JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Jamaicans urged to read food labels to determine the nutrition content of packaged foods.
  • Consumers advised to pay attention to food labels, in order to make healthier choices, and eliminate the risk of diet-related illnesses.
  • By reading food labels, persons will be better able to monitor their intake of the recommended daily allowances of vital nutrients.

Nutritionist at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), Frances Mahfood, has joined the call for Jamaicans to read food labels to determine the nutrition content of packaged foods.

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, recently encouraged consumers to pay attention to food labels, in order to make healthier choices, and eliminate the risk of diet-related illnesses. He argued that once persons are able to identify the specific calorific value of the food they consume “this will make a significant impact in their lives”.

Speaking at a JIS Think Tank on February 11, Mrs. Mahfood said that by reading food labels, persons will be better able to monitor their intake of the recommended daily allowances of vital nutrients.

“Some of the most important factors in heart health are diet and eating habits. They play a role on your numbers. They can control blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and can govern weight control,” she said.

The HFJ is observing Heart Month in February under the theme: ‘Know Your Numbers.’ These numbers include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, weight, and body mass index, which are important in promoting heart health. This information can give a doctor vital clues to a patient’s risk for heart disease.

Mrs. Mahfood said that portion control is also key for a heart healthy diet. “We tend to over consume foods that are high in fat and when you over consume your body mass index and body fat go up,” she pointed out.

There are some foods, however, for which increased intake is recommended such as fruits and vegetables that are high in insoluble fibre, which help to reduce cholesterol. “You should have 3-5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, increase intake of grains and ground provisions such as the yam, sweet potato, green banana and plantain,” Mrs. Mahfood stated.

She noted that most processed food from the starch food group contains simple sugars, which contribute to high cholesterol and sodium, which contributes to high blood pressure.

Other recommendations for a heart healthy diet include consuming a maximum of six ounces per day from the animal food group; using methods such as broiling, baking, oven roasting and boiling as opposed to frying or stewing; and consuming legumes high in vitamins and soluble fibre, which help to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and control blood sugar.

Mrs. Mahfood said the recommended intake for fish is 2 to 3 times per week because of the high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids contained, which  reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. The recommendation is similar for low-fat dairy and dairy from the plants such as soy, almond and rice milk, because they do not contain the saturated fats found in whole fat milks.

The nutritionist further encourages the consumption of healthy fats and the exclusion of saturated and trans fat, a synthetic fat which is used in products to extend shelf life. She stressed the importance of avoiding vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated fat in particular.

Mrs. Mahfood said that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of salt is equivalent to one teaspoon per day, while the RDA for added sugar is five teaspoons.

“Consumers should be mindful that added sugars in packaged juices and drinks such as sodas and box drinks and juices have an average of 22 to 23 teaspoons of sugar per 20 ounces. Sugar also gives you a spike in blood sugar which is very dangerous,” she warned.