Posts Tagged ‘healthy eating’

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

Good for you; good for the environment

December 28, 2010

(Image (c) Barilla; Source: http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid)

As we approach the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, typically many of us are making their New Year’s resolutions.  A common resolution is to improve our diet – “I must cut down on those high-fat, high-salt packet snacks”. “I should really ban fizzy sugary drinks from our dinner table.” “I need to drink more water.” The goal is often to manage our weight and to safeguard against illness and health problems. Good for us!

But have you ever stopped to think that choosing to improve our diet as a New Year’s resolution might have additional value…beyond personal gain?  Well it does! It can also help to safeguard the natural environment.

You have probably often heard the food-related slogan “Good for you, good for the environment.” Some of you may already use it in your educational settings. It seems, however, that this food choice principle is now being given much more importance both by governments and by industry.

In 2009, the government of Sweden proposed a new set of dietary guidelines combining health and environmental impact. (http://www.slv.se/upload/dokument/miljo/environmentally_effective_food_choices_proposal_eu_2009.pdf) Recommendations in the Environmentally Effective Food Choices proposal included: eating locally produced meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables and berries, eating sustainable fish, avoiding bottled water and palm oil, and limiting rice consumption (as its production results in large amounts of methane). Unfortunately, these guidelines were not approved by the EU Commission who said that they would encourage Swedish consumers to choose locally produced products at the expense of products from other countries, which contravenes the principles of free movement of goods in the EU internal market. Although the original proposers (the National Food Administration) made revisions to the guidelines to address this criticism, the Swedish government eventually decided to withdraw the proposed guidelines.

Nonetheless, this interest in guiding consumers on the food and sustainability link is gaining momentum in Europe.

This past September the German Council for Sustainable Development published their updated Sustainable Shopping Basket guide. (http://www.nachhaltigkeitsrat.de/fileadmin/user_upload/English/pdf/publications/brochures/Brochure_Sustainable_Shopping_Basket_September_2010.pdf) With respect to food they recommend that the consumer’s shopping basket “should contain above all  healthy food products, organic products,  seasonal fruit and vegetables grown locally,  less meat and fish, fair-trade products and beverages in recyclable packaging units.” The guide also explains sustainability-related labels to look for when making food choices.

The above Swedish and German recommendations are in tune with a December 2009 report by the UK’s Sustainable Consumption Commission which mapped out synergies and tensions between public health, the environment, economic stability and social inequalities. ( http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/Setting_the_Table.pdf) The Setting the Table’s priority recommendation for changes likely to have the most significant and immediate impact on making our diets more sustainable was: Reduce consumption of meat, dairy products, and fatty and sugary (low nutritional value) foods, and waste less food.

The food industry is also pitching in with their research and guidance. Just recently, in December 2010, the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) published what they called a Double Pyramid to graphically represent the link between the well-known food pyramid and the generation of greenhouse gases, water use and the ecological footprint. (http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid) Although the food pyramid depicted is not the same as that of the WHO Europe CINDI Healthy Eating Guide, its concept is the same and food group placements are similar. Eat-often foods found at the base of the food pyramid, such as bread, pasta and wholegrains are shown to have a lower impact on the environment than meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and fats, oils and sweets found higher up in the pyramid. In other words, recommended foods for health are more environment-friendly and vice-versa.

The Double Pyramid and the rationale behind it was presented at an open debate at the European Parliament and discussed by a panel of MEPs and food policy experts. MEP Paolo de Castro warned: “The issue of food supply, fuelled in recent years by the exponential growth in demand, particularly in some areas of the world, is leading us onto dangerous ground. Food is destined to become an insufficient and costly resource. Today’s challenge is to increase productivity, with fewer resources and less pollution.”

These words echo those of Professor Joan Gussow, noted American nutritionist and environmental scientist, who nearly a quarter of a century ago, wrote ”Learning to view foods as more than just sources of nutrients may guide consumers toward sustainable food choices. A shift to sustainable diets would be an important first step in widespread adoption of a sustainable agriculture policy that promotes the conservation of natural resources and regional self-reliance in food production and consumption.”

So if you are teaching or writing about the food pyramid, food groups and healthy eating, there is very good reason to also emphasise the sustainability link. (For more on this you might also want to check out the Dolceta website on Sustainable consumption [http://www.dolceta.eu/malta/Mod5/spip.php?rubrique1], as well as Seasonal and Sustainable an interesting recipe book recently published by my Home Economist colleague Karen Mugliett [http://www.timesofmalta.com/life/view/20101211/news/healthy-cuisine-for-every-season].)

And finally, as you make your New Year’s resolutions, choose one or two related to sustainable food consumption. Remember that from the health perspective: What’s good for you is very probably good for the environment.

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/

‘Hobz biz-zejt’ Michigan-style

June 21, 2010

I was intrigued to come across this post about hobz biz-zejt written by somebody married to a Maltese emigrant and living in Michigan USA.

I have been given permission by Julie to link to her post. It makes interesting and fun reading. We call this cultural adaptation.

http://www.amichiganmom.com/2010/06/maltese-tuna-sandwiches.html

Yes – our hobz biz-zejt is truly delicious and can be very healthy too. See my comment in Julie’s post.

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.

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

Bring back Home Economics Education

May 21, 2010

On May 11, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) published an article recommending that Home Economics (HE) Education should be brought back as a compulsory subject in US schools. 

The rationale given by the authors (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig) was that the younger generations are growing up with no healthy and thrifty food and meal preparation  skills and that HE education could help overcome this deficiency and thus  help curb rising obesity figures.

The article lays emphasis on the need to teach students about the
scientific and practical aspects of food – basic cooking techniques;
caloric requirements; sources of food (from farm to fork); food shopping and budgeting principles; food safety; sourcing and using nutrient information and labels; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

I feel that this list of topics is typical of a classic Home Economics curriculum, though the article does say that these topics may be  taught in a cross curricular manner.

Below are the introductory and concluding sentences of the article.

“Home Economics, otherwise known as domestic education, was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls. The underlying concept was that future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families. This idea now seems quaint, but in the midst of a pediatric obesity epidemic and concerns about the poor diet quality of adolescents in  the United States, instruction in basic food preparation and meal planning skills needs to be part of any long-term solution.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1857)

“Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this  generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever  before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1858)

This article serves as further evidence of the need for a period of compulsory HE education, for both male and female students, during the formal years of schooling.

Access article here:  http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/303/18/1857

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.