By Jean Tong, Nutritionist, Halley Medical Aesthetics
The Internet is a great resource but with too much information on hand, people very often get confused as to what is true or untrue, effective or non-effective. This makes it hard for people who are trying to lose weight to decide whether a diet plan that is all the current rage is a feasible one based on sound principles or one that is simply a fad diet that is “all sound and fury” but “signifying nothing”.
“A fad diet is a diet that promises fast weight loss without scientific basis,” explains Jean Tong, nutritionist and weight management programme manager with Halley Medical Aesthetics. “These diets often eliminate entire food groups and don’t provide a wide range of important nutrients. It may provide short-term results but it will be difficult to sustain in the long run.”
Dietary guidelines are important
That is why healthy authorities all over the world come up with dietary guidelines. Such guidelines are crucial in helping people adopt healthier food consumption habits that meet their nutrients requirements while reducing the risk of non-communicable chronic diseases at the same time. So the next time you come across a diet plan that sounds incredibly too good to be true, you might want to do a mental check to see if it includes food from all the essential food groups in Singapore’s recommended dietary guideline — “My Healthy Plate”.
Released in 2014 by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), My Healthy Plate serves as a visual guide of what a healthy plate constituting a well-balanced diet looks like. It is simpler to understand and apply in one’s daily life, than the previous “Healthy Diet Pyramid”. My Healthy Plate depicts half of the plate should be filled with nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables, and only a quarter of the plate should be whole-grains and meat and alternatives foods respectively.
Changing with the times
The dietary guideline of our city-state has evolved the years to suit the changing socio-economic environment and lifestyle needs of its citizens.
In the 1980s, with an increase in incidences of chronic diseases such as heart diseases and cancer, the government saw a need to educate Singaporeans in managing their health through healthy eating. In 1988, the National Advisory Committee on Food and Nutrition then came up with dietary guidelines for all Singaporeans aged two years and above (Table 1). This set of dietary guidelines moved away from qualitative recommendations (i.e. eating more or less of certain foods), to specifications in the quantity of foods and nutrients that constitute a healthy diet.
Dietary Guidelines for Singaporeans (1988)
- Eat a variety of foods
- Maintain a desirable body weight. Lose weight if obesity is a problem
- Restrict total fat intake to 20-30% of total energy intake
- Modify composition of fat in the diet to consist of 1/3 PUFA, 1/3 MUFA, 1/3 SFA
- Reduce cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg/day
- Maintain intake of complex carbohydrates at about 50% of total energy intake.
- Reduce intake of refined & processed sugar to less than 10% of total energy intake.
- Reduce salt intake to less than 5 g a day.
- Reduce intake of salt-cured, preserved & smoked foods.
- Increase intake of fruits, vegetables & wholegrain products
- For those who drink, limit alcohol intake to not more than 2 standard drinks per day (about 30 g alcohol)
- Encourage breastfeeding in infants until at least 6 months of age.
Figure 1. Singapore’s Healthy Diet Pyramid (1995)
Then next came the Healthy Diet Pyramid in 1995. Singapore’s HPB introduced the dietary guide graphic, Healthy Diet Pyramid (Figure 1), to help the public in making healthier food choices. The Healthy Diet Pyramid was deemed to be more user-friendly for public education than the 1988 dietary guidelines, as it translated nutrient-based dietary guidelines into quantifiable recommendations based on actual foods.
The Healthy Diet Pyramid has since been updated over the years to better reflect the state of science, with the last update being in 2009 to incorporate whole-grains consumption (Figure 1).
Stay healthy and happy
The state of science relating to diet and health is constantly evolving and dietary guidelines should be kept up-to-date. With any dietary guidelines in place, the bottom-line message is the importance of eating well and being physically active to stay healthy and happy.