“Does anyone have any diet restrictions or things you’re following?” Ritz-Carlton executive pastry chef Melissa Logan asked her audience on Friday at the Cayman Islands Healthcare Conference. “I can tell you, I do.”
Ms. Logan said she was recently told by her nutritionist to go on the “auto-immune protocol diet,” requiring her to forego dairy, gluten, eggs, grains, and processed sugar. As a pastry chef, that made her dig deep to come up with recipes like the one she made at a cooking demonstration on Friday: a pineapple and Thai basil sorbet.
Such healthier dishes are needed in the Cayman Islands, which is facing a rising problem of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
According to speaker Dr. Sonali Ruder, an author and nutritionist known as the “Foodie Physician,” about one in three people in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
“These are American statistics, but it’s pretty much the same in the Caribbean,” she said.
Moreover, the rates of obesity-related ailments among Caymanians is exponentially higher than non-Caymanians in the territory: Maureen Cubbon, the wellness director at the health center Bestlife, said the rate of heart conditions is nearly six times higher among the Caymanian population than the non-Caymanian population in the territory, the rate of diabetes is three times higher, and cancer is nearly three times higher.
About 40 percent of Caymanian children are overweight or obese, which exceeds the 33-percent rate in the U.S., Ms. Cubbon added.
“Unfortunately, we know that many Caymanians are leading unhealthy lifestyles. We smoke, are overweight – sometimes even obese – and we are not getting the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables,” lamented Health Minister Dwayne Seymour.
Throughout the three-day event, multiple speakers from a variety of backgrounds provided numerous tips for how people can combat those troubling statistics.
“You should have a well-balanced diet with lots of nutrient-dense whole foods – foods with minimal processing,” advised Dr. Ruder.
While that advice may be well-known, it’s hard to follow when people are eating out at restaurants, where they do not see the ingredients going into their meals. Therefore, one of the most effective measures people can take to ensure their meals are nutritious is to cook at home, and to get children involved in the process, she said.
“Take your kids grocery shopping, let them pick the ingredients. Let them help pack their lunch. Basically, just get them in the kitchen with you,” said Dr. Ruder. “And eat together.”
Dr. Ruder was the keynote speaker on Thursday night. The next day, a panel was held to discuss some myths and facts about nutrition.
Cayman Clinic physician Dr. Virginia Hobday said one of the most pervasive myths she sees is that people think skipping breakfast is a good way to lose weight.
In fact, “It increases hunger later in the day, encourages sudden urges to eat, and to eat larger portions,” she said.
Dentist Dr. Keelin Fox said she often hears her patients tell her that they have “soft teeth.” The enamel on teeth is actually the hardest substance in the human body, she explained.
“It’s quite rare for people to have soft teeth unless you have a rare condition,” she said.
Most of the topics discussed were about the consumer side of the health equation, but Department of Agriculture Assistant Director Brian Crichlow also talked about Cayman’s farmers. With little hope of competing with farms in the U.S., local farmers are finding their niche by satisfying demand for healthier food such as free-range poultry, fresh eggs and vegetables.
“We have farmers doing well with kale. Five years ago, our farmers hardly knew anything about kale,” he added.
An audience member asked why government is not limiting imported foods in order to protect local producers. Mr. Chrichlow said it’s not government’s policy to limit competition, but that consumers can play their own part to help.
“If it’s mango season and you go to the supermarket and see imported ones, go to the manager and say, ‘Where is it?’” he advised. “They’ll listen. Dollars talk.” At the closing of the conference, Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn said 130 flu shots were administered during the event, 40 people signed up to be blood bank donors, nearly 200 people had body composition tests, and 400 people had their blood tested. Mr. Seymour said more than 1,200 people attended the conference – “a record,” he said.