When people get too busy, they tend to neglect their diet. They make do with ready-to-eat foods, snacks and sugary drinks that seem satisfying at the time but remain woefully low in nutritional value and high in fats. This type of eating pattern inevitably results in weight gain.
“Being overweight plays a part in many diseases, from heart disease to high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, gout and osteoporosis,” says Christine Ong, Chief Dietitian at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
In particular, excess fat around the abdomen has an adverse effect on the risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. For Singaporeans, a waist measuring over 80 cm in women and over 85 cm in men is considered high-risk, even in people of normal weight.
“Men or women whose body is apple-shaped due to fat deposits around the abdomen are more likely to develop obesity-related health conditions,” Ms Ong says.
The healthy diet pyramid
The Singapore Health Promotion Board’s food pyramid clearly outlines the different food groups and the number of servings you should consume every day for a balanced and healthy diet. It consists of the following:
- Rice and alternatives: 5-7 servings (including 2-3 wholegrain servings)
- Fruits and vegetables: 2 servings of each
- Meat and alternatives: 3 servings (including a half serving of dairy or high- calcium product)
- Fats, oils, sugar, salt: In small amounts
Reading labels of packaged foods
If you depend on packaged foods for your meals, remember to carefully read the date, ingredients and nutrition information on the package.
- Date marking: This includes the “use by” or “sell by” dates which tell you when the food should be eaten for best quality.
- Ingredients list: Except for water, ingredients are listed in decreasing order of quantity. As a general guide, if an ingredient is listed amongst the first 3 ingredients in the list, it indicates that the food contains a large amount of that particular ingredient. E.g. if sugars like sucrose, fructose, maltose are listed amongst the first 3 ingredients, the product is usually high in sugar
- Sugar can be listed in a variety of different ways such as sucrose, fructose, maple syrup and cane sugar.
- Similarly salt can be indicated as sodium bicarbonate, sea salt, MSG, stock cubes and baking powder/soda, etc.
- Fat can be listed as shortening, milk solids, sour cream, hydrogenated fat, etc.
- You can disregard water, since it doesn’t contain any calories.
- Nutrition facts: This informs you of the energy (calories), protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, fibre and sodium. The amount of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals may be available, especially when specific nutrients are the subject of a nutrition claim. E.g. for a “high calcium” claim, the amount of calcium must be indicated to justify the claim
When reading the nutrition label, pay special attention to the energy (kcal) if you want to lose weight. Next, look at the fat content, and then the fibre, suggests Ms Ong.
Here are a few additional tips:
- Always compare the “per 100g” information first since serving sizes may differ.
- Generally speaking, choose products lower in saturated fat and trans fat
- Favour products higher in fibre, ideally more than 6g per 100g.
“Look at the nutrition information panel for information that is important to you,” Ms Ong says. “For example, if you have high blood pressure or kidney disease, you should pay special attention to the amount of sodium; if you have type 1 diabetes, you need to watch out for the carbohydrates, whereas with type 2 diabetes, you need to look at the energy content, in addition to carbohydrates and fat.”
What about calories?
Here’s the recommended amount of calories per meal that Ms Ong recommends should be consumed per meal or snack:
- Breakfast: About 400 calories
- Lunch or dinner: About 450 calories each
- Snacks or beverages should account for an additional 100 calories each
However, Ms Ong stresses, “We encourage healthy eating and not calorie counting.”
“When eating out, always look out for the healthier choice logo,” says Ms Ong. “Choose items that are prepared with healthier ingredients such as evaporated milk instead of coconut milk, low fat or non-fat dairy products, fibre-added vermicelli instead of refined flour versions, and oils which are low in saturated fat oil and high in monounsaturated fats.
||Large beef or chicken burgers, with extra cheese or bacon
Hamburger, cheeseburger, burger with fish fillet (less mayonnaise/tartar sauce)
||Pan or stuffed crust pizza
Thin crust pizza (Hawaiian, vegetarian topping)
||Hot and crispy chicken (thigh and ribs), popcorn chicken, chicken meals, French fries
Original chicken (drumstick and breast, without skin), chicken burger (less mayonnaise), whipped potato (with less gravy)
Croissant sandwich with mayonnaise fillings e.g. tuna, egg mayonnaise
12-inch sandwiches with meatball marinara, spicy Italian, chicken and bacon ranch fillings
Side orders of cookies or potato chips
Baguette sandwich with lean meat fillings e.g. roast beef, turkey ham
6-inch sandwiches with oven roasted chicken breast/ham/turkey fillings
Ask for more fresh vegetable toppings e.g tomato, lettuce, mustard, green peppers
Go without dressing or choose lower calorie dressings such as honey mustard or sweet onion. Hold off the salt too.
||Ice-blended drinks or frappe with whipped cream and flavoured syrups
Latte, cappuccino or flat white with non/low fat milk and no whipped cream. Add less sugar or omit the sugar
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