Find out more about cutting down on salt, sugar and
alcohol to reap the benefits of a healthier diet.
Salt & Sodium
Savour more flavours with less salt
Did you know that using excess salt during cooking actually masks the true flavours of your food? Healthier choice lower-sodium salt and seasonings contain at least 25% less sodium, yet flavours your dishes well, making them excellent alternatives to table salt and regular seasonings. Lower-sodium salt and seasonings, along with aromatic herbs and spices, allow the natural flavours of your food to shine, enabling you to enjoy delicious, healthier versions of your favourite dishes, with less sodium.
Get inspired with our delicious, lower-sodium recipes!
What is salt and sodium?
While the words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, they actually do not mean the same thing.
Sodium is a mineral and is required in small amounts for normal bodily functions like fluid balance, nerve conduction and muscle contraction. It occurs naturally in foods or is added during food processing to enhance the texture of foods or preserve them.
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a compound comprising about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It is often referred to as table salt.
Whether it’s salt or sodium, excessive consumption can cause high blood pressure, often leading to cardiovascular disease (CVD).
You do not have to deprive yourself of all salt and sodium. Just stick to a limit of 2,000mg of sodium per day, or about 1 teaspoon (about 5g) of salt daily, to help you achieve better health.
According to the 2018/19 National Nutrition Survey, 90% of Singaporeans are consuming too much salt, with an average intake of 9g/day. That’s almost double the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended intake of 5g/day!
While our bodies do need sodium for normal bodily functions, excessive salt intake can cause high blood pressure, which often leads to the development of heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.
High blood pressure or hypertension refers to blood being pumped around the body at a higher-than-normal pressure. Studies consistently show that the reduction of salt and sodium intake helps lower blood pressure in both healthy individuals and individuals diagnosed with hypertension.
There may be little to no signs during the early onset of hypertension. While most Singaporeans know that excessive salt intake can cause health issues, many assume that they are in good health, which stops them from taking action.
Some of the negative effects of excessive salt intake include:
Low sleep quality
Decline inmental wellness
Puffy face due towater retention
Contrary to popular belief, diseases caused by consuming too much salt are not just a problem for the elderly, but also for younger Singaporeans.
1Source: National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2018, National Registry of Disease Office, Health Promotion Board
2Source: National Population Health Survey 2020 (NPHS 2020), Health Promotion Board
1. Know that not all salts are the same
Many people are under the wrong impression that gourmet salts such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt are lower in sodium content and contain more minerals because of their claims to be “all-natural”. Other than trace amounts of additional minerals, these salts provide no health advantages compared to table salt and contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight.
Excessive consumption of any type of salt will inevitably lead to higher risks of high blood pressure and other ailments. To reduce sodium intake, take a look at the Nutritional Information Panel and choose lower-sodium salts like potassium salt (K-salt) or other healthier salt blends.
Read this article to learn more about how to lower your sodium intake:
2. Make the healthier choice
Products carrying the “Lower in Sodium” Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) identifier contains at least 25% less sodium compared to similar products in the same food category. Reducing your sodium intake is easy when you choose such lower-sodium products.
Foods that are lower in sodium doesn’t mean that they will taste bland. You’ll find the “Lower in Sodium” HCS identifier on many of your favourite sauces, seasonings, cooking mixes and pastes that are not only tasty, but also healthier too!
Read this article to learn more about how to make healthier choices:
3. Choose fresh instead of preserved foods
An excessive consumption of 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.
Choose fresh meats and other protein sources instead and limit your intake of processed foods such as sausages, luncheon meat, ham and burger patties as much as possible.
4. Spice up your dishes with herbs and more
Natural herbs, spices and aromatics like onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, parsley, spring onions, cinnamon, and pepper all help to enhance the taste and aroma of food. As a common Chinese saying goes, a delicious dish is one that is rich in colour, fragrance, and flavour. Jazzing up your dishes with herbs or spices adds flavour, colour and fragrance, while reducing the need to use too much salt or seasonings, hence reducing your sodium intake.
5. Oomph with umami
Dried mushrooms, seaweed and kelp are often added to soups and stews to impart a savoury deliciousness which we now recognise as “umami”. This can be translated to “essence of deliciousness” and is actually the taste of glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid.
Sources of “umami” also include Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) which is a food additive. Contrary to popular belief, decades of research have shown no evidence linking MSG to commonly purported symptoms such as hair loss and palpitations. MSG is generally recognised as safe and not as unhealthy as one might think. Both sources of glutamate, naturally occurring glutamate and MSG, are processed by the body in the same way. In fact, a teaspoon of MSG contains 615mg of sodium, less than a teaspoon of table salt which contains 1,960mg.
To add a healthier umami flavour, you can use MSG or foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, meats, seafood and even aged cheeses, instead of adding more salt or seasonings.
6. Look out for sodium when eating out
Gravy, sauces and soups can be high in sodium. Ask for less gravy and sauce or ask for these to be served on the side. Taste your food first – you may not need to add more sauce (e.g. chilli sauce, ketchup, soya sauce) or extra salt at the table.
Here’s some tips to cut your sodium intake:
Savouring Duck Rice?
(Sodium content: 1,446mg)
Ask for gravy on the side and pour sparingly to reduce sodium consumption!
Munching on Mee Goreng?
(Sodium content: 2,301mg)
Skip that extra tablespoon of ketchup to save on 217mg of sodium!
What is sugar?
Sugar is essentially a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in a wide range of nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy.
Sugar is often added during food processing to enhance flavours or act as a preservative. Added sugars are largely empty calories that provide little to no nutrients and should be consumed in moderation.
Our sugar consumption should be no more than 10 percent of our daily energy intake. For most adults, that is about 10 teaspoons (50g) of sugar based on a 2000-daily calorie intake. For those who would like to reap additional health benefits such as a decrease in weight, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a further reduction to 5 teaspoons (25g) of sugar a day.
Consuming too much added sugar sets up a vicious cycle:
Furthermore, our body converts any excess sugar that we eat into fat, storing it as a future fuel source. By eating large amounts of sugary foods, we place ourselves at risk of various health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Spotting hidden sugar
Sugar comes in many forms, with names that do not actually include the word “sugar”. They include fructose, corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, and many more.
Just like consuming sugar, having all these added extra calories in our diet can harm our health. Learn to spot different kinds of sugary substances on food labels to help cut down on our sugar intake.
Here’s a list of common added sugar and their calorie count per 100g:
The sugar myths
Some added sugars are marketed as healthier options but are actually no different from simple white sugar.
While brown sugar does contain additional minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron, nutritional benefits are miniscule.
Read this article to learn more about the common sugar myths:
How can we consume less sugar?
1. Read the labels
A single can of sugar-sweetened soda can contain as much as 7 teaspoons (35g) of added sugar (140 kcal). Check the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) to find out the sugar content in our beverages.
Look out for products with the Healthier Choice Symbol as these are at least 25% lower in sugar than similar products within the same category.
Also, look out for Nutri-Grade beverages which are graded A or B as these are lower in sugar and saturated fats.
2. Make water the default drink option
Choose water as our beverage of choice. Water is needed for essential bodily function and the excretion of waste, and forms up to 60% of the human body.
Replace fluid losses and keep our body functioning well by drinking water. This can be made even more enjoyable by infusing water with fresh fruit and herbs for great taste and a dose of vitamins!
Read this article to learn more about how to make drinking water more enjoyable:
3. Ask for “less sugar” or “no sugar” when ordering freshly-prepared beverages or desserts
Freshly-prepared beverages such as kopi and teh, and desserts such as ice kachang and chendol can add lots of sugar to our diet.
Ask for less or no syrup, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in our drink or dessert.
- Kopi or teh - Ask for less (siu dai) or no sugar (kosong), enjoy more flavour with less sugar
- Bubble tea - If not already ordering less sugar, start small and ask for 50% sugar level. To enjoy more benefits, go for 25% level or less.
- Ice kachang - Ask for less sugar syrup
4. Portion control
There are certain sweet drinks, snacks or desserts that we may find irresistible and tend to overindulge. Rather than depriving ourselves completely, we can portion control by:
- Choosing a smaller pack size (e.g. 250ml instead of a 500ml bottle)
- Using a smaller plate - it tricks us into thinking that we are enjoying more food than what is really on our plate
- Sharing with friends and family
- Enjoying such sweet treats in moderation or making it an occasional treat
5. Replace sugar with alternatives/substitutes in our home cooked meals
We use sugar in our home-cooked meals; whether it’s baking or stir-frying, sugar is added to our food as a way to enhance the flavours of our dishes.
Instead, use fresh, chopped, pureed fruit and vegetables to give our desserts flavour and fibre boost.
We can also try sweeteners like stevia or xylitol that contain fewer to no calories, and won’t cause a spike to our blood glucose levels. Try to gradually adjust and decrease the amount of sweetners we use. Train our palate and learn to enjoy the natural flavours in food.
6. Watch out for the sugar trap
Watching our sugar intake may not be easy when some sugar traps are hard to detect. Seemingly savoury foods could contain more added sugar than what we expect.
Here are some examples of the sugar content hiding in our favourite hawker dishes.
These sugar substitutes offer a sweet taste with fewer calories than sugar. They fall into two categories – (i) low-caloric sweeteners and (ii) non-caloric sweeteners.
Low-caloric Sweeteners (Sugar Alcohols)
Naturally present in plants, sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol are often used in sugar-free sweets, beverages and desserts.
Chemical-based and containing almost no calories, their intense sweetness somewhat differs from the taste of simple white sugar. These are used less often or in combination with other sweeteners for a more palatable flavour.
Some names of non-caloric sweeteners that may be familiar to us include:
- Acesulfame K
Both categories of sweeteners do not cause tooth decay nor affect blood glucose levels, the way regular sugar does.
We can replace sugar with sweeteners in recipes, but do take note:
Aspartame is not heat stable
For baking and cooking, avoid aspartame as it is the only sweetener that breaks down and loses sweetness in prolonged or high heat. Use sweeteners like acesulfame K and sucralose instead.
Less bulk and browning
Compared to sweeteners, sugar offers more bulk, browning, colour and aroma to baked goods. Simply replace 50% of the sugar with sweetener for healthier, yet appealing bakes.
Use the right amount
Check the sugar equivalent of the sweetener for the right amount to convert in our recipe.
For most people
Sweeteners in our food products are safe for consumption. Any food containing sweeteners can only be sold if it follows regulatory requirements and is approved by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
For those managing weight
Sweeteners can help us manage weight. Recent studies have shown:
- Sweeteners do not cause an increase in sweet cravings or stimulate hunger
- When we replace sugar-sweetened products with those sweetened by sugar substitutes, it reduces energy intake and helps weight loss
Sweeteners can be safely consumed by diabetics as they do not increase blood sugar levels.
For people with
People with PKU cannot consume aspartame as it breaks down into phenylalanine upon digestion.
PKU is a rare condition where the body cannot break down amino acid phenylalanine, which causes it to build up and become toxic.
What are calories?
Calories counting seem to be necessary when we want to get started on a healthy eating journey. But how many of us actually understand what calories are and how to count them?
Easily track your daily calorie intake with the meal log tool on the Healthy 365 app
Learn more here
The energy that fuels your body comes mainly from nutrients such as fats, carbohydrates, and protein. These nutrients take on different forms, like how carbohydrates can be sugars or starches. Each of these nutrients contain energy value and is measured by calories. Calories are therefore units of measurement for the energy value of food.
1g Fat = 9 Calories
1g Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1g Protein = 4 Calories
Why do we need calories?
Calories are needed for energy to fuel our daily activities from simple breathing to intense exercise.
Why do we need to reduce excess calorie intake?
On average, Singaporeans consume about 2,500 calories daily, which is above the recommended calorie intake. This stems from unhealthy meals and regular grazing between meals.
Lowering your calorie intake lowers your health risks too. Have lower-calorie meals to keep your weight in check and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Maintain weight and stay in shape
Reduce risk of other chronic diseases
The amount of calories your body needs depends on your age, gender, level of physical activity, and body size. People who are active and exercise regularly would require more calories than someone who is mostly desk-bound.
7 - 60 years old
calorie intake for females:
7 - 60 years old
calorie intake for males:
Find out your recommended calories requirement for the day with the Calorie Calculator.
One simple way to achieve this is to follow the My Healthy Plate (MHP) guidelines - fill half your plate with a portion of fruits and vegetables, a quarter of it with wholegrains, and the remaining quarter with protein (meat and others).
Choose quality over quantity
Not all calories are equal. It’s important to consume the right number of calories from a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as wholegrains, lean protein, fruit and vegetables.
Be sure to also choose foods prepared with healthier ingredients and methods, and limit your intake of high-sugar food and drinks as they increase your calorie intake with little to no nutrients (empty calories).
500 kcal is the magic number
Your favourite meals could hit a whopping 700-800 kcal each time! To keep within your daily caloric intake, try to swap one of your regular meals for a lower-calorie one that is around 500 kcal.
Choose healthier options
When dining out, keep an eye out for this identifier to enjoy healthier meals.
Singaporeans love eating local delights like nasi lemak, rojak, chicken rice and more. As tasty as these dishes are, they are also rich in calories and saturated fats. The good news is, we don’t have to give up our favourite hawker fare to stay healthy!
Try these healthier hacks when ordering your hawker favourites:
- Go easy on the gravy
- Ask for less coconut rice
- Choose vegetables over deep-fried items
- Go easy on the fried items like You Tiao (fried dough fritters)
- Opt for more fruit and vegetables
- Ask for less sugar and sauces
- Opt for leaner cuts of chicken
- Ask for less rice
- Choose brown rice if available
- Request for more cucumber slices
Here’s how else you can make healthier choices when dining out:
In big groups, you may tend to eat more than your recommended daily calorie intake or order more than what you can finish. Avoid these situations by ordering less.
If you’ve ended up over-ordering, don’t be afraid to ask for unfinished dishes to be packed for takeaway.
Share your food
It isn’t always easy to control the portion of your dish. Get a friend to share a meal with you if you know that the portions are large beforehand.
Choose healthier food options when eating out
Look out for HPB’s healthier dining identifiers at partner restaurants or food courts, and on menus. These dishes are cooked with healthier oil, wholegrains, or are lower in calories.
The key to weight management is a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. Here are some simple tips to help you maintain a healthy weight.
Have regular meals
Space out your meals to keep you energised throughout the day. Avoid skipping or delaying your meals, those hunger pangs will leave you vulnerable to eating unhealthy food or overeating!
Eat balanced, healthier meals
Fill a quarter of your plate with wholegrains, a quarter with protein, and half with fruit and vegetables to give your body all the essential nutrients it needs. Eating these foods in the right proportions will help you keep the amount of calories you consume in check.
Budget those calories
Had a high-calorie meal? Don’t fret. A lower-calorie option for your next meal will help you stay within your recommended daily calorie intake.
Eat Less: Saturated Fats
Fats, especially saturated fats, are a concentrated source of energy with twice the amount of calories as carbohydrates or protein. Cut back on fat consumption to minimise excess energy and calorie intake.
Eat Less: Sugar
Sugar supplies calories with little nutritional value. These empty calories increase your calorie intake without providing nutrients.
Eat More: Wholegrains, Fruit & Vegetables
The bulk from high-fibre foods such as wholegrains, fruit and vegetables helps you feel full longer and prevents you from overeating.
What should I cut down on to stay healthy?
Limit intake of sugar
Our sugar consumption should be no more than 10 percent of our daily energy intake. For most adults, that is about 10 teaspoons of sugar (based on a 2,000-daily calorie intake). If you are determined enough, a further reduction to 5 teaspoons of sugar a day can bring about additional health benefits such as a decrease in weight. Added sugar can be found in sweetened drinks, fruit juices, honey, jam and processed foods like canned fruits.
Drinking in moderation
Having drinks with your friends? Healthy adult men should drink no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and women should drink no more than 1 standard drink a day. A standard drink is 1 can (330ml) of regular beer with 5% alcohol content, ½ glass (100ml) of wine with 15% alcohol content, where the glass height is not more than 15cm, or 1 shot (30ml) of spirits with 40% alcohol content.
Better yet, drink something other than alcohol, which is a concentrated source of calories. To view the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for adults in Singapore, click here.
Trans & Saturated Fats
What are the different types of fats?
While we all know fats are a concentrated source of calories, it’s still essential for our body’s needs. Let us learn more about fats and how to get the most out of it.
There are 4 different types of fats - polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), monounsaturated fats (MUFA), trans fats, and saturated fats (SFA). These fats can affect our health differently so be sure to choose healthier options!
What are trans fats?
Trans fats are formed when unsaturated fats undergo hydrogenation. Trans fats come from two sources - natural and artificial. Natural trans fats occur in dairy products and red meats such as beef and lamb; while artificial trans fats come mainly from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in processed foods like snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads. Currently, there is a ban on PHOs in Singapore, so products like frozen cakes and fat spread have been reformulated to be PHO-free.
While it is hard to avoid naturally-occurring trans fats, we can avoid processed food to reduce the amount of trans fats we consume.
Trans and saturated fats are unhealthy fats that increase the risk of heart disease. Some sources of saturated fats include animal fats (e.g. butter, lard), full-fat dairy products (e.g. full-cream milk), and some plant-based oils.
Lowers risk of heart disease
Lowers low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol levels
Increases risk of heart disease
Raises low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol levels
Lowers high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol levels
When preparing meals at home
Read the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) to check for the calorie content and quality of fats
Pick food items with less saturated fats.
Use controlled amounts of oil
Use a teaspoon to control the amount of oil added into the pan instead of pouring it straight from the bottle. Using non-stick cookware also means less oil is needed.
Pick food products lower in saturated fats
Healthier choices include low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and fish. Remove visible fats from poultry or meat too.
Include fish in our diet
Oily fish such as mackerel and ikan tenggiri or batang pack lots of healthy fats such as Omega-3 which is good for the heart. Frozen fish are also budget-friendly. Include fish in our diet twice a week.
Consider other protein-rich sources
Bean products like tofu, beans, and lentils offer protein with little saturated fats.
When eating out
Eat out the healthier way
Pick dining spots that offer healthier food options. Look out for our Healthier Choice identifiers – like this one!
Ask for less gravy and keep deep-fried food to a minimum
Less gravy and deep-fried food mean less fats and fewer calories.
Choose fruit or dessert
Satisfy that sweet tooth with fruit instead of pastries, cakes and cookies.