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‘Superfoods’ to the rescue - UTech professor says eating more natural local produce could cut medical bill

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
The breadfruit, one of the many 'superfoods' grown in Jamaica.
Another superfood, ackee
Dr. Fitzroy Henry

Professor of Public Health Nutrition Dr Fitzroy Henry is urging policymakers to consider providing incentives to farmers who produce 'superfoods', given the potential these have to help cut the country's annual medical bill.

Superfoods, including breadfruit, sweet potato, ackee, plantain, banana, pigeon (gungo) peas, yam, Irish potato, coconut and cassava, are considered to have powerful components that help to fight disease and improve the immune system.

A recent study which Henry, a University of Technology (UTech) professor, co-authored has shown that several superfoods are being produced locally.

"Most of the solution to our health problems can come from agriculture," the UTech public health professor told The Sunder Gleaner before asking: "Can we put incentives to farmers so that we can have food produced and at a cheaper cost, those foods that are very helpful?

"It's only one Budget we have and one treasury. By that I mean, you allow people to buy the imported stuff and they get health problems, and then you have to pay money at the hospital so it comes out of the health-care cost," said Henry.

The global superfood industry is reportedly worth an estimated US$130 billion, and Henry is concerned that these foods are being manipulated by manufacturers to produce artificial products with questionable health claims.

He said by encouraging local farmers to plant more of these superfoods, Jamaicans could benefit from them before they are altered.

"We have a lot of natural superfoods here and this should be the basis on which we grow, market and develop our school-feeding programme, and all the other programmes that we have," he said.

Henry's study, 'Low-cost superfoods in the Caribbean', was published late last year and saw him collaborating with Shanika Allen, Deonne Caines and Sheerin Eyre to secure the prices of 158 commonly consumed foods from popular supermarkets, wholesales and open markets in six parishes.

The researchers found that several of these superfoods, which are produced locally, are inexpensive.

The public health expert argued that many Jamaicans have already acquired the taste for these foods, and as such, he is encouraging enterprising Jamaicans to consider establishing more fast-food restaurants that utilise these natural products that are healthy for the population.

"The genesis in our health problems is not in the health sector, it is in the agricultural sector," charged Henry.

Here's what some common superfoods can do for you

- Avocado: Helps support cardiovascular health, anti-cancer activity, boost immune system.

- Banana: Anti-diarrhoeal; ulcer-protective antimicrobial activity, wound healing, kidney cancer activities.

- Breadfruit: Cytoprotection, anti-cancer, antioxidant activities.

- Cassava: Cytoprotection; wound healing.

- Coconut: Glucose homeostasis and antioxidant activity, controls severe hyperglycaemia.

- Corn: Controls diabetes, lowers blood pressure, anti-cancer activities.

- Dasheen: Helps in the management of diabetic nephropathy.

- Kidney bean-red: Hypoglycaemic, antidiabetic properties, appetite control.

- Oats: Lowers LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, improves insulin sensitivity.

- Peas - pigeon (gungo): Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune modulatory activities.

- Plantain - green/ripe: Gastroprotective, lowers cholesterol, antioxidant, mutagenic effect.

- Irish potato: Reduces blood pressure and cancer cell growth.

- Sweet potato: Antioxidant; anticancer activities.

- Brown rice: Cancer prevention.

- Yam: Lowers LDL cholesterol and colon cancer risk.

- Ackee: Antioxidant activity.