Healthy family targets eating habits of the Brazilian community

The inviting buffet at Tropical restaurant will be the focus of a program on healthy eating. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

On Monday, October, 22, Tropical restaurant at Five Corners and the Vineyard Health Care Access Program will host an evening event focused on nutrition and the Brazilian community.

Healthy Family Night will provide discounted healthy options from the restaurant’s enhanced buffet and information about portion size, food combinations and the benefits of a balanced diet. There will also be games for kids, raffles and information on exercise and locally grown foods.

The awareness-raising event is sponsored by the Healthy Vida program, an initiative the Vineyard Health Care Access Program launched four years ago to help prevent chronic disease and promote an ongoing healthy lifestyle.

The Vineyard Health Care Access Program is a community-based service of Dukes County government that connects residents of Martha’s Vineyard with health benefits and provides assistance with other government benefits. The program is funded by Dukes County, the six Island towns and public and private grants.

Healthy Vida events and resources are open to all, but, according to its website, “The program is targeted to Brazilian members of the Island community to address the health care disparities that are experienced by immigrants in the United States.” Diabetes and high blood pressure are two conditions that have been observed by Health Care Access staff to be prevalent among the Island’s Brazilian population.

“Healthy Vida is a source to promote healthy discussions. It’s much more expensive to treat someone who is already diabetic. If you eat healthy, you can control or even prevent disease,” said Laura Weisman, Healthy Vida outreach coordinator.

Ms. Weisman, a Brazilian born interpreter for the hospital and Island schools, has been working with the Access program for a year. She explained the Healthy Vida strategy: “Because healthy eating is a problem that is specific to the Brazilian population we are trying very hard to engage that community. We try to go where the Brazilian population usually goes – churches, Brazilian stores.”

Previous initiatives have included blood pressure and blood glucose screenings and food demos held at the Vineyard Grocer, a store popular with Brazilians.

Tropical was chosen as the venue for the upcoming Healthy Vida event, not only for its dedicated clientele of Brazilians, but also because the restaurant’s buffet style service allows patrons to control what and how much they are eating.

“Because Tropical is a Brazilian restaurant, it specializes in selling the food by the pound,” said Ms. Weisman. “They have a salad buffet. They have fruit, barbecued meats. It’s a place where you can create an absolutely healthy plate. You can have salad, rice, and beans.

“People don’t have to totally change their diets. Within the things they’re used to eating they can have a healthy meal.”

Not everything available at the restaurant falls into the healthful category. There are dishes with heavy sauces, chicken wrapped in bacon, sugary desserts and other tempting but cholesterol-rich choices. However, for the Healthy Vida event, some heart smart options will supplement the buffet. Fish grilled with lemon and olive oil, brown rice, and veggie and chicken kabobs will be among the additions to the menu. If they prove popular, some of these may become fixtures at Tropical.

Members of the Island Grown Initiative will be on hand, as will representatives from Mass in Motion, a state-run program aimed at promoting exercise and improved diet. Kids can participate in board games and a picture contest. The best children’s drawing of a plate of healthy food will be used by Healthy Vida in some of their materials. Items to be raffled off at the event include a rice cooker and restaurant and grocery gift certificates.

Healthy Vida will be distributing literature — in both English and Portuguese. Ms. Weisman said that a lack of knowledge on healthy eating accounts in part for health problems among the Island’s Brazilian population, “They don’t know the names of the ingredients,” she said, “They have less access to information because of the language barrier.”

So far, the response to the program has been encouraging. At events at stores and churches, people have been engaged in the conversations. “People were very curious to know how to read the labels,” said Ms. Weisman.

If Monday’s event proves successful, Healthy Vida will host more such dinner/educational evenings. “I’d love to do it again,” Ms. Weisman said. “It’s good for Tropical. It’s good for us. We’d also be happy to include any other restaurant that would like to participate.”

Healthy Vida Family Night, Monday October 22, 6 to 9 pm, Tropical Restaurant, 5 Corners, Vineyard Haven. All are welcome. Buffet style food will be discounted from $6.99/lb to $4.99/lb during the event.

For more information, call 508-696-0020.