The food industry in Nigeria has been urged to promote healthy diets in accordance with national guidelines and international standards, to reduce the alarming rate of emerging non-communicable diseases currently claiming lives of Nigerians prematurely.
The Nutrition Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF), Prof. Olusola Omueti, who made the appeal at a workshop on NHF Heart Check Food Labelling Programme, recently noted that this became necessary due to certain emerging health challenges such as: increases in global sudden and premature deaths, chronic and debilitating diseases and non-communicable diseases.
Omueti who also mentioned increases in cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancer, diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases blamed the increases on persistent life styles of unhealthy diets, smoking, lack of exercise, lack of culture of relaxation, which are making diseases such as CVDs to create complex problems and urged food manufacturing industry to play active roles that can help in stemming the tide.
According to him, there is the need for the industry to embark on aggressive nutrition education in which it would focus on Heart-check Food Labelling, for heart-healthy diets, stressing that the food a person eats makes such a person.
Talking about a heart check food labelling/endorsement, Omueti described it as an on-pack symbol which indicates that an individual food product is heart healthy or healthier, to reduce the risk factors for non-communicable diseases that stem from unhealthy diets through authentication of the existence of required nutritional standard of food. Food labelling, according to him, has great potential to accomplish the following: influence food choices, assist the consumer in making healthy dietary selection thereby influencing consumers' ability to reduce intake of CVDs risk factors for example; total cholesterol, total saturated fat, high level of salt, low fibre, high sugar and trans-fatty acids.
According to him, it also helps the consumer with a quick guide to identifying healthier foods, enhance on-the-spot and easy nutrition education, increase consumers' intake of heart-healthy foods, promote the demand for heart-healthy foods and create multiplying effects on production sales and consumption of quality products.
He advised that food industry should limit the level of saturated fats, trans-fatty acid, free sugar and salt in existing products noting that they should continue to develop and provide affordable, healthy and nutritious choices to consumers, as well as consider introducing new products with improved nutritional value.