Adding healthy to diet

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Phil Tay­lor Words Chris Tarpey Pic­tures The Her­ald vis­ited Van­u­atu cour­tesy of the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion NZ.

This Christ­mas, the Her­ald and The Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion NZ are work­ing to bring the Gift of Sight to the Pa­cific, where four out of five peo­ple who are blind don’t need to be. An in­creas­ing num­ber of these are young peo­ple, suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes-re­lated eye dis­ease. This week, we bring you sto­ries of just a hand­ful of these peo­ple and in­vite you to help us raise money for a sight­sav­ing ma­chine. The se­ries

Mon­day: The Pa­cific “tsunami” Tues­day: A day at the clinic Wed­nes­day: From the outer is­lands

Yes­ter­day: Liv­ing with chronic di­a­betes

To­day: A top chef’s healthy tips

Mas­ter chef Michael Mered­ith joined the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion NZ’s Pa­cific out­reach team in Van­u­atu re­cently to help raise aware­ness of the di­a­betes epi­demic in the Pa­cific and to do a spot of cook­ing.

“Over time the wrong diet can cause di­a­betes and that can lead to eye dis­ease and blind­ness,” ex­plains Mered­ith.

While in Van­u­atu, Mered­ith shared his tips on us­ing the lo­cal pro­duce to cre­ate a healthy and af­ford­able diet.

You are a sup­porter of the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion. Why did you choose that char­ity?

I grew up in Samoa and moved to NZ when I was 12. An aunt who lived with the fam­ily in Samoa had cataracts and no one un­der­stood how easy it was to fix. As I found out more about Fred Hol­lows, I re­alised how $25 can ac­tu­ally change some­one’s life.

It would have changed our fam­ily back then. So I have a heart­felt con­nec­tion with the foun­da­tion’s work, par­tic­u­larly in the Pa­cific.

What were some of the sur­pris­ing things you learned while you were in Van­u­atu?

I was sur­prised and sad­dened at how high the rate of di­a­betes is in Van­u­atu. A quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion of less than 290,000 peo­ple have di­a­betes.

One of the sad­dest things I saw was some of the young peo­ple who have di­a­betes and how it im­pacts the whole fam­ily. Some peo­ple just ac­cept it as part of their life, as it’s dif­fi­cult to get med­i­cal help. Yet di­a­betes is some­thing that can be pre­vented or man­aged through ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­ca­tion and aware­ness about what you eat.

Can you tell us about the im­pact of di­a­betes on eye dis­ease?

One of the pa­tients I met, Karl­pat Edul, seemed like he once was a very phys­i­cally strong man, but his de­meanour showed that the last few years has taken its toll on him.

I felt very sad for him, he was once the provider for the fam­ily, but he is now in a wheel­chair and has to rely on his fam­ily to sup­port him. It made me think how for­tu­nate we are in the Western world to have med­i­cal treat­ment that would pre­vent some­thing like this hap­pen­ing.

What did you learn about the typ­i­cal diet in Van­u­atu?

For me, white rice was the big thing. I was shocked to learn that the diet con­sisted of mainly white rice and tinned fish and meat. This seemed to be be­cause it’s cheap and con­ve­nient, which suits the re­cent change of life­style for the lo­cal peo­ple.

They eat white rice in quite large serv­ings and in about 80 per cent of their meals. Brown rice which has the husk is much more nu­tri­tional but shelves in the su­per­mar­kets there were heav­ing with short-grain white rice while there was just one small shelf of brown rice which is a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive. With white rice you are eat­ing straight carbs and it turns to sugar in your sys­tem. Maybe they just think sugar is sugar and don’t re­alise there is sugar in most foods.

You held a cook­ing de­mon­stra­tion at the Port Vila lo­cal mar­ket. How was that?

We served 200 por­tions and we laid out all the in­gre­di­ents so the lo­cals could see what was used. The idea was to show how they could make health­ier meals with what is avail­able at not much more cost.

Port Vila has one of the best fresh pro­duce mar­kets I have seen in the Pa­cific. There’s beau­ti­ful ed­i­ble greens there with more nu­tri­tional value.

They have got turmeric, a su­per­food right now in the Western world, and it grows wild there. And they have got gar­lic, co­rian­der, pars­ley.

Add a bit of brown rice and show them they can add a bit more spice into their food. I think they were sur­prised.

I feel they have never been shown how to cook brown rice, how soak­ing it opens it up a bit and makes it cook quicker.

What did you learn about the foun­da­tion’s work in the Pa­cific?

I had no idea about di­a­betic retinopa­thy. To find out that di­a­betes through food can lead to blind­ness was gob-smack­ing for me.

I was blown away by what they have es­tab­lished on the ground, es­pe­cially train­ing the lo­cal nurses.

I saw the grat­i­tude of one of those nurses, Basil Ai­tip, who was so happy that the foun­da­tion is build­ing a ded­i­cated eye clinic in Port Vila that can pro­vide year-round care for his peo­ple.

I left with mixed emo­tions. Di­a­betes has such a big im­pact. Fam­i­lies are sep­a­rated as peo­ple need to come to Port Vila for treat­ment. Bread­win­ners can lose their abil­ity to work.

I feel the lo­cal Gov­ern­ment could do more. It is im­por­tant as hu­man be­ings to help each other.

I like what Fred Hol­lows is do­ing in the Pa­cific be­cause they are our neigh­bours.

Photo / Chris Tarpey

Din­ers at the Vila mar­ket share lunch.

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