Food Based Dietary Guidelines for Belizeans
With more than sixty percent of the population being either overweight or clinically obese, there is an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. That is why the Ministry of Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization have come up with a set of food based dietary guidelines. We reported on the launch of the guidelines on February tenth and tonight’s Healthy Living has an in depth look at the guidelines.
Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health launched the food based dietary guidelines for Belize. The eight guidelines were compiled by a cadre of health professionals and agencies and the process was initiated in 2009. It is a practical way to offer Belizeans detailed advice on how to get healthy. According to Robyn Daly, Nutritionist for the Ministry of Health, they looked at all the common health issues in Belize but focused their efforts on addressing the most prevalent.
Robyn Daly, Nutritionist, Ministry of Health
“The guidelines look at the prevalence of obesity and the overweight. We look at consumption of healthier foods, limit of consumptions of fat and sugars and salt. We also looked at increasing vegetable consumption, increasing fruit consumption. Those are some of the areas that we looked at, that were problems, that we believe that if people would follow those it would actually help to reduce some of the prevalence rates that we have in terms of micronutrients and in terms of reducing the prevalence of obesity and overweight.”
The eight guidelines provide advice that is as straightforward as eating more fruits and vegetables to a back-to-the-basics approach of using natural food and seasoning. Daly explains the significance of each of the guidelines.
“We actually have eight guidelines and they speak to different health problems that we have. So we have: using the different foods from the food groups. That was an issue that we think, if people would have more options using the food groups we would actually have, you actually be taking in more nutrients from food if we have more variety as opposed to having the same things every day. The other guideline talks about eating more fruits so you know many times we stick to one type of fruit all the time, and we have so many different other fruits, they are cultural and seasonal but we do have a variety of local fruits here that we can promote. This is why we worked with Agriculture to ensure the availability of these fruits s o that these guidelines can be followed. We also look at eating more vegetables daily choosing different types. Again we have so many vegetables that are available here in country. We do have some that people would use more often than others but we are emphasizing using other types as well.”
While our cultural diet already includes it fair share of ground foods; guideline four reiterates it’s importance in our diet. It also encourages us to move away from heavily processed and refined foods and instead try to eat more whole grains.
“We have choosing more whole grains and ground food more frequently. Whole grain we want to emphasize using your brown rice, your whole grain more, your whole wheat: products that are not processed and refined. we also look at limit I intake of fat sugar and salt, again this is no new time you’re hearing this. It is something that keep promoting. People have to monitor their fat intake, salt intake and sugar intake of course. These are things that can definitely increase a healthy lifestyle practice. Using natural seasonings in food preparation and cooking, that’s the other. Again natural seasonings, we’re looking at cilantro, oregano, herbal spices, things that you can readily plant and readily have available. We’re promoting the use of this rather than processed seasoning.”
Healthy food extends beyond food choices, as is outlined in guideline seven. Food safety is paramount; from cleanliness to proper storing and cooking techniques.
“Practice good hygiene when buying storing and preparing and cooking foods. This addresses food safety. Practice good hygiene when you’re preparing food and when you’re buying. The last one is keep active, make physical activity a part of your daily routine, again nothing new. We’re emphasizing physical activity.”
Daly noted that having food dietary guidelines prepared within our cultural context should make the information easier to digest. Even their illustrated food basket, which is comparable to the food pyramid, includes foods we eat often in Belize.
“We want people to be healthier; this is the main reason for having these guidelines. People we already have a lot of health problems as is ands we don’t want the problems to escalate higher. This guideline is a general tool to guide the general population to know what they can do. If you were to ask somebody what you can do to live a healthier lifestyle? We have these eight guidelines. And eight is a lot to remember, but if you can look at four and practice four or five, you would be on your way to living a healthier lifestyle.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the guidelines, the pamphlets and other educational tools can be obtained through the Ministry of Health.