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Knowing your nutrition facts is key to better health.

Many food products sold in supermarkets carry nutrition facts labels to help you control the energy intake. The label is generated according to the standards maintained by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and carry a listing of nutrients that are most essential in a normal diet. The values are typically based on 100g per serving and some even provide for the total pack contents.

Making sense of the nutrition label can be confusing, especially when energy information varies according to the countries of manufacture.

However, there are some basic nutrients that are required for good health such as calories, fat, protein and minerals. Calories provide the energy you need while calcium and magnesium are some of the minerals required for body functions.

Fat matters

Apart from calories, fat content is the next thing most people like to keep a tab on when it comes to nutritional information.

“Low-fat items are foods that have 3g or less of total fat per 100g,” says Grace Quek, Senior Dietitian from the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group. The high-fat category comprises any food with 20g or more of total fat per 100g.

Daily fat allowances are below:

Typical daily allowances Female office worker Male office worker
Total fat 47-56g 58-70g
Saturated fat 17g 21g

Fatten up your chances of remembering

Can’t remember these numbers? Use round figures, or create a mnemonic. For example, a female can target a maximum of 50g (round number) of total fat per day. Males can aim for 62, the current retirement age in Singapore!

For saturated fat, females can think of the age they had when they took their O’ level exams (typically at 16 or 17 years old). Males can associate it to the country’s legal age of majority.

Why worry about nutritional labels? Many studies have shown that people underestimate the number of calories in food, especially in unhealthy items. Simply put, nutritional literacy increases awareness.

For instance, a char siew pow (bun with roast pork fillings) looks pretty inoffensive – it’s steamed, right? But do you know that its fat content (15g) is almost a third of the daily allowance for a typical female office worker?

Choosing the different types of fat matters to heart health and mortality.

There has been controversial debate for many years about how saturated fat may affect risk of cardiovascular disease. While the link between saturated fat alone and cardiovascular risk is not as strong as previous evidence suggests, it does not mean we should eat more of such saturated fat sources.

More importantly, current research evidence indicates that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat is associated with improvement in cardiovascular risk factors and reduction in mortality risk. Besides unsaturated fat, replacing saturated fat with whole grains is also beneficial to cardiovascular health. However, reducing saturated fat and replacing it with refined carbohydrates will not lower coronary heart disease (CHD) events or cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality.

On the other hand, trans fats, regardless of other nutrients, are consistently linked with increased cardiovascular risk and mortality risk. Trans fats can be found in processed foods such as baked goods e.g. doughnuts, cookies, cakes etc. Do look out for trans fats in the ingredients’ list as “partially hydrogenated oils”.

See the previous page to learn about calories and sodium.


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  2. Authors/Task Force Members, ESC Committee for Practice Guidelines (CPG), ESC National Cardiac Societies, 2019 ESC/EAS Guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemias: lipid modification to reduce cardiovascular risk, Atherosclerosis, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2019.08.014. https://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(19)31459-5/pdf Accessed 30 September 2019.
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  5. Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med 2010;7:e1000252.
  6. De Souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ 2015;351:h3978.

Ref. M19