When I travel, I love to experiment and taste the local flavors, while at the same time maintain a healthy weight. I truly enjoy foods of all kinds and I’m always looking for new ingredients to add to my current cooking repertoire.

This summer I vacationed on the Caribbean island of Antigua. I happened to stay at the same resort where this season’s “The Bachelorette” was filmed. It was a quaint, all inclusive, family friendly resort with bungalow-style cottages overlooking the turquoise-colored waters.

The West Indies, today known as the Caribbean Islands, were originally inhabited by the Arawaks and Carib Indian tribes. The native diet was rich in fresh fish, tropical fruits, tubers and local vegetables. Some of the foods that originated in the Americas have made their way around the world, influencing cuisine permanently. These surprising staples are beans, corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes and chili peppers.

The guava packs a mean punch when it comes to its nutritional value (Photo courtesy The Food Network)

The guava packs a mean punch when it comes to its nutritional value. (Photo courtesy The Food Network)

Since 1492, the Caribbean Islands have absorbed the flavors of their subsequent inhabitants, evolving their food to what it is today. The Europeans brought wheat, beef, onions and garlic; but, as with many islands, the meat consumption is usually limited to smaller game, including chicken, pork, lamb and goat. The enslaved Africans brought okra, callaloo (a leafy green) and ackee fruit. The Asians brought many vegetables and the current Caribbean starch staple — rice. Indians brought many spices, including curry.

The Caribbean diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables supports the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The creation of that diet was part of one of the most successful clinical trials conducted in the 1990s to determine the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. This trial showed that those who followed a diet high in fruits and vegetables, but low in saturated fat and total fat, were able to lower their blood pressure as much as they would if on medication.

Some of the fruits and vegetables unique to the islands are more healthful than our “healthiest” foods. Take the all American apple. Just one a day can keep the doctor away or so they say, but compare this high fiber fruit to the guava and it packs only one-fourth the fiber, half the potassium, and almost negligible vitamin C. Our gold standard, broccoli, used in most clinical trials, is no match to the leaf green callaloo, weighing in with half the calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

The infamous Jerk seasoning used on pork and chicken was introduced by the Coromantee slaves from West Africa and is a staple on most traditional menus. I was fortunate enough to sample this flavorful dish while snorkeling along the waters on a private beach excursion.  Although spicy foods only minimally increase your metabolism, according to some research, it makes eating smaller and lower calorie portions of white meat chicken more flavorful.

Try this jerk chicken recipe out and let me know what you think. Here’s to your health.

Jerk chicken with mango salsa. (Photo courtesy repurposedlife.wordpress.com)

Jerk chicken with mango salsa. (Photo courtesy repurposedlife.wordpress.com)

The Better Option jerk chicken

Serves 8

2 pounds chicken breast pieces

1 tbs. dry Italian salad dressing mix

2 tbs. brown sugar

2 tbs. olive oil

2 tbs. light soy sauce

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground thyme

1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

5 garlic gloves, peeled and chopped

1/4 tsp. Scotch Bonnet pepper

 

Wash and prepare chicken. Mix all ingredients except chicken in small bowl until well blended. Pour dressing over chicken; cover. Refrigerate one hour to marinate, or overnight. Drain and discard dressing mixture. Place on a greased grill or grill pan 5 to 7 inches from heat source. Grill 40 to 45 minutes or until cooked through, turning frequently.

Source: Caribbean Food Emporium

 

Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.