“Conch salads, conch fritters, oh so many things to eat. Crack conch and scorch conch all adds up to a Bahamian treat,” according to Shamara Curry (2009).
The Bahamian culture is filled with customs and heritage. It’s rich and diverse displayed by the way we dress, our music, along with the island-flavored foods that we eat. Delicacies such as conch salad, crack lobster, conch fritters and guava duff are local and international favorites. As Bahamians, some of us live a healthy lifestyle and some of us do not. This can be seen with reference to our eating habits. These patterns are developed over time from the diets that we maintain. A diet is the kind of food that a person habitually eats (Webster’s Dictionary, 2002). Some foods may be good and provide us with nutritional value, while others may have little or no nutritional content.
We all need to eat in order for growth and maintenance of the body. Our diets determine our lifestyle whether it’s healthy or unhealthy. The foods that make up our daily diet are broken down into portions. A portion is the amount of food chosen to eat for a meal or snack (Webster’s Dictionary, 2002). Derived from these portions are servings which are an exact measure of food for a meal or snack, i.e. slice of bread or a cup of water. Moreover, the way we also prepare our meals contribute to the habits that we develop. Many may prefer foods that are baked, grilled or broiled (healthy choices) or deep fried (unhealthy choice). How we also consume these meals and when we do can also play a role into our eating habits. Next to this, cultural influences such as homecomings, regattas as well as ‘fish fries’ can affect our lifestyle as well.
Healthy Eating Habits
A healthy diet is one that is balanced and composed of foods from each of the food groups. In the Bahamas, a Cultural Food Drum has been developed to denote our local food groups and the key nutrients that should be factored into our diets. There are 7 different categories; cereals and starchy vegetables, vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy, beans and peas, fats, and sugars and sweeteners. Along with these items from the aforementioned, we must follow dietary guidelines to maintain our healthy eating habits. Limiting the amount of greasy foods that we eat and including starchy vegetables, peas and beans into our diets are examples of local dietary guidelines. Next to this, a good diet can also be seen with how much and when we eat, the way our foods our prepared along with traditions that influence diets.
Firstly, Bahamians with healthy eating habits make the conscious decision to have this lifestyle. Many follow suit of their forefathers (mainly on the family islands) or they eat with regards to their health conditions or to avoid any. It has been said by many that our forefathers ate from the ground, hence the reason they sustained long and healthy lives. They consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables. They drank lots of water and rested sufficiently. Next to this, healthy eating is done with moderation. Foods are consumed in smaller portions to satisfy hunger. When there is a craving for a snack, they have a fruit or nuts. These snacks satisfy hunger and at the same time it does not cause any excessive weight gain. Portion sizes are controlled with the number of servings at the time of consumption. For example, one may have a bowl of local boiled fish along with two slices of homemade bread and a glass of water for breakfast.
This can be viewed as a healthy choice not only because of its contents but because of the method of preparation. Furthermore, foods that is boiled roasted or grilled is preferred for those Bahamians living healthy. Fried food are normally avoided or limited in the diet. They also consume lean portions of the meats. In addition to this, the practices of trimming fats off of items are often done in effort to avoid fatty foods. Methods of preparation are vital because it contributes to our healthy eating habits. Next to this, cultural influences and traditions can be a factor in our healthy diet. At “wakes” before a funeral, various types of traditional souses are served. Souse can be composed of boiled meats like chicken, sheep tongue and pig feet and vegetables along with “Johnny cake”. While this bread is sweet and tasty, the number of servings should be controlled. There is also the “Fish fry” in which Bahamians gather occasionally.
Down at the fish fry, you can find local cuisines mainly seafood and starches. You can look forward to attaining proteins and carbohydrates with these dishes. One of the healthier local dishes is conch salad. Bahamians devour this savory delight habitually. It’s a combination of raw conch and lots of vegetables. This dish is tasty and nutritious. “The conch salad is a healthy choice to be included in a diet as it has lots of vegetables” according to Dold and Foster (2007). Home-comings and regattas can also influence our healthy eating habits. Some go down to these events just for the food. You can find just about everything local; conch, crawfish, cassavas, sweet potatoes, pineapples, guavas, and peas or beans and rice.
Servings can be grilled, boiled or baked. Lastly, our healthy eating habits are developed and maintained with what and how much we eat. There is no resting directly after meals. Moreover there is also no consumption of foods late at night or right before bed. Bahamians that make the choice to live healthy also include exercise into the daily regimen. One can walk an afternoon for twenty minutes or do light exercises to stay fit. Once there is a balanced diet and exercise involved in our lives, we’ll always be fit and healthy with less chances of developing chronic diseases. Good health begins with oneself.
Unhealthy Eating Habits
An unhealthy diet is one that is not balanced. It is also made up of poorly prepared foods consumed in large portions. The numbers of servings neither the times at which we eat meals are monitored. Dietary guidelines are not followed and the food drum is forgotten. There is also a lack of exercise as many are too lazy. Constant practice of these habits can lead to obesity or chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Peas and rice, fried chicken, steamed pork-chops, macaroni, potato salad, and fried plantains is a typical unhealthy menu for traditional Sunday dinner. As it may seem appetizing, it’s filled with grease, cholesterol and salt. Bahamian’s taste buds crave these dreadful items all the time and ultimately these wants lead to the unhealthy habits.
Many Bahamians are unaware of their habits. Lack of knowledge of nutritional value of foods can stem from the level of education one may’ve received. Factors such as socioeconomics and choosing foods because of its cost instead of the nutritional content contribute to bad habits. Folks tend to eat whatever comes to hand because of accessibility and availability of food items. On the other hand, some prefer fast food like a chicken snack from renowned Bamboo Shack. Monitoring how much we eat food from Bamboo Shack or McDonalds is not considered because we’re only thinking that it’s rather quick and it provide satiety for that moment of hunger. However, we are inclined to eat more when eating from these restaurants because the foods are not filling as they add preservatives to servings which can take away from satiety. Next to this, constant snacking between meals is another poor habit of Bahamians. Majority of the snacks are unhealthy and we consider this practice as “trucking”.
Trucking includes eating chips or candies instead of fruits or nuts. Meals and snacks are consumed with no regard to portion sizes, number of servings or nutritional content. There is also the concern of skipping meals. When this is done, persons assume that they can over-eat not only to satisfy hunger but to make up for skipped meals. For example, one may skip breakfast and lunch but before dinner they may have their version of a snack which is a two-piece meal from KFC. Then, a few hours later, for dinner they may have a plate of white rice, fried pork-chops with fried plantains and corn. After this, they’ll have another serving of this meal right before bedtime and then they’ll drift off to sleep. This practice can lead to excess weight gain, as it recommended eating two to three hours before bed.
Furthermore, there is no limitation to the amount of fried, greasy or high seasoned foods that we eat. Constant use of these preparation methods yields to health conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Diabetes, also known as “sugar” is developed from foods high in sugar. One can influence their chance of developing hypertension by not controlling the amount of high seasoned and salty foods that they have. Obesity and excess weight gain may be acquired from meals high in fat and cholesterol. This can also happen when we consume so much and we do not exercise what we intake off. The amount of energy taken in should equal the amount of energy that is outputted (in the form of exercise). Moreover, according Dr. Hubert (Matt Maura, 2011, paragraph 4 & 5), “more than seventy percent of Bahamians are over-weight. Conditions such as the aforementioned contribute to sixty percent of deaths here in the Bahamas”.
Additionally, at cultural events such as regattas and homecomings, Bahamians display their poor eating habits. They indulge themselves with over-eating and splurge over the variety of foods offered as they lack self-control. Regardless of the preparation method, they fill themselves with any or everything they can get their hands on, forgetting about portion sizes and eating in moderation. This is an opportunity to get a home-cooked meal as many of them only know of fast foods. They also devour large amounts of alcohol and sodas at these events.
Finally, our unhealthy eating habits are developed and maintained with what and how much we eat. Diets of many Bahamians are unhealthy. There is too much fast food, greasy and salty foods eaten with no limitations. There is also no exercise involved in these diets. Many practice skipping meals, snack on unhealthy items between meals or eat late at night. These habits won’t easily be broken but it will take time, practice or unfortunately being diagnosed with a chronic disease in order for the development of healthy habits.
Eating habits are developed over time. What we eat and how much we eat is entirely up to ourselves. However, it also determines the lifestyle in which we choose to live; healthy or unhealthy. Moreover, over-time we’ll see exactly how our eating habits will affect our lives and our lifespan. The Bahamas’ Ministry of Health has developed strategies to encourage healthy eating habits and to reduce unhealthy eating habits. Such strategies include the introduction of a cultural food drum along with dietary guidelines to be followed. They also unleashed campaigns to discourage bad habits. Portion sizes and the number of servings affect diets. Method of preparations also influences diets along with the local cultural events that we attend. Eating habits are either healthy or unhealthy. All lifestyles are developed and maintained with what and how much we eat. Healthy lifestyles are composed of a balanced diet and they include exercise.
However, unhealthy lifestyles do not possess or have little of these components. In order to encourage good habits, it’s recommended that we eat in small portions to satisfy hunger. The number of servings should be limited. On the other hand, bad eating habits can be seen when we overeat. Overeating may be done not only to provide satiety when hungry but to also provide comfort for various reasons i.e. depression or happiness. Moreover, boiled, baked or grilled foods are preferred when eating healthy versus fried or salty food when eating unhealthy. It’s also recommended that there is no resting directly after meals.
There is also no consumption of foods late at night or right before bed when encouraging healthy habits. Unhealthy habits are the complete opposite. The repetition of these habits leads to obesity and other chronic illness which accounts for sixty percent of the deaths in this country. Bahamians can only choose to live a lifestyle pleasing to them. Eventually we’ll move forward to an era where more people practice ng healthy habits and more concerned with nutritional value of foods rather than cost.
Curry, Shamara. (2009). I am Proud to Be a Bahamian Poem.
Dold and Foster. (2007. The Rough Guide to The Bahamas. (page 32). Maura, Matt. (2011). Ministry of Health to unleash major campaign against obesity in 2011. Bahamas Information Services Updates. Retrieved from: http://www.thebahamasweekly.com/publish/bis-news-updates/Ministry_of_Health_to_unleash_major_campaign_against_obesity_in_201113882.shtml. Webster, C (Ed.). (2002). Webster’s Dictionary (4th Edition, volumes 1-4). Chicago: Webster Press.