Ready-to-eat meals are satisfying but are also low in nutritional value and high in fats. The Nutrition and Dietetics Department at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KK) explains what the healthy plate is about and gives tips on reading food labels.
With the increasing supply of fast food chains, ready-to-eat foods, calorie-dense snacks and various types of sugar-sweetened beverages, people may not be aware that these food and beverages are often low in nutrients and high in calories.
"These are the popular food choices that people make especially when there are limited options around or the lack of time to prepare home-cooked food. Over time, this type of poor quality diet and unhealthy eating patterns do not only contribute to fast weight gain, leading to overweight or obesity risk but also the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gout and certain cancers," says Joey Ho, Dietitian at the
Nutrition and Dietetics Department,
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the
HPB My Healthy Plate
The Health Promotion Board, Singapore, has specially designed ‘My Healthy Plate’ to outline the different food groups and serving sizes that you are recommended to consume daily in order to achieve a healthy balanced diet. The recommendations are as follows:
Fill a quarter of your plate with wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal bread etc.).
Fill a quarter of your plate with meat or alternatives (dairy, soy products etc.).
Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Use healthier oils (e.g. canola, sunflower, olive oil).
Choose water as the first choice of drink.
Be physically active, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities every week.
However, for individuals who wish to lose weight, you may want to consult a dietitian for a personalised meal plan. For more information about ‘My Healthy Plate’, please visit HPB's
Maintaining a healthy weight
Obesity is recognised as a chronic condition where the body accumulates excessive fat that subsequently leads to health problems. It is important to understand your current weight status and work towards your healthy weight.
One of the simplest ways to measure your weight status is using the body mass index (BMI). It is a value calculated based on your current height (in metre) and weight (in kilograms).
A high value of BMI indicates that you may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. However, BMI itself is not a perfect diagnostic tool to determine health and fatness as it does not distinguish the amount of muscle mass and body fat. Therefore, waist circumference is also used to assess health risks as a large waist circumference indicates there is more fat stored around the abdominal region and likely to have an impact on the function of the heart and liver.
To manage your weight, you are encouraged to control your calorie intake and be physically active. It is important to understand the concept of energy balance, i.e. energy in = energy out, the amount of energy we consume from our diet and the amount of energy that the body uses for daily activity.
Concept of energy balance. Illustration courtesy of HealthHub.
Reading labels of packaged foods
If you depend on packaged foods for your meals, remember to carefully read the date, ingredients and nutrition information on the package.
1. Healthier Choice Symbols (HCS)
Products with HCS are healthier than those without, it helps to compare the content of six particular nutrients in different food products within the same food category, including trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, calcium, sugar and wholegrains (dietary fibre).
Products with nutritional claims should indicate the amount on its packaging, i.e. food product contains a ‘high calcium’ claim should indicate the amount of calcium. For example, 200ml of high-calcium soy milk should contain at least 50 per cent of daily recommended calcium intake of 800 mg/day, whereas products labelled with ‘higher calcium’ should contain at least 25 per cent more calcium compared to similar products.
2. Date of expiry
Usually they are indicated as “best before”, “use by” or “expiry” date, which tells you when the food should be consumed for the best quality.
3. Ingredients list
Generally, ingredients are listed in descending order according to their amount. If an ingredient is listed among the first three ingredients, it means that the food contains high amount of that particular ingredient. For example, if sugar such as fructose is listed as the first three ingredients, this means the food is high in sugar. It is also important to differentiate the alternative names of fat, sugar and sodium in the ingredient list:
- Sugar: can be listed as sucrose, maltose, fructose, maple syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar etc.
- Fat: can be listed as milk solids, hydrogenated fat, shortening, cream etc.
- Sodium: can be listed as monosodium glutamate (MSG), sea salt, stock cubes, baking soda, sodium bicarbonate etc.
While the HCS may be a quick way for making healthier choices, it is still important to take note of the calories, fat, sugar and fibre content of the product if you are keen to lose weight or manage other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, etc.
It is encouraged to focus on healthy eating instead of strict calorie counting. Making healthier swaps can be done appropriately by looking out for healthier choice logos when purchasing food and drink products.
4. Nutrition facts
This informs you of the energy (calories), protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, fibre and sodium. The amount of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals may be available, especially when specific nutrients are the subject of a nutrition claim. E.g. for a “high calcium” claim, the amount of calcium must be indicated to justify the claim.
When reading the nutrition label, pay special attention to the energy (kcal) if you want to lose weight. Next, look at the fat content, and then the fibre.
5. Nutri-Grade label
A new nutrition summary label, ‘Nutri-Grade’, will be introduced from the end of 2021, which requires all pre-packaged drinks to display their grades ranging from A to D based on the amount of sugar and saturated fat contents. This implementation will help consumers to identify heathier drinks at a quick glance. The labels on these beverages will be colour-coded and displayed as follows:
See next page for
healthier food choices and the recommended calorie intake per snack.