Jamaicans encouraged to read nutritional facts on food labels

Serving size and servings per container are important, says nutritionist

Observer staff reporter

Thursday, February 01, 2018

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THE Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), in its appeal to Jamaicans to read nutritional facts on food labels, has formulated an infographic chart to assist in this regard.

Speaking to reporters and editors at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Deborah Chen, executive director of the HFJ, said labels are not easy to read and as a result the charts were developed with a step-by-step instruction on what to look for.

At the same time, Dr Suzanne Soares-Wynter, clinical nutritionist at the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, University of the West Indies, Mona, explained that when reading food labels the first thing a consumer should look for is the square label called 'nutritional facts' regardless of healthy claims they may see on the front of a product.

When that has been located, Dr Soares-Wynter said, the consumer should look at the serving size and the servings per container.

“The serving size doesn't mean that is the amount you should have. What it does is compare like foods with like foods. So, for beverages, you will know how one cup of milk compares to one cup of soda, one cup of juice. You will see standardised values here,” she said.

Dr Soares-Wynter further pointed out that the servings per container tells the consumer, based on the size of the packaging and the amount, how many of those servings are inside the product.

Where the amounts per serving is listed, the clinical nutritionist explained that the nutrients listed there indicates to the consumer what they should limit, explaining that the ones most people will be concerned about are the fats, sugars, salts (sodium) and cholesterol.

She added: “Then there are the ones (nutrients) you want to get more of such as fibre, which is useful for weight management and persons with diabetes and heart disease.”

In relation to the calories per serving, Dr Soares-Wynter said attention should be given to this section as it quantifies how many calories you would be consuming in one go, compared to your daily requirements.

“A pound of weight is 3,500 calories, so if I am to drink an entire soda with 100 calories and it's two and a half cups per serving it means I have consumed 250 calories. That's just from a drink. It is not a meaningful meal, it's not filling me up and there are some that might give you 500. Suppose a child might just need 1,200 calories for the whole day or if you are on a weight management restriction diet and you want to aim for 1,500 calories, if this is what you are taking in by just having this one drink, it is not necessarily going to leave you a lot of leeway or room for your other meals throughout the day,” she explained.

Further, Dr Soares-Wynter said things like total fats which indicate the saturated and trans-fats should not be ignored as those are the supposed bad fats, while the phrase that says “the per cent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet” should not be ignored.

“Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on calorie needs. If you are someone whose requirements are higher, like an athlete, then that daily value would be a small percentage. If I should be eating much fewer than 2,000 calories for the day then this percentage value is more. It is just to tell you if you have this particular food, and your daily requirement is 2,000 calories, one serving is already giving you x per cent of the fats or sugars you need for the day,” she said.

The clinical nutritionist said that there are two types of carbohydrates on a nutritional facts label — fibre and sugars. She explained that fibres are good as they help with digestion and usually come in and exit the body without giving any calories.

For sugars, she said simple sugars tend to spike the blood glucose and put the liver under pressure in managing insulin response.

Heart Month begins today, under the theme 'Healthy Nutrition: Know Your Labels'.

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