Ministry of Health and Wellness to Study Salt Consumption in Jamaica

Our Health and Wellness Minister (yes, that is the new name of the Ministry – the “Wellness” has been added) believes in prevention. He is working on a “Wellness Agenda” this year. Our health services are overwhelmed, overused, under-staffed and under-resourced. Many of Jamaicans’ ailments are what we call “lifestyle diseases,” caused by a bad diet and exercise – or rather, lack of it. They can be prevented if we change our habits and alter our lifestyle. So prevention is better than cure. There can be no argument with that!

These habits start young. Last December, Minister Tufton took measures to reduce the availability of sweet, sugary foods and drinks in schools. A National School Nutrition Policy is under consideration, as discussed in the Minister’s presentation to Parliament on May 8 (you can read the whole thing here).

This is sea salt, which is not necessarily any more “healthy” than other kinds of salt.

So now, the Ministry is taking aim at another substance that is highly prevalent in the Jamaican diet: salt. The chef at our local cookshop is really heavy-handed with this stuff, despite my husband’s lecturing him to use less. Eating from restaurants, we don’t always know how much salt is used (although we can usually tell when it’s too much, or very little).  Rastafarians don’t use any salt at all in their cooking but add other seasonings instead (this is quite possible to do). Our national dish, ackee and saltfish is of course quite salty!

One of the problems we have (and I know this is not just a Jamaican issue) is that we eat a great deal of what I call “junk food” – fast food such as pizza and a certain brand of fried chicken, which is hugely popular among young and old. One single piece of that popular chicken can contain over one gram of salt, which is about half the recommended daily intake. Not to mention the fat!

The other problem is that most of us eat a lot of processed foods. If you look at the labels, you will see that virtually everything has salt (sodium) in it. The answer is, of course: cook more at home, where you can regulate your salt intake; eat more fresh vegetables and fruit; check the labels on your packaged foods; exercise regularly, and drink plenty of water.

Now, one-third of the population of Jamaica aged 15 to 74 years old has hypertension (high blood pressure), which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. These happen suddenly, and often there are no symptoms. High salt intake is the culprit.

Here’s the Ministry of Health and Wellness press release on a new study to be undertaken.

Minister Tufton: To say that Jamaica has a significantly high blood pressure problem is no understatement, and even more alarming is that we are not alone. (Photo: Ministry of Health and Wellness)

Health and Wellness Ministry to Investigate Salt Consumption in Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica. 7 June 2019: The Ministry of Health and Wellness is shortly to begin a study on the Salt Consumption Practices of Jamaicans.

The study, which is to be conducted in partnership with the Caribbean Institute for Health Research at the University of the West Indies and cost an estimated $13.5 million, is intended to provide contextual information for the implementation of a National Salt Reduction Programme to reduce blood pressure and associated cardiovascular disease.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton made the revelation at the June 3 (2019) opening ceremony of the regional stakeholders’ workshop on strategies to reduce salt consumption for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean.

“The project, which, among other things, is to capture baseline data on salt consumption as well as salt content in packaged and restaurant foods, is also in alignment with the Ministry’s National Strategic and Action Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs, and the mandate of our Food Industry Task Force,” the Minister noted.

His announcement comes against the background of concerning statistics for hypertension (high blood pressure) among Jamaicans. Quoting from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/2017, Tufton told his audience at the UWI Regional Headquarters in Kingston that:

  • 1 in 3 Jamaicans are hypertensive – 35.8% women and 31.7% men, according to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/17;
  • Four out of every 10 Jamaicans with hypertension are unaware of their status – 60% men and 26% women; and
  • More and more Jamaicans aged 15 to 74 years old are developing hypertension. In 2017, 31.5% of persons in this age group had high blood pressure compared to 20.9% in 2001.

“To say that Jamaica has a significantly high blood pressure problem is no understatement, and even more alarming is that we are not alone. High blood pressure in our people is a Caribbean-wide problem; and it is one that threatens to become even more of a challenge, unless we address the risk factors, including our high salt intake,” he said.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily intake of salt (which is 40% sodium and 60% chloride) of less than 5 grams (or 5,000 mg) or some 2 grams (or 2,000 mg) per day of sodium. This helps to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton (left) with Professor Fitzroy Henry (second from left) and Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi (centre), the PAHO/WHO representative to Jamaica, and other participants during the recent regional workshop on the reduction of salt consumption in the Caribbean. (Photo: Ministry of Health and Wellness)

Still, data from the region shows that consumption has been exceeding that recommendation. The 2011 Barbados Salt Intake Study, for example, reveals that:

  • Men 27-50 years old have a mean daily sodium intake of 4,313 mg while men aged 51-73 years have a mean sodium intake of 2,653 mg; and
  • Women aged 25-50 years have a mean sodium intake of 2,897 mg and those 51-73 years old, 2,126 mg.

In addition to the study, Tufton said a number of other initiatives are coming to help to counter the salt problem in Jamaica. They include the development of National School Nutrition Standards to support the implementation of the nutrition-related aspects of the National School Nutrition Policy that is to go to Cabinet for approval.

“Over the long term, they are intended to reduce obesity rates in the school-aged population, aided in part by a strategy to increase the use of locally produced goods, and minimize the amount of processed food in meals and snacks offered by schools,” Tufton said.

This is important given that current high levels of salt intake are not only due to adding salt at the table. Referencing the 2009 PAHO/WHO policy statement, the Minister indicated that “in most populations, by far the largest amount of dietary salt comes from ready-made meals and pre-prepared foods, including bread, processed meats, and even breakfast cereals.”

It is against this background that he also urged a collaborative response to treating with salt consumption, particularly with increasing blood pressure as “the leading risk factor for death globally and the second leading risk for disability by causing heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure”.

Participants at the recent regional workshop on the reduction of salt consumption in the Caribbean, held at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters in Kingston.
(Photo: Ministry of Health and Wellness)

4 thoughts on “Ministry of Health and Wellness to Study Salt Consumption in Jamaica

  1. It is about time that they focused on salt. Most people do not know that too much salt intake can also affect the kidneys.


  2. (Edited to fix typos and formatting issues)


    It is time for people to stop obsessing over salt. JUST stop obsessing. If you like salt, eat it.

    *Sugar is the poison* Not fat. Not salt. (The US sugar industry don’t want you to stop eating sugar – they are the ones that promote those low fat foods that are full of sugar!)

    Salt is not a major culprit in health issues unless you have certain very specific problems (and even in some of those cases, the link of harm is not clear). Any problems are ONLY for those already ill.

    Salt does NOT *cause* any disease.

    Sugar causes diabetes
    Sugar causes heart disease
    Sugar causes obesity
    Sugar leads to cancers

    Sugar is a drug. Just like other white powders, it is addictive and mind altering!

    Lack of exercise and the consumption of sugar, white flour and all refined carbohydrates DOES do a lot of damage.

    Studies are at best equivocal about salt in people who already have cardiovascular disease, and more and more of them are finding NO evidence salt is harmful.

    When you sweat a lot, you lose salt. We in the hot countries tend to sweat. You like salt? Eat it.

    When you remove fat and salt from food, it doesn’t taste good. Most processed foods add sugar and chemicals to replace the taste. If we don’t taste our food, we tend to eat mindlessly… and eat MORE!! Especially if the food is full of sugar.

    Refined carbs are higher in calories per ounce and much lower in nutrients.
    Refined carbohydrates are usually less filling AND they make us crave sugar, and they leave us HUNGRY.

    Sugar rush leads to sugar crash, which leads to HUNGER.
    Then you overeat… and the cycle starts again.

    Avoid sweet drinks of all kinds. Sodas are evil. Juices are not good either b/c they are refined to be mostly sugar. They do not fill us up but they do make us fat b/c they are delicious, high in calories and we crave them. And they don’t give us ANYTHING healthy.

    Unless you are Usain Bolt, you should never even drink Gatorade. Why? Because you don’t need to sugar load. Gatorade is for REAL athletes. It is less bad than soda, but we don’t need added sugar. Gatorade gives us ‘energy’ for a few moments, but it doesn’t do us good unless we are exercising for *hours* daily.

    The rest of us should just drink water and when we want something more, coconut water is just fine. (not sweetened)

    Instead of adding condensed milk to our tea, coffee or cocoa, use full cream milk, cream, half and half, or take it black. Use a tiny amount of brown sugar or use artificial sweeteners. (I find i need less sugar even in coffee if I take it with a little cream or ‘half and half’) Avoid skim milk. The obsession with low fat is actually contributing to obesity.

    Give up on low fat. If you eat foods with fat, you will feel full longer and take longer to feel that ‘let down’ you get when you eat sugar. You will eat less because you don’t crash.

    If you eat plant fats (nuts are great sources of healthy fats!) the fat is actually beneficial! And sources of plant fats are also often high in fiber and minerals and vitamins. In other words, healthy, filling and usually they taste great!

    ****Science does NOT support the low fat diet*****

    It was promoted as a marketing scheme by the US sugar industry to sell sugar products!!

    Full fat milk (compared to skim or low fat) is actually (a) more nourishing (b) easier to digest. (c) associated with weight loss!!

    Instead of low fat, go to low sugar (or better NO added sugar.) (Yes, you can have ONE slice of Christmas cake, birthday cake and Easter bun… but don’t eat any of these things on a regular basis — they are TREATS, NOT FOOD)

    Instead of candies and cakes, eat fruit. That is the best source of a sweet treat… And fruits also have other nourishment than just sugars… fiber is essential and great for prevention of colon cancer. So go out into the yard and pick some fruit… get sunshine and eat healthy!! Make your colon happy, maybe never take a laxative again if you eat fruit regularly.

    *Eat everything in moderation.
    *Exercise daily.

    Even a SMALL amount of daily exercise is valuable. Exercising only once a week is USELESS – you will not build your body this way, even if you overexercise on that one day!

    Exercise, to be useful to the BODY must be a regular activity, a minimum of 3 days weekly – 5 is better.

    NOTE: Going on a weekly walk with friends is good for the spirit, however!

    So.. exercise. That is the best way to make your heart healthier, improve blood flow to the brain and your extremities (this keeps them healthy) and it lowers cholesterol and in most people also lowers blood pressure.

    Our bodies were designed to MOVE.

    If you do not exercise, you are harming yourself.

    If you don’t do anything to change your diet, DO exercise anyway. Your mind will thank you. Your body will thank you. Your bank balance will thank you. Your spirit will thank you!!

    Walk to work if you can. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day IN ADDITION TO your normal activities such as cleaning your house and making meals for yourself. That is not exercise, even though it is hard work. Walk, run, swim, ride a bicycle… these are not that expensive. If you are elderly, simply doing calisthenics will get your heart rate up and improve your mobility… You can do your calisthenics from a chair!

    Work up to 30 minutes a day if you are starting from zero, especially if you are older (or if you get out of breath walking up one flight of stairs). If you are younger, do 30 easy minutes until you find that becomes too easy.

    Eat high quality protein (lean meat, fish, seafood and beans and peas). Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Don’t drink soft drinks at all. Avoid fruit juice… eat the fruit instead. (fruit juice is a refined food and mostly sugar).

    Eat healthy carbohydrates: sweet potatoes, yams, and what we call ‘provisions’. Don’t eat white potatoes – they have been over ‘bred’ until all the goodness is gone and they are basically a refined good. Yam, cassava, eddoes, all those things you grew up on… those carbs are good for you… Eat all of these in moderation.

    Eat fat. Best sources of fat are things like nuts and seeds and of course, dairy and eggs. Eggs do NOT cause cholesterol to go up. That is sugar and lack of exercise! Meat fat is less good… eat lean meat, but don’t sweat it too much and do listen to your body.

    When we ate all those UNPROCESSED foods we were healthier and thinner!! Healthy options include — vegetables, pumpkin, breadfruit… things like spinach, callaloo, pepperpot soup. All our naturally colorful vegetables and leafy greens are great for us!

    Now we are eating dyed food in PACKAGES… and it is killing us. Packaged food is often processed. Sometimes it isn’t food at all, though we eat it anyway!! That is what we need to stop!

    Eat food your grandmother or great, great grandmother would have recognized as food. It is what your body can handle. ‘Modern’ processed food is often not really food at all. And it is NOT healthy.

    Bottom line:

    1) Exercise regularly
    2) Eat what you like in moderation — don’t fret the fat or salt.
    3) Reduce (eliminate) refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (‘white’ foods) eg: sugar, flour, Irish potatoes, pasta.
    Sources of info on fat, salt info and general health:

    BTW: I lost 20 pounds after I quit refined carbohydrates… without changing anything else in my life. The doctor is happier with my blood work too!! I am not even all that strict about it…

    (c) DBJGold,
    June 2019

    NOTE: the perspective is Caribbean as am I. Foods mentioned are called by their Caribbean names.


    1. Well, I agree with you on sugar – it’s pretty frightening how addictive it is! However, the WHO would not agree with you on salt and advises us to cut down on it to control hypertension – it is a “risk factor” is the term, I think. I hardly think we are obsessing over it though. It’s all about eating a balanced diet. Thanks very much for this detailed response! Emma

      Liked by 1 person

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