At your next meal, take a close look at what is on your plate. Are you having a well-balanced meal as recommended by the Healthy Food Pyramid?
You should consume the following foods and servings every day:
- 5 to 7 servings of rice and alternatives (including 2 to 3 servings of whole grain products)
- 2 servings of fruits and 2 servings of vegetables
- 2 to 3 servings of meat and alternatives (with ½ serving from dairy or other high calcium products)
- small amounts of fats, oils, sugar and salt
"Together with regular exercise, a healthy and well-balanced diet can help to lower your risk of getting diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and becoming overweight," says Dr Ian Phoon, senior family physician from Pasir Ris Polyclinic.
Rice and alternatives
For a healthy diet, increase your intake of whole grains or "good" carbohydrates. It has been found that whole grains lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, protect against cancers such as colorectal and oesophageal cancer, and help in weight management.
According to the 2004 Nutrition Survey, more than half of Singapore's adult population consumed adequate amounts of rice and alternatives but only had 0.2 servings of whole grains per day.
- Popular food choices: Rice, noodles, pasta, bread and potatoes.
- Healthier options: Wholemeal bread, brown rice, brown noodles, and oats.
Related video: How to eat healthily when you have diabetes
Fruits and vegetables
Opt for fruits and vegetables of various colours for their phytochemicals — chemical compounds which help prevent chronic illnesses and have cancer prevention properties. Additional benefits include a lower chance of a heart attack, stroke and blood pressure, and a reduced risk of eye and digestive problems.
- Healthier options: A variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables, such as an apple, pear, orange, a wedge of papaya or water melon, or grapes; leafy vegetables, or non-leafy vegetables like carrots or tomatoes.
Meats and alternatives
Avoid processed foods such as hot dogs or deli meat which are linked to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Limit eggs to not more than three to four per week as the yolk is high in cholesterol. Internal organs like liver and intestine are also high in cholesterol, says Phoon.
- Popular food choices: Red meat such as beef and mutton, whole milk.
- Healthier options: White meats such as chicken and fish, tofu, low-fat milk.
Related article: Tips for women considering switching to a vegetarian diet
Good fats, bad fats
Choose "good" fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) over "bad" fats (saturated and trans fats) which increase the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke. Three out of eight Singaporeans exceed the recommended intake of less than 300 mg of fats.
- Popular food choices: Coconut milk (e.g. in curry or laksa), roti prata and deep fried foods.
- Healthier options: Soft margarine, vegetable oils such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy and corn, steamed or baked foods.
Cut down on salt intake. Nine out of 10 Singaporeans exceed the daily sodium limit of 2,000 mg, according to the Health Promotion Board.
High salt intake is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke and total cardiovascular disease, reveals a study in the British Medical Journal (2009). Research also suggests that reducing salt intake could slow the loss of calcium from bones that occurs with ageing.
- Popular food choices: Instant noodles, canned foods and sauces.
- Healthier options: Fresh foods. Use less salt, sauce or gravy. Avoid finishing your soup.
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Avoid a sugar-rich diet as it may lead to weight gain and dental caries.
- Popular food choices: Soft drinks, bubble tea, coffee/tea with sugar or sweetened condensed milk.
- Healthier options: Opt for beverages with no sugar such as plain water (with or without lemon or lime squeezed in), "zero" or "light" soft drinks, coffee/ tea without sugar, or with artificial sweeteners.
Related article: Artificial sweeteners — how safe are they?
Many of us love eating, and it has become a favourite past time for us. But overeating can lead to obesity, which in turn, can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Learn to recognise if you're beginning to feel full, and stop eating. Avoid finishing the food so as "not to waste" it.
Never too old to eat right
"As the saying goes, 'We are what we eat'; food is an important factor in determining our health condition. Also, you are never too young or too old to start eating right," notes Dr Phoon.
This article was written by Veronique Ah Sen for Health Xchange, with expert input from Pasir Ris Polyclinic.
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Health Xchange's articles are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.