Eating out, in future, could mean putting on less of those precious calories burnt off in the gym.
About 700 stalls and food outlets as well as 16 canteens in workplaces will serve 500-calorie meals under a Health Promotion Board (HPB) scheme launched yesterday.
"Singaporeans are eating more saturated fat, and not enough whole grains. We are eating excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates such as white rice, which has been linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes,"
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said at the launch.
The Healthier Dining Programme expands on an earlier restaurant scheme which reached only 200 outlets. The earlier scheme required restaurants to provide less salt and less oil choices for a third of their menu, for example.
What is new is that the HPB is asking participating restaurants to provide at least three 500-calorie meals each. Foodcourt chains Kopitiam and NTUC Foodfare will require new and renewing tenants to offer at least one 500-calorie meal option.
The scheme comes amid a worrying trend in the quality and quantity of Singaporeans' diets, said Professor Faishal.
The 2010 National Nutrition Survey showed that six in 10 Singaporeans exceed their recommended daily calorie intake - about 2,600 for men and about 2,000 for women - by an average of 200 calories. An eat-out meal here is about 700 to 800 calories on average. "So, one 500-calorie meal a day would be just nice to help them meet those requirements," said HPB chief Zee Yoong Kang.
Fast-food chain McDonald's and NTUC Foodfare are among the 18 food service providers that have signed up. About half of the 700 food outlets have committed to using healthier ingredients.
Others like Fish & Co are introducing smaller portions at cheaper prices.
HPB is also working to extend its subsidy for healthier ingredients to more wholesalers. "We need economies of scale to ensure these ingredients remain affordable," said Prof Faishal.
Participating restaurants believe Singaporeans are hungry for healthy food. At McDonald's, for example, whole grain options make up 20 per cent of breakfast sales, and 10 per cent of its customers swop fries for corn cups.
It is now considering more vegetables or whole grains in its menu, said its Singapore managing director Phyllis Cheung.
The dining scheme is part of a national food strategy that aims to raise the number of healthier eat-out meals taken per year to 180 million, or 20 per cent of all eat-out meals, by 2020. This stood at about 1 per cent in 2010.
Communications professional Claudio Chock, 25, welcomed the news: "These healthier food options are great for the young office crowd who want to keep fit in the prime of their life."
Housewife June Chen, 45, said: "I will try the new options, but I will go back only if they taste good and are value-for-money."
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