Sat | Feb 16, 2019

Garth Rattray | Healthy food is too expensive

Published:Monday | March 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Government's current campaign to discourage the drinking of sugary drinks is admirable.

The unnecessary intake of such high-yield calories can play havoc with our bodies. I never drink sugary drinks, not even natural fruit juices; I eat fruits instead. In spite of that, my strong genetic background, along with an addiction to stress-relieving carbohydrates, puts me in the overweight category.

I absolutely hate the word 'obese', it sounds a lot like, '0h, beast'. It stings, and I think that one day someone with medical influence will outlaw that offensive word and use 'endomorphic' instead. Until then, suffice it to say that although I've been vegetarian for many years, I am no Adonis.

In other words, avoiding sweet drinks is a very good beginning, but there is a lot more to a healthy diet. Many people are aware of this but simply can't begin to afford healthy foods. They end up taking in foods and drinks for the affordability, convenience and energy yield without any consideration for the nutritional values.

Oil, rice, sugar and flour can be stored for extraordinarily long periods of time and require no refrigeration. The difference between what most Jamaicans earn and the monthly bills that they must pay is so small that it leaves very little for a proper diet. Perishable foods require refrigeration, which is also expensive because of our enormous electricity bills.




Our agricultural products are expensive because large-scale farming requires fertilisers that must be imported (which attracts attendant costs). And, such commercial farms also require equipment to prepare the soil and sometimes to reap and process the produce.

In addition to production costs, farmers must contend with transportation expenses. Many farm roads are so horrible that they cause excessive wear and tear on trucks. I understand that there used to be government-controlled farm outlets where nearby farmers could deposit their goods for sale or redistribution. Now, long distances are required to get farm produce sold. These factors add to the cost of farm produce.

The regular intake of sugary drinks has serious implications, but some manufacturers get away with labelling their drinks as 'No sugar added'. I have tried, in vain, to have that label expanded with a warning to diabetic patients. Many diabetics believe that it is completely safe for them to drink natural fruit juices. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Natural fruit juices may be freshly squeezed, but some are reconstituted from imported concentrates. Whichever method is employed, fruits naturally contain sugars, and sugars are devastating to diabetics and fall under the category of 'sugary drinks'.

I especially encourage all diabetics to avoid all sugary drinks and even those so-called healthy, natural fruit drinks because the sugar content is extremely high. I also ask them not to squeeze or blend fruits at home because they all contain high levels of several sugars. Nothing is wrong with indulging on special occasions, but as a rule, all sugary drinks should be treated with caution.

The next tier of high-starch-yielding foods include ground provisions like yam, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Most people don't realise that all starches are broken down to some form of sugar before they are absorbed by the body. A lot of patients are shocked to learn that vegetables are starches too, so they are also broken down to sugars before they can be absorbed. However, the body has to do enormous work in trying to digest vegetables and their sugar yield is quite low. Because of that, vegetables are considered as safe starches.

Fruits are good for us, but not in vast quantities, and, because of their high sugar content, they certainly must be limited in diabetics. Other healthy foods include lean meats, some fishes, some chickens, limited nuts, grains and so on. Cow's milk products must be significantly limited.

The healthy foods are usually perishable (require refrigeration or can only be stored briefly) and are very expensive, so many households opt for the more affordable and easily stored less-healthy products. The Government needs to find ways to reduce the cost of healthy foods if it is serious about improving the health of our people.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to