Healthy Habits

The Three Sisters of Agriculture

Group of diverse friends enjoying summer party together

Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits

From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD

Centenarians in Nicoya typically eat a Mesoamerican diet, featuring fresh and local foods. Traditional recipes are passed from one generation to the next, and food is prepared slowly with intention. Much of their produce is grown and cared for by the people who will eat it.

A common combination of produce in this area is the Three Sisters of agriculture: squash, corn, and beans. These are often grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together. They thrive together better than when they are planted alone and are usually planted using an intercropping technique called companion planting. The corn stalks act as a trellis for the bean to climb while also stabilizing the corn plants against windy conditions. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil and wide squash leaves shade the ground keeping the soil moist and preventing weeds. The prickly squash vines also act as a deterrent from predators.

While offering a synergistic growth pattern, they also provide a complete nutritional profile when consumed together. Corn offers carbohydrates, beans are rich in protein and fiber, and squash provides vitamins, minerals, and fats from its seeds.

Nicoya centenarians not only plant and eat these foods together but share them with friends and family. Traditionally Nicoya people live with or near their families and frequently visit friends or neighbors. This contributes to their Plan de Vida (life plan) and sense of belonging. Sharing meals provides opportunities for meaningful connections and social interaction that help give many centenarians purpose.

Research from the University of Oxford indicates that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.

Build a sense of trust and belonging within your community through the power of food. Consider sharing meals with your community by organizing a potluck in your neighborhood. Learn about each other’s cultures or history by asking people to bring their favorite food. This can also be extended to the workplace – bring a snack to your next team meeting, and give others an opportunity to connect beyond typical work relationships. Eating together builds valuable connections and strengthens friendships.


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