If this wretched Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we all need to adopt healthier eating habits.
Obesity rates and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer are on the rise here, on the mainland U.S., and in other westernized countries. But here and in other U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands, these non-communicable lifestyle diseases have become a bona fide health emergency, according to a 2013 Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health study.
The Staywell Guam Diabetes Foundation says nearly 12 percent of all adults in Guam have diabetes. Among Chamorros, the rate is higher - 16.2 percent. The foundation says “our next generation is at risk as well, with childhood obesity, a major risk factor for diabetes, at 23 percent.”
Our public health officials and the physicians advising Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero about the pandemic repeatedly tell us that having a “comorbidity” like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, or an auto-immune disease, increases our chances of becoming very sick if we contract the Covid-19 virus. The fact is that most of the people hospitalized with this virus on Guam, and nearly all who have died here of complications associated with Covid-19 so far, have either been diabetic or have had some other type of health challenge.
Clearly, we need to eat more healthy foods. A study of diet and obesity rates among Chamorro and Filipino adults on Guam published in 2008 by the University of Guam, the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, and the University of Hawaii, revealed that of the top 25 foods sources of energy intake by either group, the only marginally healthy item on the Chamorro list was orange juice, which came in at No. 10. For Filipinos, No. 10 was bananas and No. 23 was mangoes, which are at least real live natural fruits.
The study noted that before the war, Chamorros ate a predominantly natural diet. The island’s food intake changed after World War II. Uncle Sam fed starving people rice and canned meat when they came out of Manenggon. As everyone knows, once you taste that salty meat, fried and served with hot rice, that’s it. The island diet “began to shift from locally grown foods to imported rice and highly processed canned goods, such as Spam®, corned beef and Vienna sausage,” according to the study.
Food traditions are hard to break. Think about our fiesta and party tables (when we were able to have them), where guests loaded up on starches first, then the meats, then pancit, kelaguen, other delicacies. Salads are always last, before the desserts. After a local nutritionist pointed this out to me, I mentioned to my mother-in-law that maybe we should put the salads first because it is healthier. She looked at me like I was nuts, and just shook her head. End of discussion.
Which brings me to apples.
Boxes of apples and oranges are among the food products being distributed around the island since the Covid-19 shutdown. The preferred food items are, of course, rice and canned meat. Fruit is not only perishable, but also, it doesn’t have the “fill you up” effect that hot rice and a couple sizzling pieces of SPAM does.
Yet there is a health gold mine in those apples and oranges. Oranges are of course high in fiber and vitamin C. But apples — apples are the bomb as far as nutrition goes. It turns out there’s a reason for the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
According to healthline.com, here are just some of the benefits of eating apples:
Apples lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
One medium apple equals about 1.5 cups of fruit, and 2 cups of fruit are recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet. So, eating an apple a day gives you three fourths of your daily fruit requirement. Leave the skin on, because apple skins are high in polyphenols - micronutrients packed with antioxidants.
Apples are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, in part because they contain soluble fiber, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels.
Apples contain pectin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. This means it feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
Apples have several naturally occurring compounds that may help fight cancer.
Apples contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may help regulate immune responses and protect against asthma.
According to animal studies, apple juice may help prevent the decline of neurotransmitters that are involved in memory. (My personal favorite thing about apples, since at my age, I can use all the memory help I can get.)
Maybe those boxes of fruit can start us on a new food tradition, in the wake of this pandemic. So let’s eat those apples.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.