By: Dr. Selima Hauber
An ancient Ayurvedic proverb states that ‘If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.’ The first time I heard this proverb I got goosebumps. During the pandemic lockdowns, I was on a journey of discovering the vast depths of clinical studies showing the seemingly miraculous ability of food to heal our bodies. At that time, I remember feeling like I had heard the ‘gospel of food-as-medicine.’
I was pleasantly astonished that many of the chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that had become so commonplace in our society (Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer) and were largely being managed and treated by the medical profession using pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures, could not only be prevented but also treated and reversed by diet and other lifestyle changes.
To impress upon you why this resonated with me so strongly, I must share a bit of my career journey. For much of my high school years, I had aspired to be a physician. Biology and chemistry fascinated me, and I reveled in learning about how the various bodily systems functioned.
It was not until six months before high school graduation that I felt tugged in a totally opposite direction – studying agriculture to help move our country toward food security. More than thirty years later, I am realising that my role as an organic vegetable producer is more important to our nation’s health today than I ever could have imagined when I changed career paths.
Global Health is Declining
Global health has seen a steady decline since the latter half of the twentieth century, being observed initially in developed countries. An expert Joint Report published in 2003 by the WHO (World Health Organization) and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) reported that 60% of global deaths were caused by NCDs. Today, the percentage of global deaths attributed to chronic NCDs is 74%. Even more concerning then, as it is now, is the rate at which NCDs are occurring in the developing world.
The WHO Director-General at the time suggested that the terminology ‘diseases of affluence’ is now a misnomer according to current statistics revealing that 77% of global deaths resulting from NCDs occur in the developing world. Our very own statistics concur as 74% of all deaths in The Bahamas are due to NCDs. The Bahamas leads the region in being overweight and
almost half of the population is obese. One in seven Bahamians is diabetic and an alarming 47% of the population is hypertensive. This epidemic of NCDs comes at a significant cost to our healthcare system and threatens the future progress of our country. How did this potentially crippling epidemic come about, you might ask?
The WHO-FAO Joint Report cites significant changes in global eating patterns over the second half of the twentieth century from traditional, plant-based diets to nutrient-poor and energy-dense diets rich in animal products as a factor.
While diet is not the sole contributor to the epidemic of NCDs, it plays a significant role. In 2014, SPORE magazine, a publication of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, addressed the rise in overweight and obesity stats in African, Caribbean and Pacific Island states, pinning the blame on the countries’ dependence on imported foods and ‘the lack of attention to local food production’.
This is evident in The Bahamas as we currently import almost ninety percent of our food, with processed foods accounting for $400 million of a total $1 billion spent on food imports. Although awareness and concern regarding consumption of locally grown produce is increasing, the level of production is grossly insufficient to increase access to affordable, fresh foods in quantities that can positively impact national health.
Willpower and Culinary Creativity
Here again is where I get goosebumps. Clinical trials conducted more than thirty years ago, and countless epidemiological studies conducted since, are showing the efficacy of whole food, plant-based diets in the prevention, treatment, and reversal of chronic NCDs.
In some cases, daily insulin injections are no longer needed. Risky, invasive procedures such as coronary and gastric bypass surgeries can be avoided by adopting healthier eating habits. One does not have to ‘live’ with a chronic NCD.
Under no circumstances am I suggesting that one who needs recurrent medication or complex procedures will have an easy road back to health by simply swapping beans for beef. Additionally, it takes tremendous willpower and culinary creativity to compete against hyper-palatable junk foods and reverse decades of poor eating habits. The great news though, is that
changes in health markers can be realised in as little as four weeks and once dreaded conditions can be reversed, and better yet prevented entirely by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet.
Self-discipline notwithstanding, one must have access to a consistent, large supply of fresh produce to successfully reverse disease. It is also not enough for produce to be physically accessible. It must also be economically accessible. This is the gap that I am excited and proud to fill as a local producer. This is the gap that is crying out for more young Bahamians to enter.
The more growers we have, the greater access our people have to health-promoting food. As more of us return to our deep roots of subsistence food production and establish fruit and vegetable gardens that feed us NCDs will become less prevalent in our population. I envision a day when our farms become our farmacies.
I strive to grow and to teach others to grow, so that we can eventually pay farmers more often than we are currently paying Physicians in the quest for health. Our nation is deserving of vitality and good health, and our future progress depends on it
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.