Food in Focus: Eye-Opening Ways the Traditional Bahamian Diet Could Adversely Affect our Health

     Indisputably, Bahamian food is beyond delicious. Honestly, I admit that when I’m away in university lying in bed at night I dream about conch snacks and my Aunt Margo’s conch fritters probably more than I should. However, nutritional education has recently peaked my interest and I- along with many other Bahamians- have begun to question the makeup of the food we put in our bodies, something we might have never cared to do in the past. To put it in context, If you were to research malnutrition in the average Bahamian woman alone, you’d find that obesity has risen from 20.3% to 38.1% in the span of just over 30 years. It’s the ‘catch-22’ of our time simply because the ‘unhealthiness’ of most Bahamian food is what makes it so enjoyable. High amounts of cooking oil, starches, sugar and salt are embedded into the culture. It is the very life force of places like Fish Fry. It is also the reason why the whole family gathers for Sunday lunch after church every weekend. Given all of this, herein lies the question: We love our Bahamian food but to what extent does Bahamian food really love us back? Furthermore, what are we as a country doing to promote healthy diet to the public?

 

Bahamian food doesn’t love us back

     Heart disease, diabetes, and hypertensive diseases are among the top 10 leading causes of death in the Bahamas. Given popular diet, it’s not surprising that these ailments just-so-happen to be food related. Hypertension, otherwise known high-blood pressure, is due largely in part to saturated fats and cholesterol. Despite recent controversy in biomedical academic papers concerning these factors’ role in hypertension, they are largely thought to ‘clog arteries’ and increase blood pressure. As a result, the heart is made to work overtime pumping blood back to the body and this can lead to stroke and heart failure. With the popularization of fast food chains and our obsession with high amounts of sugar and low-quality carbohydrates, the number of Bahamians diagnosed with diabetes recently hit an ‘all-time high’ according to the Tribune and has even garnered the attention of the International Diabetes Federation in 2017. In 2012, Diabetes was recognized as an epidemic in the Bahamas yet we enjoy our favorite food every day nonetheless. Institutions like the Bahamas Diabetic Association have done what they can to spread the word but it seems knowledge stops short in its permeation through the public. Astoundingly, The Bahamas has been ranked as the country with the ‘highest overweight rate’ in all of the Caribbean and Latin America by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2016 which indicates that our food education system is not as powerful as it could be.

With this information, it is clear to see that the way we eat as a nation is antagonistic to our health. Therefore, the pressing question at hand is: what are we doing as country to combat this issue? The Bahamas Association of Nutritionists and Diabetics claim to encourage Bahamians to eat native fruits as a way to avoid the high prices of imported fruits while the Ministry of Health provides health information online for public access. Although helpful, It seems that these efforts are proving insufficient however. If one were to take a good look at the mass of the Bahamian people today, they would find a large population of overweight adults and children. Could it be because the price of food in The Bahamas is wildly expensive? Perhaps it could be due to dietary ignorance? In my opinion I believe there is more to do in this country when it comes to regulation of our food consumption.

 

Solutions

The first place is to start in our education system. In primary school, I recall learning about food groups and food related disease very briefly. Given my experience in high school, however,I believe there needs to be more of an effort to educate about diabetes and heart disease at the secondary level. . It may seem like overkill to the average Bahamian but as stated before this issue has transformed into a very serious national epidemic and is continuing to adversely affecting the lives of many good Bahamians, young and old. Moreover, it is beyond reasonable doubt that school cafeterias need serious revamping. The same old greasy nonsense is not properly fueling our children’s brains in the classroom, in fact, it may be hindering them. Eating junk food in school is known to contribute to memory and learning problems. An introduction to a proper lunch plan outfitted with fruits, foliage, and high quality carbohydrates would be the best for our future leaders. With the recent increase in VAT, it would be incredible to see the government delegate funds to a small sector of the government that would be in charge of overseeing and regulating ‘cafs’ in our schools to provide this form of catering. The government and school administration of these schools are called to apply much more force when encouraging parents to provide healthy snacks and lunches for their children. Not only would it help prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but would allow for better performance in classrooms and national examinations, an effect that would increase our international standing along with national morale and pride. Eating well at a young age can promote better food choices in the future for these students and generation by generation we can decrease the rate of overweight and food related diseased people in our population. In addition, organizations like BAMSI should receive much more funding to produce home grown crops and fruit for the public. With the expansion of BAMSI, there would be lower prices on healthy food items making a healthier lifestyle more accessible to all Bahamians. It also would generate more jobs for hardworking Bahamians while helping out our economy.

There are many great things about our nation and improving upon areas of weakness will only make us greater. It is imperative that Bahamians eat a better diet to not only rectify our place in the world internationally when it comes to public health but to prolong the lives of living generations and generations to come. Traditional Bahamian food is beyond delicious but life is fruitful when we remember to keep- and eat- all things in moderation.

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Dinia Johnson

Absolutely spot on! Working monthly in the Bahamas for twelve years, I too, became addicted to “fried” conch fritters and saw my waist increase time I finished off a dozen or so! Sadly, I looked around and found that I was not the only one looking fat. As a country, I thought being big was a genetic trait of the people since everyone seem to carry that distinction. This may sound ignorant (and it is) but I also equated smallness of Asians the same way. After years of working the Bahamas I realized that the two cultures food diet related… Read more »