Loving your food the right way

As Singaporeans start jogging down the road to better health, their greatest love - food - is turning out to be their biggest weakness.

The temptation is all around, with local fare like laksa and prata bumping up the calorie count. And dieticians, who gave My Paper a tour of our eating habits, said that even exercise could not compensate for our indulgences.

But soon there will be more healthy food options within reach, following the launch of the Healthy Living Master Plan yesterday.

More than 90 per cent of students from pre-school to junior colleges will be eating healthier by 2020 - as schools swop white bread for wholemeal options and start serving only unsweetened beverages.

Offices, too, will also be going healthy, with at least 15 business parks and industrial estates converted to a healthy eco-system with healthier food options as well as exercise programmes, also by 2020.

Dieticians told My Paper that diet and exercise are like "two wheels on a bicycle", and there is no separating the two.

"You can't out-train a lousy diet," said Jayven Low, a dietician at Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy. "Many times we make the mistake thinking that because we exercise we earn the right to eat junk food," he said.

This is especially important at a time when many working people and students are eating at least two meals a day at hawker centres.

The rule of thumb is to keep local delights, which can contain high fat and oil content, to just two or three meals a week, the dieticians said.

Mutton murtabak amounts to 1,102 calories and char kway teow to 745 calories, both higher than the 500-calorie meals advocated by the Health Promotion Board.

It is also important to keep a lookout for "hidden calories", said dietician Angela Ng.

"They all add up," said Ms Ng, who pointed out that adding gravy to one's economical rice will increase the calorie count by 100. "Many also mistakenly count potato as the vegetable portion of the meal when it really provides carbohydrates more than fibre," she added.

One way to make Singaporeans more aware of healthy eating habits is to start the practice young, said Toh Hui Kheng, course chair of Singapore Polytechnic's diploma in nutrition, health and wellness.

Ms Toh notes that it is more difficult to change one's unhealthy behaviour when one gets older. "Hence the school is an ideal setting to encourage healthy eating habits and good nutrition among students," she said.

But it's not enough to just keep calories in check. "We should not be too fixated on hitting the 500-calorie intake," said Mr Low.

So you can't console yourself by having economical rice and thinking that you haven't busted the calorie count. It's equally important to keep a meal balanced, dieticians said.

By 2020, some one million Singaporeans will find themselves in a workplace that promotes health. The options will stretch to home and school as well.

At present, the Mapletree Business City has more than half of its food and beverage establishments offering healthier meal choices and more than 1,000 employees there take part in physical activity sessions.

"When you have a healthy environment at the workplace, where you are provided the necessary nudges to choose healthy options, that can translate into something powerful for the (the health of the) community," said Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, parliamentary secretary for health.


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