tomatoes farm to table guam

Is It Healthier to Eat Local? Part 2

In part 1 of this story, we focused on our island’s rich production of fruits. The focus on this study will mostly center on the nutritional value of iron, Vitamin B6 and Fiber in home-grown vegetables. Vitamin B6 plays a significant role in a number of metabolic processes in the body. It also helps prevent heart disease, alleviates nausea and morning sickness in pregnant women, prevents hormonal flare ups such as pimples before menstrual periods, helps produce serotonin, and with supplementation B6 has been found to help sufferers of depression feel better. We’ll be taking a look at the USDA nutritional information on some of the produce mentioned to compare the overall nutritional value against their imported, store-bought counterparts.

Home-Grown Vs. Store-bought Fruit and Vegetables

guam produce chart

(click for larger image)

Moringa (malungay) vs. Spinach

moringa guamspinach

Moringa (malungay): Calcium 31%, Vitamin B6 92%, Protein 9.4g

Spinach: Calcium 10%, Vitamin B6 34%, Protein 2.9g

From reading the nutritional content, it’s no wonder the moringa tree is called a super food. Africa is one of many countries where these trees are cultivated in areas trying to recover and combat malnutrition.  On island, many Filipino homes plant these malungay trees for their drumstick-like fruits and leaves to use in soups.  The leaves are often compared to spinach in flavor and texture.

Planting: Propagation by cutting or striking is how these trees can quickly grow and multiply.  Break off a thick branch (not the green-stemmed ones) from an existing tree, and dig a hole about a foot deep.  Water the newly planted tree for a few days until you start to see small leaves sprouting. Drought-resistant and a fast-growing plant, the tree is low maintenance and can survive on Guam’s rainfall.

Suggested Recipes: Chicken tinola (soup), moringa tea, moringa cake

Green Onion vs. Broccoli

green onionbroccoli

Green Onion: Iron 11%, Fiber 4g

Broccoli: Iron 4%, Fiber 3g

Although broccoli ranks high in nutritional value, the stringy green onion leaves do have a lot to offer than just being a flavor-enhancing garnish.  Multiple studies show green onion to be a food that provides protection for the heart and blood vessels when consumed in a diet that is rich in other vegetables and fruits — especially flavonoid-containing vegetables and fruits.

Planting: After purchasing a bundle of green onion leaves from the grocery store, save the bulb ends after cutting off the leaves. Take a small container and fill half way with water.  Let the bulb ends soak for a few days for roots to re-grow then plant them in a small pot with good soil.  Leave in an area where it can get a good amount of sunshine and rainwater.

Best Pickings: Cutting off the leaves instead of uprooting the stalk will keep it re-growing stems. You will never be without a nice, healthy mildly-flavored onion to serve as an accompaniment to any of your salads, soups and main dishes.

Suggested Recipes: Green onion Egg Foo Young/omelet, Mongolian beef

Bitter Melon vs. Bell Pepper

bittermelon guam

bell pepper

Bitter Melon: Vitamin B6 3%, Fiber 2g

Green Bell Pepper: Vitamin B6 17%, Fiber 1.7g

Both vegetables are known for their pungent taste, but bell pepper has prevailed this time for having a high Vitamin B6 content. However, bitter melon is touted as a “fountain of youth” vegetable in many Asian countries. Okinawa pays honor to the bitter melon, having built bitter melon-shaped benches, and bolting them along sidewalks, recognizing a connection the vegetable has to increasing Okinawan longevity. An herbaceous tendril-vine growing plant, the fruit is picked during the green phase, and its leaves are also used in soups. Research also shows that it has helped lower blood sugar levels. Once you have acquired the taste, much like the way a person does with wine you will be able to enjoy bitter melon in stir fries, salads, and stews. The leaves are added into a traditional local dish called mongo beans and ham hocks, to give it a nice bite.

Planting: Keep the seeds when slicing the fruit. Plant seeds in an area that allows room for vines to grow, or where you can place a wire trellis, or anything that it can attach its tendrils to as it grows.

Best Pickings: Sizes may vary from 4 to 6 inches, but pick after the fruit has changed from a dark green to a lighter green, and when its warty exterior has smoothened out. If the fruit is dark green then it will be a bit more bitter, which many Asians do prefer. When to pick depends on your taste.

Suggested Recipes: Bittermelon stir fry (Goya Chanpurru) Okinawan recipe, sesame beef & bitter melon

Sweet Potato Leaves vs. Lettuce

sweet potato leaves guam


Sweet Potato Leaves: Calcium 8%, Vitamin B6 5%, Fiber 5.3g

Lettuce: Calcium 4%, Vitamin B6 6%, Fiber 1.1g

You’d want to replace lettuce with these leaves on any salad after learning that research from University of Arkansas reported that sweet potato leaves are one of the world’s richest sources of disease-fighting antioxidants, packed with at least 15 different types of healthy compounds that help fight diabetes, heart disease, bacterial infections, and various forms of cancer. Its best to have it steamed, sprinkled with fried garlic and drizzled with a soy and vinegar dressing. The leaves are usually added to a tart tamarind-based soup (sinigang) with meats such as pork, shrimp or fish.

Planting: In order to make a sweet potato patch, you must first purchase a Rota sweet potato. Cut it in half and place in a jar of water — top half above water and the bottom, under water. Hold it in place with toothpicks. Keep in a warm area and wait a few weeks. Once you see the sprouts or slips on top, gently separate from potato. Take the slips and dip bottom side into the water to grow roots then plant. Place in an area where its vines are able to freely sprawl the ground. Trim it often to prevent overgrowth.

Best Pickings: Cut off the vines closer to the tips. After a few months, you’ll be able to unearth sweet potatoes which are excellent sources of fiber.

Suggested Recipes: Sautéed sweet potato leaves , Salmon Sinigang (Tamarind soup)

Squash Leaves vs. Bok Choy

squash leaves guam

boy choy

Squash Tip Leaves: Iron 18%, Vitamin B6 10%

Bok Choy: Iron 6%, Vitamin B6 16%

Bok Choy is a popular vegetable in many Asian restaurants because it is sizable, has a milder flavor than cabbage and broccoli, and is a more economical choice. It is compared to squash tip leaves because they both absorb very well the flavors of the dishes they are in. Many locals use the leaves as a stuffing for local land crabs (punglao) in a seasoned coconut milk broth (tinaktak). If that hasn’t gotten your mouth watering yet, the leaves are also added into stews, stir fries and more recipes involving coconut milk. Don’t let the fuzzy hairs on the leaves deter you. You will not feel it after it is cooked well and if you’ve made sure to pick the tips of the vines.

Planting: Take the seeds of a squash bought from the grocery store, and plant it in an area where the vines can climb, near a fence or a wire trellis. Cut often to help increase the size of the squash fruit. You can also eat the yellow flowers.

Best Pickings: Cut off the squash tips, or shoots. The younger leaves, the less hairy fuzz it’ll have.

Suggested Recipes: Ground beef Tinaktak (coconut milk), Mociyas

Taro vs. Potato


Taro: Vitamin B6 25%, Fiber 5.1 g

Potato: Vitamin B6 23%, Fiber 2.2g

Taro is a staple in many islands throughout the Pacific. On Guam, it is more of a dish called Golai Appan Suni served at parties in the starch section next to the main starch, rice — white or red. But as you can see, taro is high in fiber. Eating it in moderation and in healthier recipes can give us the benefits it packs. The texture is courser and chewier than potato, and keeps its firm shape even after a long boil. It’s often cooked in coconut milk, and is used as a substitute for potato (it may be the other way around) in meat stews called Ka’du.

Planting: Chop the dark top section of the taro tuber into small pieces, leave for a day to allow surfaces to dry and replant. They thrive best in well-drained soil, but can survive in wetland-like environments, and shaded areas.

Best Pickings: The crop matures in 9-12 months, when the leaves begin to yellow and die down and there is a slight lifting of the tubers. Lift the tubers as you would sweet potatoes. Taro does not store for longer than a month, so leave tubers in the soil until needed.

Suggested Recipes: Mashed potato and taro, Beef Ka’du (stew)

Cost vs. Savings

Below is a sample displaying each produce and sale price per pound taken from different major grocery stores. The estimate indicates how much, on average, families spend on vegetables at least once a month, then the total amount at the end of the year.

cost vs. savings chart guam

Benefits of Both Home-grown and Store-bought Fruits and Vegetables

After adding the cost of both fruits and vegetables for families who buy these produce on a regular monthly basis, the total amount is reasonably fair, spending about $1,500 a year. Having a garden can keep the cost low, and easy access to these fresh garden varieties cultivate a healthy lifestyle within the family. In this fast-pace world, even in this nice, tranquil island, our lifestyle can affect the quality of our diet. We may opt for fast food instead of a wholesome home-cooked meal. It is a struggle economically to purchase quality food and when we do, another struggle is to get the children (and some adults) to take a bite out of a fruit or a vegetable.

According to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, the typical American:

  • Diets exceed the recommended intake levels or limits in four categories: calories from solid fats and added sugars; refined grains; sodium; and saturated fat
  • Eats less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, dairy products, and oils
  • About 90% eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet

A 14-year study by the Harvard-based Nurse Health Study, and Health Professional Study found that the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared with those in the lowest category of fruit and vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke. Although all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to this benefit, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits make important contributions. With patience and a little green thumb, you can increase your longevity and vitality by cultivating low maintenance food-providing plants.

Read our round-up of Chamorro recipes using these healthy local fruits and vegetables!

Is It Healthier to Eat Local? Part 2
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