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Savour the Colours of Health
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Caribbean Nutrition Day, an annual event endorsed by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is recognized every year on June 1st. The days immediately following Caribbean Nutrition Day commences our local National Nutrition Awareness Week (NNAW); and is celebrated this year between 4th to 8th June 2018. It is a public nutrition education campaign which places emphasis on improving people’s health through food and nutrition. This year’s theme for NNAW, targeted towards adults 18 years and older, is titled “Put A Rainbow On Your Plate”. The theme has been proposed to promote the daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
What are the Risks in Not Eating Fruits and Vegetables?
For good health, the Pan American Health Organisation recommends having 2-3 servings of fruits daily and 3-5 servings of vegetables as part of a balanced diet. A major report published in 2014 and endorsed by the World Health Organisation reported that, with a consistent diet of fruit and vegetables, each additional serving of fruit and/or vegetables per day can decrease your risk of dying by about 5%. Reduced fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to poor health and increased risk of major Chronic Diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. These particular diseases kill more people every year worldwide than any other cause of death. 
According to The World Health Reports, it is estimated that up to 5.2 million lives could potentially be saved each year if fruit and vegetable consumption was sufficiently increased. In Trinidad and Tobago, 90% of adults do not consume the daily recommended minimum of 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables (reference: T&T STEPS NCD risk factor survey report, 2012). 
Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables
The road to lifelong health begins with establishing healthy food preferences and lifestyle habits very early in childhood. However, it is never too late to start eating healthy and including fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Research indicates that improving your diet, even if you start in middle age, can add many years to your life.
Prevention of disease involves building a diet with variety of healthful foods, which include brightly coloured vegetables, fruits, whole grains and ground provisions, legumes and nuts, fish and seafood. Pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright colours represent a variety of protective compounds called phytochemicals. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. The more naturally colourful your meal is, the more likely it is to have an abundance of these immune-boosting and disease-fighting nutrients and compounds.
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in fresh plant-based foods that act as antioxidants and prevent damage to cells of the body from highly reactive, unstable molecules called “free radicals.” If not kept in check, free radicals can lead to cell damage and eventually lead to the development of a variety of chronic diseases. 
Phytochemicals act in a variety of ways to protect health. Some categories of phytochemicals can increase cancer cells' tendency to self-destruct; others may stop carcinogens (cancer causing agents) before they have a chance to begin the process of cancer development. They may also block the development of new blood vessels tumours need; some may help to regulate hormones, others may stimulate the immune system and some also fight inflammation within the body. The most important take away message is that we need a wide variety of plant-based foods in our diet to get the full range of phytochemicals available to protect our health. 
Scientists have identified tens of thousands of phytochemicals and there is speculation that there are likely many more they haven’t yet discovered in the foods we eat. There is a vast range of natural phytochemicals that come in a variety of colours. There are 6 (six) main categories (refer to figure 1): 
1. Red 
2. Orange
3. Yellow 
4. Green 
5. Blue/Purple/Black
6. White/Brown/Tan
Ways to Create a Rainbow on Your Plate
Make a tropical rainbow fruit salad with fruits of each colour: watermelon, West Indian Cherry, tangerine, fivefinger (starfruit) pommecythere, sapodilla, raisins. You can also stir fry your own mix of vegetables using each colour: purple onions, carrots, squash, cauliflower, christophene, patchoi, carailli, mushrooms and diced ginger. Enjoy savouring the delicious colours of health!
Final Thoughts
The public is urged to celebrate regional and local initiatives for Caribbean Nutrition Day and National Nutrition Awareness Week in an effort to help spread the word about the importance of consuming nutritious food and maintaining healthy lifestyles.

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The Ministry of Health - Trinidad and Tobago
#63 Park Street Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.   Phone: 868-627-0010