Read food labels for nutritional information, please!

BY FALON FOLKES
Observer staff reporter
folkesf@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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JAMAICANS have been urged to pay keen attention to the contents of foods that they are consuming and have been reminded to read the nutritional facts on food labels.

“It's important for you to know what the food contents are; if something is high in salt or [has] no salt, and what is the expiration date,” said Dr Suzanne Soares-Wynter, clinical nutritionist at the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Dr Soares-Wynter, who was guest speaker at yesterday's launch of Heart Month 2018 by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica at the Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston, said food sources are also important because consumers need to know the quality of what they consume.

Jamaicans, added the clinical nutritionist, are not as healthy as some believe. “Every one in two persons is overweight. Every one in four persons will be obese. We are very inactive, and, in spite of all the fruits and vegetables around us, only one per cent is eating the required amount of servings of fruits per day.”

A contributory factor to the poor health of some Jamaicans, she said, is the amount of processed foods that people consume, “which puts us at risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases”.

The doctor explained that the packaging of processed foods is usually attractive but misleading. “You see beverages with pretty nice fruits on the front, but when you look at the ingredients there is no trace of actual fruit, “she said. “This is where food labels come in.”

she reiterated that people should pay close attention to sodium and fat content.

“Sodium occurs naturally in most foods. Even fruits and vegetables have some amount of sodium. We need sodium in our diet, but the problem is it is used as a flavour-enhancer or preservative in packaged food. So when you have canned beans and it's stored in brine, simply rinsing it off can get rid of some of that sodium,” the nutritionist explained.

“WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends that we should be having less than two grammes of sodium and that's equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when you season meat and add jerk seasoning, salt, soy sauce, and powder seasoning it will add up,” she advised.

She added that a low-sodium diet reduces the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, fluid retention, bloating, kidney disease, and headaches.

She also had a warning about the consumption of fats.

“When we eat saturated fats and trans-fats, these are what we call the solid fats. These fats tend to clog our arteries,” she said, pointing out that different fats on the labels could add up to 30 per cent in high-fat food.

Dr Soares-Wynter warned consumers to beware of health claims that come on packaged foods. “Companies will put terms like sugar-free, high in fibre, low-fat, good source of calcium, no salt, no sugar added, etc,” she noted.

She recommended that consumers check the labels to see if ingredients reflect what is on the packaging. For instance, the packaging can say no salt, but the nutritional facts state that the item contains 160mg of sodium.

Another way to know the content of food, she said, is to look at the ingredients listed. She pointed out that the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This means that the first item has the most amount in the food. She highly recommends that consumers read labels and compare items before choosing what to purchase.

Heart Month begins on February 1. The theme for this year is 'Healthy Nutrition: Know Your Labels'.

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