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Eat Smart

By Ms Melissa Aiyathurai-Johnston
Dietitian, Raffles Hospital

Brought to you by Healthbase


Food, food, glorious food! Food makes up a big part of our life. Besides providing nutritional benefits, food is also a source of enjoyment, an adventure and it tastes great!

Despite huge and beneficial gains in knowledge about nutrition over recent years, healthy eating has become harder because of the way we live and eat today. There is less reliance on home cooked meals and if we are not mindful, our meals may not be necessarily healthy. They may not be complete (e.g. not being served with enough vegetables) or the portion sizes may be too large.

In addition, the modern diet is usually overloaded with calories for energy compared to the amount we expend, has too much fat (especially saturated fat), sugar and salt and lacking in fruits, vegetables, fibre and dairy products.

This state of “over nutrition” has seen an alarming rise in the incidence of chronic lifestyle diseases. Today 1 out of 3 Singaporeans are overweight or obese which sets the scene for other conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Excessive fat or salt and the lack of fibre have also been linked with an increase risk of certain cancers (e.g. breast, bowel, stomach), diabetes, stroke, hypertension and osteoporosis to name a few.

There is no secret to healthy eating. You just need to “eat smart”!

Enjoy a wide variety of foods
Add the grains and legumes
Trim the fat

Shake the habit – reduce your salt intake
Munch those fruits and vegetables
Alcohol – enjoy in moderation
Reduce your sugar intake
Track your weight

Enjoy a wide variety of foods
Variety is the spice of life! Everyday your body needs nutrients and other healthful substances (such as antioxidants) that only a wide variety of foods can provide. Most foods and beverages are made up of more than one nutrient, however no one food or food category has them all.

Add grains and legumes
These low fat foods should make up a large proportion of your meals. This group including bread, cereals, rice, pasta and other foods made from grains provides you with carbohydrate (your body’s fuel), B vitamins, fibre and a number of minerals. Legumes (e.g. peas, beans and lentils) provide you with good amounts of protein (important for vegetarians), B vitamins and fibre.

Having more soluble fibre in your diet, such as the type found in legumes will help to lower your cholesterol. The slow digesting carbohydrate they contain will also help those trying to control their weight or diabetics with their blood sugar control.

Trim the fat
Reducing your fat intake will lower your risk of becoming overweight which reduces your chance of certain conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain cancers. Reducing your saturated fat intake will also go a long way to help keep your cholesterol in check.

Removing the skin from poultry and limit your intake of fatty meat such as pork belly, luncheon meat. When dining away from home choose more soup based dishes which are low in fat and limit those dishes made with coconut milk.

Shake the habit – reduce your salt intake
Too much salt has been linked to the development of high blood pressure or hypertension. The average diet contains more sodium than actually required.

One way to reduce your sodium intake is by tasting your food before adding salt. Also limit or avoid high sodium condiments such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato ketchup. Opt for herbs, spices, chili or lime juice to add flavour instead.

Munch those fruit and vegetables
Besides being an excellent source of fibre, this low calorie, nutrient dense group provides you with essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that may not be present in other groups of food. Studies have shown that those people with a high intake of fruits and vegetables have a low rate of heart disease and cancer. Aim for 2 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Alcohol – enjoy in moderation
A moderate to heavy intake of alcohol has been associated with high blood pressure and certain cancers. An excessive intake can also lead to weight gain as gram for gram alcohol has almost twice the calories of carbohydrate or protein.

A safe intake would be no more than 2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 4 for men with 2 alcohol free days per week.

Reduce the sugar intake
Food high in sugar tend to be “empty calories” as they have no essential fibre, vitamins or minerals and can sometimes displace more nutritious food. Most foods high in sugar also tend to also be high in fat, which if taken in excess can lead to weight gain. It is best to enjoy these foods in moderation.

Track your weight
A balance between the right food and regular exercise will ensure that your weight is healthy. Choosing low fat meals with ample carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit and protein will help you lose excessive weight, if you need to and help you to stay slim if you do not.

Be careful of fad diets or diets that offer fast weight loss as they more often do not change your eating habits and are nutritionally unbalanced. Once you go off them, the weight tends to come back straight away.

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The contents or materials provided in this website are for general information only and are not intended as medical advice.