Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in Jamaica and the Caribbean, and diseases of the heart can most times be prevented by making healthy food choices.
Culture plays a role in the foods that Jamaicans eat, which may be a reason for the increase in the development of heart disease. Our poor eating habits that are based on culture include the consumption of:
High-fat meats such as escoveitched fish, fried chicken, chicken back, pig's tail, oxtail and cow foot.
Margarines or oils that contain high amounts of saturated fat such as bulk butter, lard, chicken fat that is fried (converted to liquid/oil) and then used to cook other foods, shortening, coconut oil and coconut milk.
Excessive amounts of starchy foods at each meal such as 'nuff' rice, large dumplings, large slices or chunks of yam, and the use of processed foods such as salted fish, salted mackerel, salted beef/pork, corned/bully beef.
In recent years, there has been a switch from more complex to refined starches, increased consumption of juices and drinks and sweetened beverages, and increased consumption of salted and sugary snacks.
Based on the Healthy Lifestyle Survey of 2000, Jamaicans are consuming less fruits, vegetables, peas and beans and are less physically active. All these factors have contributed to the current trend in heart disease.
To reduce the risk of heart disease, which includes high blood pressure, we need to go back to eating basic foods - the way the poorer Jamaicans did prior to the 1980s.
Here are some tips:
Increase fibre intake by eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. One serving of fruit is one medium-size mango (one large East Indian mango is two servings), one medium orange/ripe banana or four ounces of fruit or fruit juice that is not strained. One serving of vegetable is one cup raw or half-cup cooked without added fat (salad dressings or oil, butter or margarine).
Increase the intake of peas and beans to one cup per day and reduce foods from animals. Use less meat and add peas or beans to increase fibre, minerals and reduce fat intake. Add cooked broad beans (not from can) when cooking curried or brown stewed chicken.
Remove skin and visible fat from chicken, goat meat and beef. Choose cuts of meats with less fat.
Consume about six ounces of fish per week, including fish from cold water - sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna to get sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Limit shellfish such as shrimp because they are high in cholesterol. Three ounces shellfish contains approximately 81-166mg of cholesterol.
Bake, boil, steam and stew foods instead of frying. It is not necessary to add oil or margarine to baking tray or pot before preparing meats; although the visible fat is removed, within the meat fibres, there is fat present and the fat will melt when heated.
Consume no more than two to three egg yolks per week. One yolk provides about 259mg cholesterol.
Choose foods that have less saturated fat (saturated fat becomes solid at room temperature). Foods with saturated fat include butter, cheese, whole milk, lard, fatty meats (bacon).
Some vegetable oils have saturated fat, such as coconut and palm oil, and should be used in moderation. Use about five to eight teaspoons of vegetable oil per day.
Choose soft margarine with liquid oil as the first ingredient. Read food labels and avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils or foods prepared with these oils.
Avoid salt and salt-containing foods such as powdered seasonings, soy sauce, ketchup, canned or processed foods. Use natural seasonings.
Limit the intake of alcoholic beverages to one drink for females and two drinks for males per day. One drink is eight ounces beer, four ounces wine, one ounce rum/vodka. If on medication, avoid alcoholic beverages.
Diet and exercise play a major role in the prevention and control of heart disease. Let's start eating like in the days of old when we had fewer processed foods.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org