Archive for the ‘Resources’ 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)

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!

Fish: Which is which?

July 15, 2010

As a follow-up to my post on red meat, I am attaching a list I just compiled with the names of white fish and oily fish in English and Maltese. I am often asked about which fish to eat, especially due to the recommendation to consume at least 2 portions of oily fish weekly. 

Both white and oily fish are very good sources of high quality protein (for growth and repair of body cells). White fish are low in fat, whereas oily fish are higher in fat and, consequently, also rich in Vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk for heart disease, improve our immune system, improve IQ, and may also help to relieve arthritis and certain skin problems. They are particularly useful for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding because they help a baby’s nervous system to develop.

One warning re oily fish is that they typically have  higher levels of contaminants  (e.g. mercury, dioxins and PCBs) than white fish. As a result, there is some guidance regarding the amount of oily fish that should be consumed by different population groups:

  • Girls and women who might have a baby one day, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should have a maximum of 2 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Other women, men and boys should have a maximum of 4 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Girls and women who might have a baby one day, and women who are pregnant should have a maximum of 2 portions of fresh tuna or 4 tins of tuna a week.
  • Women who are breastfeeding should have a maximum of 2 portions of fresh tuna a week. There is no upper limit on tinned tuna.
  • Eating swordfish, shark and marlin is not  recommended for boys or girls under 16, or for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant in the future.

And finally, remember that certain fish, such as tinned sardines, mackerel and salmon, can be eaten bones and all. This boosts your intake of calcium and phosphorus (promoting stronger and healthier bones).

For the bilingual list of white and oily fish click on WHITE FISH AND OILY FISH.

For more information on types of fish and the health value of fish go to this website:

http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/healthydiet/nutritionessentials/fishandshellfish/

Eat local – Eat seasonal – Eat a ‘kiwi-stick'(?)

June 5, 2010

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the importance of ‘eating local and seasonal’. The reasons focus mainly on the need to support local producers and the local economy, to reduce pollution arising from the transportation and storage of food, to try to eat produce in its freshest state possible for maximum benefit of nutrients, and to lessen the demand for processed food, resulting in less pollution from manufacturing processes and less use of preservatives, and hence less health risks for humans.

International, national and business-led campaigns with the ‘eat local’ and ‘eat seasonal’ message emerge weekly.

In Malta we have the Naturalment Malti campaign led by the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs. This campaign promotes consumption of local fruits and vegetables, as well as other locally produced foods such as honey, ricotta, rabbit and wine, among others.

An interesting campaign was launched recently by McDonalds Italy:  the ‘Mc-Italy menu’. The goal was to present consumers with a range of menu items using a variety of local ingredients. These included Italian products such as extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, artichokes, onions, bresaola (low-fat dry beef sliced thinly and eaten cold), pancetta and a 100% Italian beef patty in a locally produced bun.

A variety of salads with local produce are also sold at McDonalds Italy outlets;  but the latest trend is the ‘kiwi-stick’. This is literally a speared kiwi fruit (grown in the Agro-Pontino countryside just south of Rome) which can be eaten on-the-go as if it were an ice lollipop.

The kiwi stick is an item in the McDonalds Italy Frescallegre packages. In winter, bags of local seasonal fruit are sold. These have included, for example, apples from the northern Piedmont and peaches from Emilia Romagna. This summer, the company plans to use Sicilian oranges to make ice cream.

Yet, the ‘Mc-Italy menu’ was not met without controversy. The President of the Slow Food movement – Carlo Petrini – accepted the campaign with reservations. He asked for transparency regarding the fairness of the price paid to local farmers and artisans for the ingredients, and also queried how the sensory qualities of the Italian ingredients would be ensured in the end-product. He was also concerned with respect to the potential standardisation of these ingredients if the campaign was launched globally, thus jeopardising the true traditional Italian taste.

Across the pond, in Canada, another food company – Hellmann’s – is sponsoring a campaign promoting consumption of local Canadian food. Click on the link below to see their video which spells out clearly the rationale for eating seasonal and local.  Though our balance of imports and exports here in Malta cannot be compared, the different arguments and messages will get you thinking.

So next time you go food shopping, whilst keeping healthy eating as one of your main goals, do make that effort to check if you can buy local and seasonal, to satisfy both your nutritional needs and your appetite…and to show a bit of patriotism.

For more on the mentioned campaigns read here:

http://www.mrra.gov.mt/index.asp

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10149/1061601-28.stm#ixzz0q0XuU0nH

http://www.slowfood.com/sloweb/eng/dettaglio.lasso?cod=C2744B880501e2AE0AjlMmE90175

To see the video, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIsEG2SFOvM

Am I drinking enough?

April 18, 2010

Question:  Am I drinking enough?

Answer:   Have 2 litres of fluid daily.  Drink 8 glasses of water every 24 hours. Drink when you’re thirsty…

We hear many answers to this common question.  But is there one correct answer?

Based on the explanations of different health authorities and health organisations we can calculate how much fluid to drink daily as follows:

 

– Replacement approach. The average urine output for adults is about 1.5 litres daily. We lose about another litre of water daily through breathing, sweating and bowel movements.  So if we consume 2 litres of water or other beverages a day, along with a normal diet which automatically contributes some water through different foods, we will typically replace our lost fluids.

– Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Another approach to fluid intake is the “8 x 8 rule” — drink eight 8-ounce (approx. 250 ml) glasses of fluid a day. Many people use this rule of thumb as a guideline for how much water and other fluids to drink daily.

– Dietary recommendations. The US Institute of Medicine advises that men consume about 3 litres of total beverages a day and women consume about 2.2 litres of total beverages a day.

Another way of approaching this is by drinking enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty. But this is not a reliable method, as one may start feeling thirsty when dehydration has already set in.

Also, it is said that if you produce colourless or slightly yellow urine, your fluid intake is probably adequate.  But again, this is a very general indication.

All the above applies to healthy adults in normal conditions. People who are involved in intensive exercise and sports training, or in working environments where a lot of perspiration is produced, as well as people suffering from illness or chronic health conditions, or females who are pregnant or breastfeeding have different requirements.

Anybody who is concerned about their fluid intake should check with their doctor or a registered dietitian. 

Though water is recommended as one of the best sources of fluid, 100% pure fruit juices and low-fat milk are also healthy options, both being sources of  water and of different nutrients.  

Remember that many fruits and vegetables are also high in water content: for example, watermelon and tomatoes are 90% or more water by weight.

The British Nutrition Foundation has just produced this handy sheet about a healthy daily fluid intake. It also refers to caffeinated drinks and soft-drinks and the need to curtail their intake.

BNF Healthy Hydration guide

Winning Video on Childhood Obesity

April 3, 2010

‘Childhood Obesity: A Challenge Facing America’ is a video produced by a Home Economics student in Hawaii. It just won first prize in a national US competition.

See the video here:

 http://studentcam.viddler.com/videos/watch.php?id=9932b996

Though the environment and context are slightly different from Malta, I feel this video could be a useful tool to use in our Home Economics classrooms (or in any educational setting with teenagers) when talking about being healthy, factors which influence our health status, food choices, level of physical activity and diet-related diseases.

I also feel, however, that when we are ‘teaching’ we should  not dwell too much on ‘body weight’;  but rather our focus should be on giving practical tips, offering encouragement and facilitating making the right choices to eat healthily and to be physically fit, as individuals and as family members.