DUBAI // Reducing the amount of salt and transfats in people’s diets is an essential step in the fight against obesity and the threat of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, strokes and heart disease, health officials said.
While the public is aware that processed and fast foods can have a detrimental effect on their health, experts warned that some traditional Emirati dishes are not always the better option as they can also contain high levels of salt and fats.
The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, is putting together a strategy to improve the nation’s health, said Dr Izzeldin Hussein, regional representative for International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).
“Salt and transfats cause diseases such as strokes, so we have to reduce salt in our food and in the canned food we buy.”
Dr Hussein advised people to either alter their food choices or reduce the amount added while cooking, to around five grammes per day in line with WHO guidelines.
This can lead to improvements not only on the health of the individual but save the economy money in health care costs, he said.
Dr Hussein said the public as well as the government and the food industry need to work together to spread awareness.
“We have to start with changing our attitude to what we have to eat and eat little and good quality and we can eat anything. The food industry needs to promote healthier food.”
According to the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, 18.98 per cent of the UAE’s population have diabetes. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases sharply with unhealthy weight gain.
Amjad Hassan Jarrar, professor at United Arab Emirates University, said over indulging on traditional foods as well as fast foods is the cause of expanding waistlines.
He highlighted dishes such as harees, luqaimat, balaleet, thareed and roqaq bread as having a high sodium and transfat content.
Dr Salah El Badawi, adviser for health policies at the Ministry of Health, said obesity rates in the in UAE increased from 12.1 per cent of the population in 2005 to 15.5 per cent in 2010.
Beside Emirati’s poor food choices, the percentage of people taking regular exercise was very low, which compounded the problem of obesity and poor health, he said.