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Ask Dr. Denton: How Can You Say the Diet in Haiti is Healthier Than Our Own?

By Denton D. Weiss, MD
September 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In parts of Haiti the diet and lifestyle are better than the average Americans. The places where love is responding to need. In a small orphanage in Haiti, I am relearning that the Love of Christ can bring health and happiness with Prayer, Exercise, Fresh food, Clean Water, Sleep and most importantly Love!

PORTSMOUTH, VA (Catholic Online) - Dear Dr Denton: How is it possible that the diet in Haiti could be healthier than the one here in the US?

It's not - but, in another sense, it is!

The diet for most Haitians is just above the starvation level. The country has had generations of political turmoil and now natural disasters that have left a nation in need. The resources that are available are limited and are largely fresh or spoiled because of the lack of refrigeration.

Recently, my wife Michelle and I returned from a trip to Haiti. My memory of the arrival and the time that we spent in this country of both loss and love are still burning within me. They are changing me and challenging me. Let me share them with you:

We flew into Port Au Prince and were immediately moved by the sheer magnitude of loss - and of Hope. The city is, in many ways, devoid of infrastructure but still filled with life. There is still Beauty there, but that beauty is found in the faces of the people we met. There is a sense of danger as you leave the safety of the frenzied airport and cross into the city.

I soon saw my friends and co laborers Conwell and Ken in the distance and looked forward to receiving their guidance. As I passed the gauntlet of bodies closing in on us from every side I worried. I remembered the words attributed to Saint Apollinaris of Ravenna.

"Come to the edge. No we will fall!"
"Come to the edge. No we will fall!"
They came to the edge.
HE pushed them, and they flew!

A massive man looked at me and asked, "Are you Dr Weiss?!" I mustered the strength to respond, "Yes", all the while thinking in my mind, "Lord save me". I was also reminded of the story of Peter which is recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew 14: 30-31

"But when he (Peter) saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14: 30-31)

The man only pointed with his hand like a guardian angel. He pointed to the end of the passageway, to the open city, to Port Au Prince. The orphanage - which our small foundation, Bella Vitae Foundation, helps to support - as well as the small school we also fund, were only miles from there.

When we arrived at the orphanage, the heat and humidity were everywhere. The sun was high and looking to burn my fragile skin. However, the little girls were running around filled with joy. I noticed they were at least 5 to 10 lbs heavier now that the agricultural program that was started a year ago is allowing them to have meat and fresh fruits and vegetables daily.

They work the garden, care for their chickens, goats, and rabbits. Their lives have been transformed by simple nutrition and clean water. Gifts our Lord Jesus has provided for us - and for them.

The girls live in converted cargo containers that help protect them from the harshness of Haiti's extreme weather, and insects.

When our foundation first started coming to Haiti, Conwell Larson and Leo Blum were the first to go. Leo is from Virginia Beach and has dedicated his life to Haiti. Conwell is my childhood friend and a Brother in Christ.

Conwell had never been out of the fields of Iowa before he caught a flight with Ken DeYoung (Ken is a founder of Global Compassion ) to Haiti and started changing the lives of these little girls. Leave it to a farmer from Iowa, formed by both the Faith and the fortitude of the land he is from, to make a difference in Haiti.

When he saw the girls for the first time he called me and said "We've got to get these little girls some food and clean water." It wasn't long before the well was dropped and the chickens were laying eggs!

So how does this story of our latest trip to Haiti deal with the nutrition of the average American?

Simple really.

By letting these little girls in Haiti show us the way to a better life.

1. They spend time everyday in prayer giving thanks to God! The average American spends more time watching TV than in prayer.

2. They work in the gardens and walk everywhere. The average American doesn't exercise daily and walks less than a 3 blocks per day.

3. They eat small but extremely fresh meals throughout the day. Fresh eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables. The rice they eat is not polished and therefore is full of B Vitamins! The eggs are a tremendous source of protein and fats our brains need to function and grow. The meats are all lean, providing the protein building blocks without the cardiac clogging fats. I don't think I even have to mention the average American diet. Just look at the number of processed fast food restaurants and the lack of fresh markets. The answers are very apparent.

4. They go to school each day and push their minds. This year they will be learning English as I work on my French Creole. When was the last time you started to learn a new subject? Read a book?

5. They drink water 90% of the time. Now, it is clean water. Americans drink diet soda, tea, coffee, and energy drinks. Water is typically on the low end of consumption. Though we are improving with bottled water intake.

6. They bath daily and brush their teeth. Do you brush your teeth after every meal?

7. They go to bed when the sun sets and get up when the sun rises 8 - 10 hours of sleep per night. Wow I am way off on this one. Sleep allows the body to re-boot. The brain recovers and our stress hormones that can cause increased fat and cardiac disease are reduced with appropriate sleep.

8. They share a real friendship and comradery with one another. They really are a sisterhood. I only wish I could give each of them a Mother and Father to complete their family. Please read my article on human touch and Love here. 

So the answer to my question in the title of this article? Yes, in parts of Haiti the diet and lifestyle are better than the average Americans. The places where love is responding to need. In a small orphanage in Haiti I am relearning that the Love of Christ can bring health and happiness with Prayer, Exercise, Fresh food, Clean Water, Sleep and most importantly Love!

I am Thankful for the gift of being born in the United States of America. I am honored to have 36 little girls to show me the way back to Health and Happiness.

Now go out and stop at those little roadside famers markets and start eating right! P.S. why don't you walk over?

God Be With All of You.

Dr Dent
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Dr Denton D. Weiss, M.D. is board certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Weiss' approach to his medical practice flows from his convictions about the meaning of life which are deeply rooted in his Catholic Faith. He and his wife, Michelle strive for an integrated approach to life which recognizes the unity of the body, mind and soul. They call this approach "Bella Vitae" or "Beautiful Living". He is a contributing writer to Catholic Online.

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