Abu Dhabi – Have you ever wondered if the salad you were having actually contained too many calories because of its dressing? Or the smoothie that you love felt far too filling to be healthy?
For residents in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, who want to eat healthier, a new logo on restaurant and café menus, and eventually packaged and prepared foods, will soon indicate items that are good and beneficial for them.
These foods, depending on their type, meet some of 26 different features of healthy food as set by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), including low salt and sugar content and high fibre content. They also represent less than 30 per cent of a person’s daily recommended calorie intake.
Such dishes will feature a special logo: a blue heart circled by a green circle, with the word Weqaya – which means ‘protection’ in English – inscribed in it. The logo has been introduced as part of the Haad’s Weqaya Nutrition Programme, which aims to promote healthy lifestyles among people.
“The programme hope to reduce the risk factors associated with major non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, through creating public awareness about healthy food options that are available,” said Dr Jalaa Taher, manager of non-communicable diseases at the Haad.
She was speaking at a press conference to launch the programme. The initiative was first discussed in 2011, and has been undertaken in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA).
“The criteria foods must meet depends on the type of food. For example, we would look into salt and oil content for a salad, whereas we would look into how much sugar a fruit salad contains,” Dr Jalaa told Gulf News on the sidelines of the launch.
In the programme’s 14-month pilot phase, 11 institutions volunteered to join the nutrition programme. Officials said that participating outlets, which included hospital eateries, hotels and restaurants, submitted details of food items on their menus which they thought were eligible to bear the Weqaya logo.
“We reviewed the nutritional content of these foods, and sometimes suggested changes. The outlets were then allowed to carry the logo next to the dishes that complied with health criteria,” said Dr Arwa Modwahi, senior officer for non-communicable diseases at the Haad and public health nutrition physician.
Dr Jalaa added that the Haad will work to expand the number of participating outlets by the end of 2014.
“The planning process will get under way soon. For participants, offering healthy fare is a good marketing tool that will allow them to distinguish themselves from other eateries and stores. This is why we have seen a great deal of interest already,” she said.
Representatives from restaurants and cafes that participated in the pilot initiative said they had maintained their usual price ranges for the dishes.
“We have about 40 dishes on our menu at present that have the Weqaya logo: bircher muesli, food cuts, soups, grilled salmon with fresh vegetables, fruit minestrone and yoghurt. None of these dishes are priced higher just because they are healthier, and when we revise the menu, we hope to include more such items,” said Rajesh Devadas, executive chef at the D Club, a restaurant at Burjeel Hospital that offers nutritious food.
residents in the capital also welcomed the idea, saying that it would point children in the right direction when ordering food.
“I am careful about my food choices, and generally know what is good for me. But for those who are less aware, the inclusion of the logo could encourage them to opt for healthier items,” said Ively Raison, a 32-year-old Venezuelan mother-of-two.
Marina Hopper, 37, a French homemaker and mother, agreed with Raison.
“At the same time, it is also important to understand the concept of healthy eating, and explain it to one’s children. People need to be aware of what the logo represents for their own well-being,” she added.
© Gulf NewsSep 2013