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Dietary guidelines are crucial in helping people to adopt healthier food consumption habits. In Singapore, the dietary guidelines were first developed in 1990, and revised in 1993.

A new set of guidelines was then released in 2003, which reflected a shift from nutrient-based to food-based recommendations. This was in line with the increasing recognition that food provides not only nutrients, but also other non-nutrient compounds (e.g. phytochemicals such as lycopene, isoflavones, lutein) which appear to protect against chronic diseases.

The 2003 dietary guidelines are currently being revised. The evidence reviewed will be graded according to the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) system of grading evidence, which is also used by the Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) working groups in Singapore.

The eight Dietary Guidelines for Adult Singaporeans (18 to 69 years) are as follows:

Related: Mindful Makan — Eating with Awareness

Enjoy a Variety of Food Using Some Healthy Guidelines

People who have a varied diet, i.e. those who eat from all four food groups and have different types of food from each food group, are more likely to meet their nutrient requirements. The food items chosen should be low in fat, especially saturated fat, and low in salt and added sugar. Read the guidelines on building a Healthy Food Foundation.

An area of focus under these guidelines is on calcium intake. Calcium is vital for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. For adolescents and adults up to the age of 30 years, an adequate intake of calcium is one of several factors that have been associated with maximal accumulation of bone mass.

Individuals attain their peak (maximal) bone mass before the age of 30 years, after which bone mass gradually declines; though continued consumption of calcium-rich foods can help prevent bone loss.

An assortment of dairy products including cheese, milk and yoghurt on a table. 

Milk and dairy products are the best sources of calcium. Other good sources include dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. kai lan, chye sim), fish with edible bones, calcium-fortified products (e.g. calcium-fortified soybean milk and cereals) and tofu (which is set with calcium).

Related: Healthy Home Meals on a Budget

Achieve and Maintain Body Weight Within the Normal Range

Body weight maintenance is achieved by balancing energy intake (e.g. in the form of calories from food) and energy output (e.g. physical activity). When more energy is consumed than expended, weight gain occurs. If a person consistently consumes more energy than they expend over a period of time, they are at risk of being overweight or obese.

A smart phone depicting a decrease in BMI on a graph. 

A person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) can be used to assess their risk of developing chronic diseases. BMI uses the height and weight of an individual to estimate his or her total body fat. Singaporeans have been found to be at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes at BMI values of 23 kg/m2 and above.

BMI (kg/m2) (for adults)

Risk of Heart Disease, etc

27.5 and above

High Risk

23.0 - 27.4

Moderate Risk

18.5 - 22.9

Low Risk (Healthy Range)

<18.5

Risk of Nutritional Deficiency Diseases and Osteoporosis

Related: What is a Healthy Weight?

Eat Sufficient Amounts of Grain, Especially Wholegrains

At least one serving of rice and alternatives should come from wholegrain food as they contain both bran (which is high in B-vitamins) and germ (which is rich in Vitamin E and phytochemicals). Refined grains only contain the endosperm (the bran and germ are removed during the milling process) and do not contain as many nutrients or as much fibre compared to wholegrain foods. Examples of wholegrain food include oats, brown rice and wholemeal/whole wheat versions of noodles, bread and breakfast cereals.

A cross-section view of a wholegrain. 

People who have a diet rich in wholegrains have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 Diabetes. There is also evidence to suggest that those whose diets are rich in wholegrains have a reduced risk of colorectal and oesophageal cancers. Including wholegrain foods in your diet may assist in weight loss too, although more studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Related: Grain's Anatomy

Eat More Fruit and Vegetables Every Day

Individuals should aim to eat at least 2 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables every day.

For vegetables, this includes all vegetables fresh, frozen and well-drained canned vegetables, except tubers (e.g. potatoes, yam) and legumes (e.g. beans, lentils). Tubers belong to the Rice & Alternatives food group due to its high starch content, and legumes belong to the Meat & Alternatives food group as they are good sources of protein. For fruit, this includes fresh, frozen, well-drained canned or dried fruit.

Fresh tomatoes and fresh greens. 

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Fruit and vegetables may also protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach and lung (fruit only). In addition, fruit and vegetables may be a useful component of programmes designed to achieve and sustain weight loss.

Related: Smart Ways to Fill Up on Fruits and Vegetables

Choose and Prepare Food with Less Fat, Especially Saturated Fat

Fat is needed for certain metabolic functions in the body. However, it is also a concentrated source of energy and a diet high in fat can provide excess calories, increasing the risk of being overweight and obesity.

Saturated fats: butter, olive oil and vegetable oil 

Total fat should be limited to 25-30% of total calorie intake, of which less than 10% is from saturated fat. The balance should come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, high-fat dairy products and also food prepared with palm-based vegetable oil. A high intake of saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, there is limited, but suggestive evidence that total fat intake is associated with cancer of the lung and the breast (postmenopausal women only).

Related: Getting the Fats Right!

Choose and Prepare Food with Less Salt and Sauces

Salt is one of the main sources of sodium in the diet. The average intake of salt of an average adult in Singapore is 9g per day, which is more than the recommended 5g per day. Studies continue to show that blood pressure can be lowered when intake of salt is reduced to less than 5g per day.

Eat less salt written in a pile of salt 

Other sources of sodium include sauces, monosodium glutamate (MSG), preservatives and salt substitutes. There is good evidence to show that the reduction of sodium intake from salt and other sources helps to lower blood pressure in both healthy individuals and individuals with high blood pressure.

An excessive consumption of salt-preserved, cured or smoked food has also been associated with higher risk of stomach and nasopharyngeal cancers. The higher risk is attributed to salt and sodium nitrates commonly used as preservatives in these products.

Related: Hidden Salts and Diabetes

Choose Beverages and Food with Less Sugar

Beverages and food with added sugar usually provide empty calories. Added sugar refers to sugar that is added to food or drinks during manufacturing, cooking or at the table.

Excessive consumption of beverages and food high in added sugar can contribute considerably to energy intake and may lead to weight gain if the excess calories are not expended. In addition, these items may displace other more nutritious components of the diet.

Adding half a teasppon of sugar into a cup of black coffee  

Added sugar should contribute to no more than 10% of dietary energy. This translates to approximately 40-55g (8-11 tsp) daily. This limit includes sugar added to beverages as well as food such as cakes and candies.

Related: Fake the Sweetness

If You Drink Alcoholic Beverages, do so in Moderation

Individuals who choose to drink should have no more than 2 standard drinks a day (for women), and no more than 3 drinks a day (for men). One standard drink contains 10g of pure alcohol and is equivalent to 1 can of beer (220ml), 1 glass of wine (100ml), or 1 nip (30ml) of spirits. Those who consume more than the recommended amounts should gradually cut down on their intake.

Friends holding clear mugs of beer and cheering. 

Studies show that drinking in moderation may protect against heart disease in middle-aged men. But due to the harmful health and social consequences of excessive alcohol consumption, adults who do not drink alcoholic beverages should not be encouraged to start.

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