Archive for the ‘Nutrition education’ Category

Halloween comes to Malta

October 29, 2011

So Halloween has come to Malta big time.

Up till a few years ago you would perhaps hear of a Halloween party here and there among university students or other groups where there were a few individuals visiting from the  USA. But nowadays the shop windows and shelves are full of Halloween paraphernalia. I have even seen specially designated crates in supermarkets and local corner shops with bagfuls of packaged trick-or-treat sweets.

So why am I writing about this?

As a Home Economist…

I feel this sharing of special holiday rituals is something which helps us appreciate each other’s cultures and also enriches our life experiences.

I also think this is a great opportunity for children and young people to be creative; perhaps designing their own original costumes and producing them by reusing materials available at hand; or carving out pumpkins and other fruit or vegetables to make their own special lanterns.

I am afraid that the commercialisation of this holiday event is really rampant and that perhaps it could lead to overspending on items of limited lasting value. How many children will want to wear the same costume the following year, or still be able to wear it size-wise? (Of course costume-swapping could be an idea to consider.)

As a Maltese Home Economist…

I think it’s good to see Maltese children and youth finding another opportunity to get together and do things as groups; also getting some physical exercise  by spending a few hours touring their neighbourhoods on foot, or dancing away at some organised party.

I am concerned however that this will become yet another occasion for children to overeat and store up on lots of sweets and high-sugar, high-fat foods as they go round trick-or-treating. (See this blog post and video from US Nutrition Educator Connie Evers on trying to offer a healthier trick-or-treat experience to children: http://truthonhealth.org/blog/2011/10/18/guest-blog-connie-evers-cast-a-healthy-spell-on-trick-or-treaters/;
http://www.katu.com/amnw/segments/132794868.html)

I am also concerned that Halloween is stealing away from the focus on our local traditions related to this time of the year.  Apart from the religious rituals attached to Jum il-Qaddisin Kollha (All Saints’ Day, November 1) and Jum l-Erwieħ (All Souls Day,  November 2), I am also thinking of the folklore and food associated with these feasts.

I commend the confectionery shops which have continued to produce the traditional All Souls Day sweet – a bone-shaped almond paste-filled pastry called Għadam tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Bones). Symbolically, they were meant to encourage Christians to remember their deceased loved ones and friends and to pray for the souls of the dead who were not yet in paradise.

I also commend any organisation, company or catering outlet which is trying to revive awareness of the All Souls Day Minestra tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Minestrone) and Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Pig); two dishes which were meant to encourage generosity with the poor.

On All Souls Day, Franciscan priests used to set out huge pots or cauldrons in the town and village streets and the locals could add any vegetables they had available at home. Eventually, these pots were placed over a heat source and the Minestra tal-Erwieħ was cooked. This soup was then made available to the poorer residents of the
locality.

Il-Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ was another charitable tradition. A few weeks prior to All Souls Day, one of the wealthier village or town residents would buy a pig, tie a little bell around its neck and let it loose in the neighbourhood.  People could hear the pig approaching from inside their homes and would go out and feed it. On All Souls Day this fattened pig was captured and slaughtered. The pig was then cooked (often roasted) and also shared with the poor of the locality so that they would be able to have some meat.

IDEA! Maybe the Borża ta’ San Martin (St Martin’s Bag) tradition could become our day for Maltese children to go trick-or–treating. On the feast of St Martin, celebrated each year on November 11, Maltese children traditionally receive a bagful of nuts (e.g. walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts), dried fruit (e.g. figs), a special sweet
dough bun (Ħobża ta’ San Martin) and seasonal fruit (e.g. tangerines and pomegranates). Rather than find the bag hanging on their bedpost,  children could go round their neighbourhood collecting tasty, seasonal nutritious goodies for  their borża.

(Għadam tal-Erwieħ image courtesy of Jubilee Foods)

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The day after…Healthy Weight Week

January 23, 2011

Today is January 23rd. The first day after Healthy Weight Week was celebrated in the USA (January 16-22).

For several years now, I have been following this special week with great interest. Initiated by Francie M. Berg (editor of the Healthy Weight Journal), the idea is to celebrate interventions which promote a healthy weight and a healthy body image; and also to name and shame  the past year’s worst weightloss diets, products and claims. The latter is done on ‘Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day.’

One reason I named this entry ‘The day after’ is that many consumers are often  lured into trying out weightloss diets and different products, only to realise very soon that these do not work. Clever marketing strategies highlight the ‘benefits’ and ‘special properties’ of these  diets or products, often quoting the science imprecisely or inadequately to argue their point. In the long-term, many of these weightloss diets and products  prove to be useless or occasionally even harmful. It is also well known that one of the outcomes of society’s and the media’s overemphasis on weight, as reflected in appearance, is disordered eating.

Weightloss, where this is truly needed, is no easy task. In many cases, however,  small and gradual lifestyle changes are enough to set one on the right track. Eating a variety of foods,  with an emphasis on low-energy (i.e. low calorie) but  nutrient-dense (i.e. rich in nutrients) foods, accompanied by a good amount of physical activity is the basic  formula. This clearly points to increasing plant food intake (vegetables, fruits, pulses, wholegrain cereals) and opting for low fat milk and milk-products, lean meat and low calorie beverages (e.g. water). It also points to choosing low fat cooking methods, such as steaming, grilling, and stir-frying, and making physical activity a regular feature in ones daily/weekly routine.

Two sets of awards are highlighted during Healthy Weight Week. These are the ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ aimed at prevention of disturbed eating, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; and the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ aimed at exposing the fad diets, gimmicks and false promotions.

 The ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ winners for 2010 were:

‘A Chance to Heal’: a multi-workshop programme for middle and high school students, adults and families, and the health care community focusing primarily on  dissonance (http://achancetoheal.org)

‘In Favor of Myself’: an innovative 8-session preventive programme to promote positive self and body image widely disseminated among youth in Israel;

‘Healthy Body Image’: a 4th through 6th grade curriculum emphasising positive body image, appreciation of inner strengths, resistance to marketing pressures among others (http://www.bodyimagehealth.org )

 – ‘Body Rocks’: a school and community peer education club focusing on positive body image and eating disorders prevention.

This year’s finalists in the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ were:

Lapex BCS Lipo Laser, using laser light treatment for spot reduction (worst gimmick);

– HCG, a pregnancy-related hormone placed under the tongue to mobilise fat (worst product);

– Ultimate Cleanse, that builds on a myth re the need to detoxify the body (worst claim);

Basic Research, a marketer of bogus products with a long history of Federal Trade Commission (US) violations, warnings, charges and fines (most outrageous).

One must realise that due to global marketing and internet shopping, many  products like those mentioned above are available and accessible worldwide. Therefore, as Home Economics educators or other educators promoting healthy eating and a healthy weight we need to help our students / clients to be more consumer savvy. We also need to teach the basic principles of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

For more on Healthy Weight Week and research and information on obesity, eating disorders, weight loss and healthy living at any size see http://www.healthyweight.net/hww.htm

For a 22-year history of Slim Chance fads and frauds see www.healthyweight.net/fraud.htm

Food for Julia – Breast is best

October 8, 2010

Baby Julia was born 2 weeks ago on September 23rd. In honour of my beautiful new niece I have decided to write a blog about breastfeeding.

We have often heard the phrase ‘breast is best’. It’s been around as a promotional message for quite a while now. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the infant’s life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

The list of benefits of breastfeeding is constantly growing.

Well-known benefits for the infant include that breast milk:

  • Comes at the right temperature and consistency for the child
  • Provides the right balance of nutrients to help an infant grow into a strong and healthy toddler
  • Has disease-fighting antibodies that can help protect infants from several types of illnesses, such as ear infections, diarrhea and certain lung infections
  • Reduces the risk that the child becomes overweight as it grows older
  • Reduces the risk that the child suffers from type 2 diabetes, eczema, and leukemia as it grows older.

Some recent research also suggests that breast milk contains two amino acids (protein building blocks) which help an infant’s brain develop and also increase the infant’s cognitive skills. These amino acids are not normally added to formula milk available commercially.

But the benefits of breastfeeding do not pertain to the infant only. The mum stands to gain a lot too. Benefits we are all familiar with include:

  • The emotional bonding with the infant
  • The cost savings
  • The convenience
  • The mother regaining her pre-pregnancy weight and figure more quickly
  • A natural method of birth control.

Interestingly, a number of recent scientific research studies are suggesting that there are even more health benefits for mothers if they breastfeed. For example:

  • Women who breastfeed for at least 24 months over the course of their reproductive lifespan have a lower risk of developing heart disease. Researchers suggest that this could be due to the beneficial effects that breastfeeding has on the body’s metabolism of sugar and fats, and on decreasing visceral fat—the dangerous kind that collects around the abdominal organs.
  • Mothers who breastfeed also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Research has found that women who breast-fed for less than a month had nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decades later in life compared to those who breast-fed for longer, or those who never had children. A possible explanation is that lactation makes cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin. (Notably, diabetic mothers who breast-feed usually require less insulin whilst they are nursing.) It could also be due to breastfeeding’s effect on where fat is stored: on the hips and thighs rather than on the abdomen. Excess visceral fat, frequently accumulated during pregnancy, is a key risk factor in adult diabetes.
  • Breastfeeding for 6 months or more helps protect against breast cancer in women who have their first baby after age 25, or who have fewer than four children (two risk factors for breast cancer). Prolonged breastfeeding also lowers a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. This could be because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation—and the ovulatory hormones that play a role in these cancers—during those first few months that the mother is breastfeeding exclusively.
  • A number of studies have linked breastfeeding to protection against rheumatoid arthritis, possibly due to breast milk’s impact on the levels of female sex hormones, like oestrogen and certain androgens, which are thought to play a role in this debilitating condition.

The WHO has a very simple yet interesting slideshow called ‘10 facts on breastfeeding’ which summarises the above.  Click http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/facts/en/index9.html to access.

So calling all new mums! Remember…You are a very special person because you can make the food that is uniquely perfect for your baby. Do your best to breastfeed for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Invest the time in yourself and your baby – for both your sakes!

Food Blogs and Citizen Journalism

August 10, 2010

I’m just back from the USA where I attended the annual conference of the Society for Nutrition Education (SNE). (http://www.sne.org/)  One of the many great sessions was about nutrition education and social media and this inspired me to write a post on food-related blogs.

It seems that such blogs are among the most popular and fastest-growing in number worldwide. They are also one of the vehicles for what is known as ‘citizen journalism’.

Citizen journalism generally refers to a broad range of activities in which everyday people contribute information or commentary, particularly about news events. This type of journalism has been around since  the first mass printing and distribution of pamphlets; but with the birth of digital technologies it has become much more pervasive. People now have unprecedented access to both the tools of production and of dissemination.

Citizen journalism encompasses content ranging from user-submitted reviews on a restaurant, to comments and even news stories from readers being published in online sites of traditional news outlets. Blogs are considered as falling somewhere in-between: often offering factual information, as well as commentary or opinions.

But one important characteristic of citizen journalism is that it somehow obliges the writer to go beyond simply presenting one’s musings on a topic. The unstated remit is to develop a balanced story which will be genuinely useful to readers.

I see food-related blogs as potentially meeting this remit in different ways. Some blogs offer a steady stream of  up-to-date and comprehensive (scientific, historical,  cultural, environmental) information about a multitude of topics, or specialising in one particular topic; others regularly present very practical tips on food preparation and presentation, often accompanied with recipes and photos showing the process and/or the end-product. Some food bloggers adopt a critical approach, presenting well-argued commentaries on hot topics of the day, whilst others develop occasional short-lived blogs offering personal insights and useful guidelines, such as a travel blog related to food experiences during a particular holiday.

But enough of my musings. 🙂 Below are links to a just a few of the food blogs showcased at the SNE conference this year, as well as some blogs I visit myself when I find the time. Check these out and log in again to the Malteaser later this week for some lighter fun news from the world of food innovation.

http://www.culinariaandwellness.com/blog (by Dr Karen Mugliett – a fellow Nutrition, Family & Consumer Studies lecturer at the University of Malta)

http://nutritionmythbusters.blogspot.com/ (by University of Missouri Extension team)

http://enourishment.blogspot.com/ (by Marie – A Registered Dietitian from California)

http://nutritionnibbles.blogspot.com/ (by Sybil Herbert – A Registered Dietitian from Canada)

http://www.julienegrin.com/blog/ (by Julie Negrin – A Nutritionist from New York City)

Cooking skills for children – A ‘real’ need

June 14, 2010

A while ago, Jamie Oliver (known for his school food revolution) won an Award in the USA for promoting the need for food education.  In his words, food education includes learning how to cook.

I could not agree more. Cooking skills are essential for children – teaching them how to make tasty, healthy foods quickly is teaching them a skill necessary for life. Parents and adults need to realise their role in teaching their children how to cook. So do schools. To quote Jamie: “Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single [American] child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their life. Life skills.”  I strongly feel this applies to Maltese children too. And we were nearly there once….

Home Economics has been around as a school subject in Malta for decades. Thousands of students have benefitted from a Home Economics education. Healthy and economical cooking has always been integral to this school subject. Home Economics students have enjoyed cooking. Home Economics students have learnt from cooking.

BUT UP TILL THIS DAY NOT ALL MALTESE STUDENTS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO HOME ECONOMICS IN SCHOOL.

It’s time we worked on this again in Malta. Now.

A few years ago the local education authorities committed themselves to ensuring a food and nutrition education entitlement for all students to help them towards healthier living. (see HELP document p.15 http://www.youth.gov.mt/ministry/doc/pdf/HELP_document.pdf) I agree that this is easier said then done. I also acknowledge that several initiatives are already under way. But we need to accelerate the process for the good of our children.

Take a look at the video of Jamie Oliver’s award acceptance speech. (http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html)  It is truly an eye-opener. Please see the video right till the end. Hear his final wish. Take what is applicable to you and whether you are a  mum, dad, teacher, student, school administrator or food producer help in bringing back what’s been lost: The family and the school teaching cooking skills to the younger generation.