Dr Tham Kwang Wei, Director, Life Centre, and Senior Consultant, Dept of Endocrinology, explained that most people may not realize the extra calories when consuming processed food and calorie-dense food.
Singaporeans have been eating
more and more over the past two
decades – but why?
According to the experts, much
of it boils down to people being
spoilt for choice and opting for convenience
In other words, people are more
likely to grab dessert or a snack between
meals, just because they can.
Busy lifestyles also mean that
many eat out, or opt for easy-to-prepare
processed food, which is typically
higher in calories.
In the 1998 edition of the National
Nutrition Survey, the Health
Promotion Board found that people
in Singapore consumed an average
of 2,062 calories a day. By 2010, this
figure had gone up to 2,624.
More alarmingly, the same study
found that 59 per cent of Singaporeans
exceeded their daily recommended
calorie intake in 2010, up
from 34 per cent in 1998.
It is typically recommended that
men consume no more than 2,200
calories a day. The corresponding
limit for women is 1,800.
But what is it about lifestyles and
environments that have changed
over the past 20 years?
First, said Professor Jeyakumar
Henry, Singaporeans are increasingly
surrounded by a diverse
plethora of food – and that can
make them want to eat more.
The science behind this phenomenon
is known as sensory specific
satiety, where a person gets “desensitised”
to a certain taste but
quickly regains his appetite once he
is served something new – for example,
“If you repeatedly eat the same
food, you get tired of it,” said Prof
Henry, head of the Clinical Nutrition
Research Centre. “But in Singapore,
we have the fortune of having
increasing access to diverse foods,
and food variety always increases
Many people also opt for takeaway
or processed food like nuggets
and hot dogs without realising how
many extra calories they consume
by doing so. Such food tends to be
more calorie-dense because of the
amounts of fat, sugar or salt used to
make it tastier.
“When such food is consumed,
there is an increase in calories without
an increase in the amount of
food per se,” explained Dr Tham
Kwang Wei, director of the Lifestyle
Improvement and Fitness Enhancement
Centre at the Singapore General Hospital.
Mr Louis Yap, a dietitian at Parkway
East Hospital, added that many
people also do not know that they
need less as they grow older.
“As we age, the required amount
of calories is reduced as our metabolism
drops. People may continue to
eat as they did when they were
younger, which may result in gradual
The good news is, keeping within
your daily limits does not necessarily
mean calculating the caloric
value of every bite. It can simply
mean having the discipline to forgo
dessert or refrain from snacking.
For example, if hunger pangs
strike before a meal, do not give in,
said Dr Ang Poon Liat, a consultant
paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric
“Eat only if you are hungry, and
stop eating when you feel satisfied,
not full,” he said. “If hunger pangs
surge before the defined meal
time, go for a brief walk or drink a
glass of water.”