The Heart Foundation of Jamaica is encouraging Jamaicans to consider healthier substitutes for food ingredients and reduce caloric intake during this Yuletide Season to minimise the potential of developing lifestyle illnesses in the New Year.

The Foundation says that for many Jamaicans, traditional Christmas meals can be enjoyed by using healthier substitutes when preparing various Christmas recipes.

“Many of your favourite foods can be enjoyed in a heart healthy way without you missing out on the family dinner,” explained Mrs Barbara McGaw, Project Manager, Global Health Advocacy Project, at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica.

 “For example, in preparing your fruit cake, you can reduce the sugar in the recipe by 10 to 20 per cent, by simply using pureed pumpkin to replace a quarter of the sugar and half of the stewed fruits in the recipe.”

Mrs McGaw advised that persons could get creative with their sweet treats to reduce the urge to overindulge.

“I would also advise that in serving your sweet treats, you serve them with fruit. A slice of cake, which is about the size of a deck of cards, is sufficient and can be had with half cup of fruit. For children, one scoop of ice cream with fruit is a good treat, while for adults two to three scoops of ice-cream is right,” she stated.

She also explained that macaroni and cheese could maintain their creaminess and flavour, by using a low-fat evaporated milk, oat milk or almond milk, to make a cheese sauce. She added that meat portions could also be reduced.

“Meats, such as oxtail, can be enjoyed by adding extra beans to the oxtail; and for smoked meats, you can have thinner slices. For salads, instead of a typical salad dressing, avocados can be used as a base for dressing. Chopped fruits, such as pineapples, apples and grapes, or a bit of lime, lemon or orange juice, also add a pop of flavour and sweetness to salads,” she stated.

“For our drinks, the key is to not drink them when thirsty, drink them to enjoy their flavour. For general drinking, reach for water, and for flavour – reach for the drinks – aiming for no more than two drinks per day,” she adds.

Mr Hugh Reid, General Manager, JN Life Insurance

Mr Hugh Reid, General Manager, JN Life Insurance adds that Jamaicans should enjoy Christmas, however, they should be cautious.

“Based on conversations with medical doctors over the years, we have gleaned that many diabetic patients often have a spike in their insulin levels because of the sweet treats they tend to consume during the Yuletide season,” Mr Reid revealed.

“This is why I take this opportunity to encourage Jamaicans, not to overindulge; but rather to enjoy the season by making healthier decisions when it comes to meals, because the decision to be conscious about their health may result in less health-related expenses in the new year,” he said.

Mrs. McGaw adds that, in addition to making healthier choices, reading food labels is also important.

“Food labels should be interpreted, using the information per serving in relation to your nutrition goals. Check the “Portion Size / Serving Size” and “Portions/Servings Per container,” she said. “For Energy, Fat, Saturated Fat, Sugars and Sodium, smaller percentages are better. In terms of fibre, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron and other micronutrients apart from Sodium, bigger percentages are better.”

The Project Manager added that when it comes to percentages for Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) or Daily Values (DV), five per cent or less is low; 20 per cent or more is high.

“The percentage of the Guideline Daily Amounts or percentage of the Daily Values indicate how much one portion or serving contributes to meeting your daily needs. Everyone’s needs vary based on their age, height, weight, being male or female and physical activity level, but as a general guideline, most products use two thousand calories as the reference for energy that you need per day,” she revealed.

“How you interpret the percentages should be based on your nutrition goals. Therefore, for example, if you want to gain weight, then you would need a number close to 20 per cent for energy; however, if you are trying to lose weight, then smaller percentages are better,” she advised.