction of the economic costs to Government caused by chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs).
It was noted then that the guidelines were important to empower individuals, families, and communities to eat better across the island.
At the launch, the nutrition officer at the National Nutrition Centre (NNC) noted: “There is the clear need for political commitment and support in developing adequate nutrition policies. These should help prevent CNCDs through the provision of enough healthy, affordable food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to the reduction of nutritional deficiencies.”
Freshness, of course, is usually linked to better nutritive value, and therefore locally grown produce should be given priority wherever possible. For those who often complain about the high price of local produce, a more careful examination will show that farmers’ average prices for local fresh produce have not changed significantly in many years, although under extreme weather conditions, spikes may be observed.
As far as I am aware, there was a regulation introduced some time ago which stipulated that a certain percentage of local produce had to be bought by Government institutions. But, is this being monitored? I doubt very much.
The launch of the dietary guidelines was followed by the staging of a consultation in June 2010 to discuss the implementation of the guidelines. At that event, a very useful booklet entitled Nutritious And Healthy Foods In Schools, prepared by the National Nutrition Centre, was distributed.
Since then, we have seen a number of very interesting and  informative television programmes being  produced by the Government Information Service demonstrating to the public how they can prepare more healthy meals, particularly with the youth in mind.  
In one recently aired programme, I was particularly impressed by the simple, yet nutritious lunch box ideas which food and nutrition consultant Ms Zonia Phillips presented, that parents would do well to introduce to their children. I certainly have evidence that if children are introduced to these fresh fruit and vegetable snacks early in life, they will accept them readily.
All these interventions are laudable, but has any monitoring been done to see if any positive change is taking place as a result? Persons operating school cafeterias were present at the consultation, but hasthe introduction of the recommendations in school cafeterias been monitored? Can we say how many cafeterias have introduced healthy meals and whatthe acceptance level of the students is?
I know that the School Meals Department has made an effort to introduce more healthy meals, but this has to be an ongoing programme and should not depend on the whims and fancies of those preparing the meals. There are complaints every year about the Government’s agricultural station competing with commercial farmers on the market with goat’s milk produced from their research herd.  
Why no milk?
What is not clear is why this milk never seems to be used in the Government institutions and, in particular, the School Meals department and Senior Citizen’s Homes when it is known that goat’s milk is more easily digested than cow’s milk, and contains more calcium for healthy bones. Goat’s milk reportedly containsa percentage of proteins with different structuresthan cow’s milk proteins.
These differences enhance the digestibility of goat’s milk protein, and cause fewer allergic reactions. Goat’s milk reportedly contains less lactose. The inabilityto digest lactose is a common condition, and milkwith less lactose is helpful for those individuals. The department could perhaps produce flavoured goat’s milk which should be attractive to the children.
Another recommendation of the Nutritious And Healthy Foods In Schools, is that all children should be exposed to food production, including animal husbandry in order to create an awareness and interest in food security. An ideal way to accomplish this isto introduce school gardens at all schools. In my experience, however, the interest shown by childrenin school gardens varies with the teacher at that particular time.
Therefore, I do not agree with this approach and feel that suitable teachers who are interested should always be selected so that the standard of the gardens is consistent.
I think too, that the curricula at both primary and secondary schools should include nutrition and practical food preparation and that the link between the school garden and food preparation should be made from early in the child’s life. They should not grow up thinking that food originates in a supermarket.
In my next column, I will discuss the need for definite policies and measures to be introduced and monitored, so that more progress can be made in the area of control of chronic non-communicable diseases.
• The Agrodoc has over 40 years’ experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector. Send any questions or commentsto: The Agrodoc, c/o Nation Publishing Co. Ltd, Fontabelle, St Michael.

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