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Are fruits as healthy as we think?

By Kimoy Leon Sing

In a recent study led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, it was discovered that eating blueberries, grapes and apples may lower your risk of diabetes; however, drinking fruit juice increases it.
Diabetes affects millions of people worldwide, resulting in blindness, amputations, kidney failure and other serious health complications. The study which was published in the British Medical Journal looked at the effects of individual whole fruits on the risk of type 2 diabetes. In total, there were 187,382 participants, both men and women, who took part in the study; however participants who had diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancer at the start were not included. Over the course of the study, 6.5 per cent of participants developed diabetes. Showing the benefits and risks of fruits and fruit juices on the body, medical researchers have now given the public more to think about, when it comes to eating healthy and maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
Carlton Phillip is the Chairperson of the NorthWest Branch of the Diabetes Association and past president of the Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He has been living with diabetes for the past 34 years and says until people start seeing how serious this disease is and how it can grossly affect your quality of life then the figures for diabetes will continue to rise.
He said, “Education is better than medication. You are what you eat. Whether you have diabetes or not you should plan what you eat. One of the problems we have in Trinidad, when it comes to diabetes is that the more affluent a society becomes the unhealthier they eat. When I was a little boy and my mom asked me to take out the garbage, inside the garbage bag was usually, fig skin, eddoe skin and fish bone. Now when you look in some people’s garbage bag, you see pizza box, fried chicken box and a whole lot of fast food that is not good for the body.”
He noted that this could be one of the reasons why there are so many overweight children in many schools today.
“When you have been diagnosed with diabetes you must change your eating habits. It does not mean you can’t eat this or you can’t eat that, you just have to look at your portions; portion control is key,” Phillip said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Dorin St Hill said, “The main thing about eating is that there is really no good food or bad food because I think the most important factor is the amount you eat and how you prepare it.”
St Hill has been a dietician for past 40 years and planning meals for diabetics is one of her specialities.
She said, “Of course, there are some foods that would be better choices like vegetables and fruits.
“Many times we talk about eating your vegetables and people usually say yuck! However things like pumpkin, melongene, carrots, christophene, and cauliflower and ochro people tend to shy away from are good sources of nutrients for the body,” she added.
“While blueberries and grapes may not grow in abundance right here in Trinidad, our dark green and leafy vegetables are very low in calories and high in fibre so you can have very large servings if you so desired,” St Hill said.
She noted that foreign fruits have a place although there are enough local fruits that can be enjoyed all year round.
“We have so many local fruits right here in Trinidad and Tobago that we tend to ignore. For instance, five-fingers also called carambola. Cherries of all descriptions, particularly the red cherries with the soft seed centre; that is one of the richest sources of vitamin C. Five red cherries alone would give you the required amount of vitamin C you need for the day,” she said.
“Great for smoothies and even porridge, you can squeeze some oranges and make juice on a hot day. You don’t have to add sugar since many of our local fruits are sweet enough,” she said.
St Hill noted, given the high sugar content of many of our fruits, some diabetics may opt to avoid it completely, but St Hill says this is not necessary.
She said, “In my opinion all fruits are allowed to patients with diabetes, whether mango, watermelon, pineapple or cherries; you just have to watch your portions. Diabetic people can eat the same food as the rest of the family. What I always tell people have a colourful plate. Try to get foods from all the six food groups. For diabetics it is all about portion control and exercise.”
“It is important for people to understand that people don’t die from diabetes but diabetes complications. It is one of the most serious diseases that affect a wide range of organs in the body,” Phillip said.
“There are more than 175,000 people that have diabetes in Trinidad and Tobago and many more who do not know as yet, that they have the disorder. Diabetes is leading cause of blindness in the world so it is important to get tested. If you are over 30 years old, you should get tested at least twice a year,” he added.
St Hill noted that the study is one example of how a diet rich in fruit can improve your overall health however it is also important to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
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