Jamaica Magazine

Nutrition Tips to Improve Your Health

You’ve heard it all before. Good nutrition is the key to good health.

Food is the body’s energy – energy to help you live and grow healthy. Malnutrition or the lack of proper nutrition can pose serious health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers and chronic under nutrition. To give your body the proper nutrition it needs, you have to eat (and drink) foods that contain the following key nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars, are necessary for energy (quick energy).
  • Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body’s tissue.
  • Water is required for proper body functioning (digestion, metabolism, and removal of waste products). It is especially important for controlling the body’s temperature.
  • Minerals help to release energy during the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. They are also needed to maintain healthy blood, bones and teeth.
  • Fats are the most concentrated source of energy. Fats are necessary for slow-burning energy (endurance activities are fueled by energy from fat).
  • Vitamins are necessary for growth, good vision and protection against infection.

While not a nutrient, fiber is very important for proper digestion.

What about Nutrition in Jamaica?

Although no national surveys on food consumption have been conducted in Jamaica, surveys on living conditions indicate that the number of meals consumed outside of the home has increased. More and more people are eating fast food, which has contributed to the increased consumption of foods high in fat, thus explaining in part the high numbers of adults that are overweight and obese. (According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

What Changes Can You Make Now?

The first step is to identify your “nutrition weakness.” Do you have a weakness for foods high in fat? Do you tend to bypass breakfast in the mornings?

Here are some basic guidelines that may be helpful in developing better nutrition habits.

1. Eat foods from the five major food groups:

    • Vegetables
    • Fruits
    • Breads, cereals, rice and pasta
    • Milk, yogurt and cheese
    • Meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, eggs and nuts

2. Try to limit foods that are high in fats (especially saturated fats), sugar and salt

3. Do not skip meals

4. Do more cooking at home. But when you do eat out, watch what you eat. Watch out for “hidden” fats (think salad dressing) and oversized portions.

5. Limit fast food and overly processed products.

6. Read nutrition labels on foods before you buy them. Ask a doctor or nutritionist if you need help in understanding the labels.

7. During the day, drink lots of water.

8. And of course, eat for pleasure.

If deciding how to plan a nutritious meal is too much, just remember, the key to a healthy eating is: variety, balance and moderation.

  • Variety – enjoying many different foods from the different food groups
  • Balance – including enough, but not too much, of any one kind of food
  • Moderation – in use of fats, oils and added sugars

A Closer Look: Iron Deficiency and Anaemia

The latest available data shows that iron deficiency anaemia was found in over sixty percent of pregnant women in Jamaica, and is a cause for concern in children and adolescents.

Iron is a mineral that everyone needs, but pregnant women need more iron than normal. Why? Iron helps your body make new blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the baby during pregnancy.

How Can I Get More Iron?

Here are a few hints to help increase the absorption of the iron in your diet:

  • Eat lots of iron rich foods (liver, beans, whole grain bread and leafy greens such as calaloo)
  • Avoid caffeine, it prevents absorption of iron
  • Avoid excessive bran
  • Drink something with vitamins C with your iron supplements (tablets or herbal)
  • Cook with cast iron (increases the amount of iron).

To learn more about Nutrition, visit www.eatright.org.

About the author

Deidre Patterson, MPH