Fight the flab

Fight the flab: Be wary of miracle diet plans

PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS
PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

Those that focus on one type of food are not sustainable as essential nutrients are lacking

The vast array of diet plans, all of which promise fantastic results, often leave people wondering what is best for their health.

Should they do a juice cleanse or cut out carbohydrates completely?

Neither, say the experts. A balanced diet is necessary for our bodies to function properly.

Protein, for example, is needed to build muscles and tissues, while fat is needed for the absorption of some vitamins, said Republic Polytechnic lecturer Jenny Ng.

"Carbohydrates provide energy for our cells," added Ms Ng, who is from the school of sports, health and leisure. People should avoid "empty calories" such as sugar, which rarely contain other nutrients, she said.

In fact, people should be wary of weight-loss programmes which focus on one type of food, to the exclusion of others.

Dr Osama Hamdy, who is from Harvard Medical School, said: "While many of these plans result in weight loss, they eliminate some macronutrients and micronutrients. This is not healthy."

Diets which restrict a person's caloric intake will help them lose weight, said Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre.

However, a juice-cleanse diet might work for a few days but it is not sustainable, she added. "The body will require nutrients from other food groups in the long run."

  • WHAT IS A CALORIE?

    Calories are units of energy that are used to estimate the energy value of food.

    The term "kilocalorie" is often used interchangeably with "calorie". What is the difference?

    One kilocalorie (kcal) is equivalent to 1,000 calories.

    When people talk about food, they often use Calorie - with a capital C.

    One "large" calorie is the same thing as one kcal.

    However, the capital letter is often dropped for convenience, which can lead to confusion.

    In some countries, nutrition labels may also state the energy value of foods in kilojoules instead.

    One kcal is equivalent to approximately 4.2 kilojoules.

    WHAT IS THE CALORIE CONTENT OF DIFFERENT FOODS?

    1g of fat: 9 kcal

    1g of carbohydrates: 4 kcal

    1g of protein: 4 kcal

    1g of alcohol: 7 kcal

    WHAT IS OUR DAILY RECOMMENDED CALORIE INTAKE?

    It is recommended that men consume no more than 2,200 kcal a day, and women, 1,800 kcal.

    However, these numbers may vary, depending on the individual's age or lifestyle.

    A person who has a sedentary office job, for example, may not need quite as much energy.

It is the same for diets that are high in fat or saturated fat.

"Without a balance of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, you are missing out on fibre and antioxidants that are essential for good health, and will help reduce your risk of heart diseases and cancer," Ms Chia said. Instead, people should eat a variety of food that is lower in fat, salt and sugar. They should also take foods that are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Dr Hamdy said his research showed that high-protein, low- carb diets are effective in helping with weight loss.

However, carbohydrates should still make up at least 40 per cent of the calories in the meal. Daily protein intake should be 1.5g per kg of a person's ideal body weight.

Some people may have habits which contribute more to their caloric intake than they realise.

For example, many do not know that fruit juice is a source of extra calories, said Mr Louis Yap, a dietitian from Parkway East Hospital.

"Juicing fruit condenses multiple servings of fruit into one cup and can contribute to excess calorie intake," he said.

The Health Promotion Board recommends two servings of fruit a day, but people can easily take three to five servings in a glass of fruit juice, he added.

Instead, try eating fruit whole, including the peels, so as to get all the fibre and nutrients.

As for alcohol, not many people know that each gram of alcohol contains 7kcal. In comparison, protein and carbohydrates contain only 4kcal per gram.

 

Mr Yap said: "Partygoers often binge-drink, which leads to an increase in calorie intake."

People also rarely follow the recommended guidelines of two standard drinks a day for men, or one for women, he added.

One standard drink is equivalent to a can of beer, half a glass of wine or a nip of hard liquor.

"The post-hangover may contribute to altered lifestyle and eating habits, which can contribute to weight gain as well," said Mr Yap.


Wholegrain instant laksa noodles taste just as good

I distinctly remember the first time I tried "healthier" instant noodles.

They were coarse and had an odd flavour that clashed with the gravy they were served in.

So when Prima Food invited me for a blind taste test of its wholegrain instant laksa noodles, I did not have high expectations.

The first bowl of noodles I tried was a little chewy and springy, and tasted like regular laksa noodles.

This must be the wholegrain version, I thought.

The second bowl of noodles, which I later found out was regular laksa noodles, was similar in texture and taste.

The only difference was that the first bowl of noodles was a slightly darker yellow.

As it turned out, my first guess was right, but only by chance.

Perhaps it was the strong flavour of the laksa gravy, but I could not tell the two bowls apart.

The Health Promotion Board has been encouraging local firms to develop healthier versions of staple ingredients such as noodles and oil.

Known as the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme, the programme will provide a total of $20 million in funding over three years.

As of April, about 30 firms had expressed interest in the scheme.

Prima has been selling its wholegrain noodles since 2015.

But it was not an easy task to develop a palatable healthy alternative to its existing line-up.

Coarse wholegrain flour had to be milled to a fine texture so that it was almost indistinguishable from regular white flour.

The company experimented with different mixtures of white and wholegrain flour to make sure the taste was just right.

"Taste comes first," said Mr Eric Sim, general manager of the Prima Taste Division at Prima Food.

"My chairman always says if it's healthier but tastes terrible, nobody is going to eat a lot of it."

The final product was tasted by the company's master chef, a board of senior executives and a group of consumers before it hit the supermarket shelves.

Linette Lai

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Be wary of miracle diet plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe