Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Food Groups of the Caribbean

A food guide demonstrates a set criterion for day-to-day meal/menu planning. It incorporates visual representations of categorised food and their suggested daily allowances or servings. As such, the food guide comes in multiple shapes ranging from a pyramid, wheel, rainbow, pagoda, circle and others.  However, the pyramid seems to be the most popular form for a food guide icon. (See Figure 1. &  2.)
Figure 2. Top L-R: Albania, Romania, Bulgaria & Hungary food guides
Bottom Row: L-R: Austria, Switzerland & Haiti food guides
Figure1. Top L-R: Japan, USA, France & UK  food guides
Bottom Row: L-R: Portugal, Spain & Canada food guides
Food guides vary around the world, with some countries using as little as three groups whilst others use up to seven groups. Regardless, of how many are used they all aim to meet the basic nutritional needs of set populations. Food categories appear grouped according to their primary energy or micronutrient profile. For instance, root crops, cereal grains and starchy fruits are carbohydrate rich and are often categorised together. Bear in mind, this may not hold true for all food guides but for the guide used throughout the English speaking Caribbean, it is. 
The Caribbean Food Guide Icon
(Image source: PAHO/CFNI)
The official food guide of the English speaking Caribbean contains six food groups (See Table 1. below):
Legumes & Nuts (Legumes)
Foods from animals 
Fats and Oils (Fats and Substitutes) 
Please note, sugar and sweeteners are not an official food group due to their calorie dense nature and poor micronutrient profiles, but are included in many dietary guidelines used throughout the region. 

The guide takes the shape of a wheel; each segment or spoke represents a different food category and the respective daily allowance. Staples and legumes are the largest segments, signifying their importance in the diet; the energy dense group of fats and oils is the smallest. A 2002 food consumption survey performed in Guyana, revealed the consumption of legumes ranked higher than the consumption of items from the food from animals group (Ramsammy, L 2005)

The food guide (Caribbean) takes into consideration the best possible food combinations that could be consumed despite  the household budget or when whole food groups are excluded; in the case of vegetarianism, food allergies etc. For instance, Rastafarians- tend to follow a vegan or pescatarian diet; Hindus –tend to follow a vegan, lacto or ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. These factors may or may not be unique to a Caribbean population but are influential in determining the nutritional quality of meals eaten. Hence, the reason the major protein sources are split into two distinctive groups- plant protein (legumes & nuts) and animal protein (foods from animals).  
$30 (US $7) buys 6 pounds (lbs) of  beans & peas or 1lbs of cheese
Understandably, there is a marked difference in the cost of food items between the two groups. Legumes are nutritiously ‘cheap’ foods that fit into the smallest budget when bought in bulk, unlike, many foods in the foods from animals group; these tend to be pricey when bought in relative amounts. However, this cost can become insignificant after applying the multi-mix principle in the meal planning process.

TABLE 1. Shows the Food groups used in the English Speaking Caribbean
Food Groups
To provide energy, fibre  & micronutrients
Root crops & Tubers (ground provision), Starchy Fruits & Grains/Cereals 
Sweet Potatoes, Dasheen,  Breadfruit, Plantains, Corn, Wheat flour, crackers
Legumes & Nuts*
To provide protein, fibre & micronutrients
Beans, Peas/pulses, Tree Nuts & Peanuts
Red Beans, Pigeon Peas, Lentils,  Cashews, Peanuts
Foods from animals
To provide protein & micronutrients
Dairy, Poultry, Red Meats, Offal, Game Meats &
Milk, Eggs, Chicken, Beef, Liver, Deer, Shark, Shrimp
To provide energy, satisfy sugar cravings,  fibre, micro-nutrients & phytochemicals
Tropical fruits &  Imported fruits
Pomerac (Rose Apple), Mango, Apple, Pear
To provide fibre, micronutrients & phytochemicals
Dark green, leafy, yellow  &  fruit vegetables
Patchoi (Bok Choy), Bhagi, Watercress,  Carrots, Pumpkin
Fats, Oils & Substitutes***
To provide energy, fat, micro-nutrients & flavour
Solid (fats), Liquid (oils) & fatty fruits
Butter, Ghee, Lard, Coconut,    Avocado

*These terms are interchangeable with legumes (legumes & nuts).
*** Fats and Oils is interchangeable with Fats, Oils & Substitutes
** Low-calorie vegetables can be consumed in ‘unlimited’ quantities as long as they are free of added oils & fats. 

Dietary Guidelines for selected Caribbean Countries

It should be noted,  within the English speaking Caribbean,  a country’s local food and nutrition or governing health body is responsible for designing and implementing dietary guidelines specific to their population. As such, Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Christopher (St Kitts) and Nevis, Saint Lucia,  Belize, Saint Vincent the Grenadines (CFNI 2009) and Jamaica (as of 2015) ALL possess national dietary guidelines.
Cuba, Dominican Republic and Venezuela also possess national dietary guidelines, however, they are Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries (Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2009). 

In general, the diverse nature of the region lends itself to dietary guidelines varying from country to country.
 The following video summarises the 6 basic food groups. 
Please note: The video does not go into details about the actual foods in the food groups 

1) CFNI. 2009.  Dietary Guidelines. (
2) FAO. 2009. Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. (
3) Ramsammy, L. 2005. Caribbean Nutrition Day. (
4) Nestle's High Five For Life:

Related Articles
What is The Multi-Mix Principle? 
Pomerac is a Dieters Best Friend
Food-Based Dietary Guidelines

No comments: