The Caribbean Diet

A Caribbean stew with local seafood, vegetables and rice and beans.
Image Credit: russaquarius/iStock/Getty Images

The traditional Caribbean diet fulfills many of the balanced nutrition guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's rich in seafood, a variety of fruits and vegetables and lean protein while being low in refined grains, sugar and salt. Adopting a low-fat, low-calorie version of the Caribbean diet may help lower your risk of chronic medical problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Rich in Fruits and Vegetables

Pineapple, dark leafy greens like callaloo -- similar to kale or spinach -- sweet potatoes, okra, breadfruit, guava, papaya, coconuts, mangoes, cassava, plantains, tomatoes, corn and dasheen, also known as taro, feature frequently in the Caribbean diet. Aim to fill at least half of your plate at each meal with produce of different types and colors. Eat them fresh, stir them into soups and stews, or steam, roast or grill them with a small amount of added fat. A study published in 2004 in the "British Journal of Nutrition" reported that Caribbean staples like dasheen and cassava have a high glycemic index. The researchers advised eating more white yams instead since they have less of an impact on blood sugar and may help lower the risk of diabetes.

High in Plant-Based Protein

Most of the protein in the Caribbean diet is supplied by beans and legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, and kidney, lima, red and black beans. Although beans are an incomplete protein -- they don't contain all of the essential amino acids your body requires -- you can get what you need by eating the beans with rice, a common Caribbean meal pairing. For more fiber and B vitamins, choose brown rice. The Caribbean diet seldom includes red meat, though when it does, it's often a small amount of goat's meat, which is low in saturated fat and calories.

Features a Variety of Seafood

To lower your risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol, you should consume at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish or shellfish each week, advises the American Heart Association. A traditional Caribbean diet supplies seafood such as red snapper, conch, shrimp and lobster in abundance, easily fulfilling this recommendation. Avoid fried seafood in favor of baking or grilling. Pregnant or nursing women and young children should have no more than 12 ounces of fish or shellfish weekly to limit their consumption of possible contaminants like mercury.

Flavored With Spices, Not Salt

The average American diet contains too much sodium. By contrast, a basic Caribbean diet is low in sodium, partly because it relies more on herbs and spices than salt to flavor dishes. Curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and annatto seeds are used, as well as hot peppers like the native Caribbean pepper the Scotch bonnet. Marinades are another typical Caribbean method for adding flavor. Try marinating fish or lean meat in a mixture of lime juice and zest, a chopped hot pepper, grated ginger and olive oil before roasting or grilling.