It is the favourite Belizean dish, in fact it is a must on Sundays for lunch … it is rice and beans, rounded off with chicken and potato salad. Healthy Living looks this week at the nutritional value of our local cuisine.

Marleni Cuellar
Its midday and its rice time in Belize. Like most Belizeans, I sit down to a typical lunch of rice and beans, chicken and salad. Tasty... we know. But is it good for us?

Belize boasts a diverse range of cultures. And along with those cultures comes a variety of foods that we have grown up eating. Whether it’s an early morning fry jack and fry beans or a Saturday ritual of “bile up”, these meals are staples in the Belizean diet. Everyone has their favorite but when it comes to the real deal Belizean meal: Rice and beans is tops.

Marleni Cuellar
“What’s your favorite Belizean Dish?”

Person #1
“Rice and beans, chicken and salad. That’s my favorite you know.”

Person #2
“Well I think mine and most Belizean da rice and beans chicken, bake chicken, potato salad.”

Person #3
“Belizean favorite food is rice and beans, salad and chicken. Dat da di basic.”

Coconut oil? fry plantain? pigtail? In these days when disease like diabetes and hypertension are rampant, have we stopped to think about what our favorite food is doing for our health? Sandra Collins is a registered dietician and nutritionist. She helps us to dissect a few of our favorite Belizean foods and gives her take on their nutritional content.

Sandra Collins, Registered Dietician & Nutritionist
“There is nothing wrong with the Belizean diet as such. It’s only asking that you make little adjustments. For example, in the case of the rice and beans, if you’re gonna cook the rice and beans, do you have to add the fat to the rice and beans? You put in the coconut milk, you soften the beans with the pigtail and you know they add additional fat to that. Maybe you can cut down on the amount of fat. It’s either one or the other.”

Cutting down on the fat and increasing the good stuff. Rice and beans in itself is a fairly complete meal. It is, however, lacking one major component.

Sandra Collins
“In the rice and beans, it’s a complete protein right there. The rice with the beans, it’s just like eating a piece of meat. The beans is from one of the food groups. It compensates with the rice to make the amino acids or the protein profile. You don’t even need meat there. With rice and beans its enough, it’s just like beans and tortilla. If they have only rice and beans it’s good. The meat is there for flavor it’s a part of the tradition and so forth. The potato salad is again adding more starch to the diet. What is missing in that diet is vegetables? There no vegetables on that plate. I think for years in Belize they have been talking about food groups and we have the six food groups and about a year and half ago we did a focus group in Belize and what we learned from that and this was taking a sample of the Belizean population all over the country. This was done throughout the country. What we learned that everything was fine except the people did not have enough fruits and vegetables. And when you put fruits and vegetables in your diet, it gives you a feeling of fullness. Vegetables make you feel full and it’s very low in calories. If you add it to your plate then you’d be eating less of the other and that would compensate for the amount of the other foods that we eat.”

In addition to a lack of vegetables, there seems to be a high intake of sodium in our food. This requires another adjustment within our diet, one that may add more flavors to our food and carry additional health benefits.

Sandra Collins
“If they would cut down on the salt content and add more herbs and spices to their diet to season their food. Studies have come out that show that herbs and spices are anti-inflammatory, meaning it helps to fight against disease; diabetes being one of them. You have the spiced cinnamon, you have all spice, thyme, marjoram to mention a few. They actually have an inflammatory or curative effect on the diet whereas salt is actually hurting us.”

It also wouldn’t hurt to add more grains to our diet. Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat flour. Corn Tortillas are also an excellent source of whole grains. As for the vegetables, if you have any trouble trying to figure out just how much or what kind you should be fitting into your diet. Collins gives this advice.

Sandra Collins
“Think about the rainbow, that you eat all colors of vegetables. When you eat your plate you want to see something red, something yellow, something purple. Let’s say if you have eggplant which is purple, you have a little tomato that is red and maybe a little papaya for desert; that your whole meal have all the colors and that way your getting phytochemicals, you’re getting everything that is good. So its something that your eye could help you and it’ll be good for your palette.”

Of course, it is important to remember the basics. Physical activity is one sure way of maintaining your health. It’s a matter of equating how much you put in and how much you put out. With that in mind, you can then have your rice and eat it too!