Being a (former) dietitian in a new world

I have been a dietitian for almost all of my adult life. I only recently resigned from my provincial regulatory body, meaning I am no longer allowed to practice dietetics in Alberta. That’s okay because I’m also not allowed to work in the Cayman Islands.

I still consider myself a dietitian and my hackles still rise when I hear self described “nutritionists”, a title that is not protected by any regulatory body, make nutrition claims with little to no basis in science.

This is not going to be a rant. My point now is that I have always looked at the world through the eyes of a dietitian, and not an “evangelist” dietitian as my friend describes them. I have always believed in certain things in my food philosophy. My favourite word is moderation. If that makes me boring, so be it. It also makes me healthy and happy and I believe, a reasonable person. Moderation in all things is my motto.

The other thing I believe in is the 80-20 rule. If you are restricting certain foods for a health problem, for example, heart disease or high blood pressure, try to be cautious 80 percent of the time. If you can do that, you can justify a treat 20 percent of the time. My other philosophy? There are no good or bad foods.

Both of the last two philosophies obviously go out the window if you are talking about a severe food allergy, or something like Coeliac disease. There is no room for gluten in a Coeliac diet and no room for trace amounts of any allergen when the reaction is anaphylaxis.

I strongly believe that food is meant to be enjoyed. We don’t need to suffer to be healthy. If you want to lose weight, you need to increase your activity, so that your expenditure is more than your intake. That doesn’t mean you should be miserable. It means you need to exercise, probably at least an hour each day, and decrease portion sizes.  Most people didn’t become overweight in a week, so it’s going to take more than a week to lose excess weight. Bad habits develop over a lifetime, so it takes a commitment to change them.

How are my philosophies working for me in the Caribbean? Perfectly. In a country with such a diversity of cultures blending with the local culture, the food possibilities are endless. I’ve never became attached to any food “products” because I make almost everything from scratch, so I don’t miss a particular brand of product. That works well for me everywhere. Buy local produce and as much of the local protein sources as possible. It certainly helps that we do have a market here and there is hydoponic gardening. There was a time where many things would have to be shipped in. Now, we can buy eggs, chicken and fish that are sourced locally.

I love trying new restaurants, and I know that maybe in the restaurants they use more butter and oil than I would use at home. That’s why we don’t eat out every day. That’s why I try to swim every day!

While visiting Italy, we ate and drank whatever we wanted, in moderation. The food in restaurants was all prepared from fresh local ingredients. We also walked almost everywhere. After a month of eating to my heart’s content, I didn’t gain a pound. I can’t say that after every vacation, so sometimes I think if I’m living in Paradise now, Italy must be heaven.

I’m not the best person to tell a busy person how to fit in exercise and how to prepare everything from scratch. I was a very busy person at one time, but now I have the luxury of time. I know that I’ve always made these things a priority. If you wake up a half hour early you can do a short workout or swim.  If you can make it an hour of exercise, even better. Preparing food from scratch requires a lot of planning, and a little freezer space, but it’s worth it.

Since moving to Grand Cayman, I’ve had to do some of my own research and digging to tweak the healthy eating plan. For example, should we still be taking Vitamin D supplements, even with all this sunshine? What is the nutritional value of eggplants, a vegetable that seems to grow very well here? Is it possible to overdose on mangoes during the awesome season we just experienced?

I decided that we should probably still take Vitamin D when we remember. As we age our ability to produce Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight diminishes. Besides that, we are usually covered in SPF 60 sunscreen, which also reduces our Vitamin D synthesis.

The eggplant is very high in soluble fibre and very low in calories, as well as providing some folate, manganese and phytosterols. I use it on pizza, in Thai spicy eggplant, in Eggplant Parimigiana and in ratatouille.

If you live in the Caribbean, you probably have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fruit. Most fruit is an excellent source of fibre, potassium, vitamin C and sometimes vitamin A. Enjoy the riches! Yes, mangoes are sweet, but the are also good for you! Remember, moderation. Eat a starfruit, share a mango and eat that banana to help you through that morning swim before breakfast.  These alone are not going to throw your blood sugar over the roof, especially when eaten throughout the day and intermittently with protein, grains and vegetables. The traditional rice and beans are high in soluble fibre, the plantains high in potassium. Welcome to the Caribbean!


Election Time: On being an observer

I have always been fascinated by elections, if not so much by politics. Ever since I first learned about the Canadian electoral system I have watched closely as each campaign unfolds. From the time I was old enough to vote, I have made a point of finding my polling station or even an advanced polling station, to have my say. I could never understand those who couldn’t find time to vote. Even on my busiest work days I managed to go cast my vote, even when it seemed meaningless. In provincial, mayoral and federal elections over the past 38 years I can probably count on one hand the number of times I picked a winner.

For the first time ever, I am tired of hearing about a Canadian federal election. For the first time ever, I won’t be able to vote. For the first time ever, I’ll be in the role of observer. For the first time ever the election results may fill me with pride or with shame.

In spite of being a non-resident, I probably know as much about the candidates and the issues as many of the potential voters. The difference is how they affect me. I live in another country under different laws. I’m an immigrant in a small country, without a vote and without the right to work. This is something we chose. We are not political refugees.  My son and my daughter do live in Canada and they do have a vote and they have issues that are important to each of them. They have formed their own opinions and will not be asking us how to vote. They have to live with the outcome of the election, if not necessarily their own choices.

I don’t have a favourite candidate. In spite of the frustration and anger I felt as a westerner at Pierre Trudeau, I don’t have the same bias against his son that many people seem to have. He lived and worked in the west. We are not our parents and should all be judged on our own merits. That said, I don’t think Stephen Harper is the devil incarnate, but I do think he’s been prime minister for long enough. I don’t agree with the NDP philosophy and never have. I like Elizabeth May, but I don’t think she has a snowball’s chance in Cayman of winning the election.

Yesterday we participated in a scene for a movie being shot locally. The scene was a funeral for one of the characters in the movie. This being Cayman, the cultural diversity in the room was like no other I’ve experienced in such a small gathering…except my old workplace, the Calgary General Hospital, and except for our children’s high school graduation ceremony. That is why we like it here; the diversity. This is a small island with so many people of different backgrounds, all here because they want to be, and all accepting of one another. It’s a smaller version of what I loved about Canada.

I hope my Canada chooses to go back to being the tolerant, moderate country where I raised my children. I hope they turn out to vote. Even though I can’t vote, I hope I can be an observer of this election and come away feeling proud.


Happy Thanksgiving Canada, a day late

I’ve heard there are 5000 Canadians living in the Cayman Islands, so it’s not surprising that everyone is aware of our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. The stores stocked up on frozen turkeys and bags of cranberries for anyone wishing to celebrate the day on the island.

We were very fortunate. We purchased a turkey and put it into the fridge to start the thawing process. Two days later we had an invitation to someone’s house. We had just met the hostess, but she invites newcomers and long time Cayman residents to share in our one unique holiday tradition. Well, I say unique because the date is different from the American Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving is always the second Monday of October. This is related to the harvest, and our gratitude for a good harvest. It’s traditional for us to prepare and serve, if we can, the food we’ve been able to grow; apple and rhubarb pies as well as pumpkin, greens and potatoes from our gardens.

We had a small dilemma. We had planned to eat our turkey on Sunday, but we were eager to accept the invite and meet some new people. The turkey was half thawed. We decided to cook the turkey on Saturday and invite our neighbours. We were a little surprised to find that all but one had no plans for a Saturday night. There wasn’t a Canadian in the bunch, but they all appreciated the invite and the traditions. It was a little last minute and thrown together, but it was fun. We served traditional dishes as well as some local vegetables. We had six adults and three children, which to me is what Thanksgiving was all about growing up; families. We are thankful to have these people in our lives.

Sunday came and we had the whole day to clean up from our dinner party and rest up for the one we attended. We met some fascinating people, all Canadian, including some other people who are new to the island. It was a lovely meal and a delightful evening.

Back in Canada, our children and other family members  were enjoying Thanksgivings of their own, spread across the country, but mostly the western provinces. Record numbers of Canadians were voting in advance polls in the federal elections, and I hope they were feeling thankful for the right to do so.

I am grateful for so many things in my life and over the next little while I intend to write about things I love about Cayman, as well as things I love  and miss about Canada. For now I will say that I am very grateful to be on this beautiful island and to have met so many beautiful people.




We  met the coconut man! I was enjoying breakfast on the deck. (So what else is new?)  I heard a loud thump, looked around to the seaside of the building and saw a ladder.The tree trimmers/grass cutters had already been to visit two days earlier. The cleaning guy and pool guys weren’t due for another day. There was a slender man, possibly of Jamaican descent with a beard and dreadlocks tied up in a scarf. He had a long pole with a hook on the end and he was up on the ladder, pulling the largest coconuts out of the tree.

I immediately thought this was just one of the many services paid for by our strata fees, but I mentioned it to my husband. He went out to talk to the man, who introduced himself as Shane. My husband recognized him from the local beach, where he sells coconut water to the tourists. He also sells beautiful polished conch shells. We used to walk past him every evening on our way to the internet cafe. He’s a friendly guy and he will look out for you if he knows you.

Apparently, Shane has cleared the coconut collection  with the property manager, and he is actually doing us a service. In a hurricane those coconuts could act as a missile and come right through our windows. They are also known to fall and kill people.  My husband took a few of the coconuts and came back in to our apartment.

As Shane worked his way around the building, I was properly introduced to him. Unlike the paid workers, he chatted with me constantly while he worked around the building and walked back and forth. He had a grocery store shopping cart to put the coconuts into and take back to the beach. He also must have had a cooler stashed somewhere because after a particularly tiring trip up the ladder he announced that he needed a cold beer. He soon came back with a can of local beer, 345, which he lifted to me in a toast, then carried on with his work. My husband informed me that he had just finished off a can of beer while he was talking to him. This reinforces my opinion that the island is full of pirates, as in “Drinking before 10 AM doesn’t make you an alcoholic; it makes you a pirate.”

I learned a lot about coconuts from our coconut pirate. I will have to seek verification for all the information he gave me before I share it, but I have no reason to doubt him. After all, he’s the coconut man. The next time he’s here, we’ll have to get him to grab a couple more coconuts for us, as someone walked off with the last two we’d left on our stairs.

There are days when we can sit out on our deck and the most interesting thing that happens is an iguana invasion. Those days are few!

I can’t wait to hear if Shane has any stories about how he obtained all those conch shells!