Fri | Sep 22, 2017

10 reasons to eat more local staples

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Persons take their pick from ground provisions at the 62nd staging of the Denbigh agricultural show in May Pen, Clarendon, on Sunday. -Photos by Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer
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Marsha N. Woolery Healthy Eating & Diet

We all desire better health and freedom from diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease. What are you willing to give up to make this happen? This can be a reality if we make healthier food choices and eat more local, unprocessed foods in moderation.

It is a part of our Jamaican tradition to consume yam, whether renta, yellow, hafu or white; green banana, coco, dasheen, potato - Irish or sweet, cassava and plantains - ripe or green; but how much thought have we put into the nutritive value of our local foods?

These popular, unprocessed Jamaican staples, known as 'food', are nutritious, and if eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet, can prevent diseases, improve a person's health and lower the amount of foreign exchange used to buy rice, wheat flour and the byproducts.

In the Caribbean food groups, these local unprocessed foods are found in the staples group. The main nutrient in these foods is carbohydrates, which is the major source of energy for the body.

Below are 10 reasons to eat more local, unprocessed staple foods:

1 Excellent source of carbohydrates, which is broken down to glucose to provide energy to the body. The glucose is released slowly from these foods because of the fibre content and improves blood sugar in persons with diabetes.

2 Excellent source of soluble and insoluble fibre. The fibre helps to prevent and treat constipation, as well as lowers and controls blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure. It also causes one to feel full, and as such, eat less food, increasing the chances of weight loss. Three ounces of yam, potato, dasheen, etc. provide one to three grams of fibre. The amount of fibre in these local foods is not much different from the amount in the imported ground provisions such as potatoes or the grain oats.

3 Excellent source of potassium, which is needed to maintain regular heartbeat and fluid balance in the cells. Persons with kidney failure should avoid these foods because of the high potassium content.

4 Gluten-free and these food items can be dried and finely ground to make flour. The flour can then be used to make porridge, puddings, cakes and other dishes.

5 Hypoallergenic due to the fact that they are unprocessed and natural with no added dyes, flavourings or food additives. Perfect for the seven-month-old infant who is starting to eat from the family pot.

6 Natural source of sodium. These foods can be consumed without adding salt when cooking.

7 Good source of phytoestrogen (estrogen that is found in plant foods) similar to what is found in soybeans and soymilk.

8 Versatile and prevents monotony in menu and, or meal planning. Can be boiled, roasted, fried, steamed, mashed or dried and made into a powder/ flour.

9 Each three-ounce provides 75- 90 kilocalories, which is simil to half cup rice or half cup pasta/ macaroni.

10 Improves our Jamaican economy ... whether we live 'a yaad' (in Jamaica) or abroad.

To emancipate ourselves and our families from poor health, it is recommended that we consume and demand more locally grown, unprocessed staple foods.

Here are some menu ideas to use yam, banana, breadfruit, dasheen, coco, potato, plantains and cassava:

Diced to make salads with carrot, string beans, red peas or any other peas or beans, onions and, or escallion and mayonnaise, if desired. Sweet potato salad with the skin is my favourite - full of flavour!

Mashed or diced and served instead of rice or pasta

Grated and used to make porridges, puddings, cakes, cookies and other sweet dishes.

Blended to make a drink or smoothie instead of oats, and enriched with milk for protein and fruit for sweetness. Natural nuts, especially peanuts, add flavour and texture to the drink.

Emancipate yourself from using imported staples and experiment with our local, unprocessed staples and make them a part of our healthy lifestyle everyday.

Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University. Email yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.