War on diabetes

National Day Rally 2017: Eat less white rice, switch to brown or mixed rice, urges PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eating soto ayam with ministers Heng Swee Keat and Masagos Zulkifli at a community event in Tampines earlier this month. With them are minister Chan Chun Sing and other MPs. PM Lee urged Singaporeans to opt for healthie
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eating soto ayam with ministers Heng Swee Keat and Masagos Zulkifli at a community event in Tampines earlier this month. With them are minister Chan Chun Sing and other MPs. PM Lee urged Singaporeans to opt for healthier choices offered by hawkers, with less oil, sugar and salt.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Each week, before the Cabinet ministers get down to the business of government, they gather for lunch.

Brown rice is always on the menu of this Pre-Cabinet lunch. The ministers agreed to having the healthier, nutty-tasting grain a few years ago on the suggestion of then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

"But only very, very recently, I found out that some ministers don't like brown rice. So when we come to Pre-Cab lunch, they don't have rice and they go home and they eat white rice for dinner," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, to laughter.

The example illustrates how it can be difficult to switch to healthier options, he said, adding: "As a compromise, I am thinking of trying white rice mixed with brown rice. It is not quite as healthy, but it is better tasting than all-brown rice and it is healthier than all- white rice."

Brown rice, which is unpolished and has its bran layer and germ intact, is packed with nutrients such as zinc and iron. It is higher in fibre, which slows glucose absorption by the body.

Starchy white rice, on the other hand, with its high glycaemic index, can overload bodies with blood sugar and heighten the risk of diabetes.

SOME CHANGE BETTER THAN NONE

As a compromise, I am thinking of trying white rice mixed with brown rice. It is not quite as healthy, but it is better tasting than all-brown rice and it is healthier than all-white rice.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on how some ministers do not like brown rice, which has been served at Pre-Cab lunches since a few years ago, on the suggestion of the then Health Minister.

PM Lee said: "White rice may not taste sweet, but the effect is almost like eating sugar, and when you eat white rice, your blood sugar will shoot up."

He quipped that he needed to hold "another serious Cabinet discussion" on what to serve at the Pre-Cab lunches.

The Prime Minister related this anecdote at the National Day Rally to underline the importance of choosing healthier eating options as one way for Singaporeans to combat diabetes.

Fighting the disease is a major policy goal of the Government.

The key was to be disciplined and make the right dietary choices, said PM Lee, relating a story Punggol East MP Charles Chong told him about a lunch with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Chong was having lunch with Mr Lee and, when the main course was served, he saw only 1-1/2 pieces of steak on the plate.

As the guest, Mr Chong was served first, and picked the smaller piece of meat out of respect for Mr Lee.

"Mr Lee stopped him. He said: 'That's my piece. You take the other one!' " recounted PM Lee.

Singaporeans could follow the late Mr Lee's example and make healthier choices, he added.

He, too, had to take this advice to heart, given his family's history of diabetes, he said. His paternal grandmother and several uncles had the disease, though the late Mr Lee did not. "For diabetes, genes play a part, but your choices make a difference," he said.

PM Lee urged Singaporeans to choose healthier dishes such as fish soup, if they eat out, or healthier alternatives offered by hawkers, with less oil, sugar and salt.

"And if you do cook at home, make small changes, like replacing white rice with brown or mixed- grain rice," he said.

FairPrice, in a statement last night, said that it will offer discounts on the healthier rice options it carries in its supermarkets from today to Aug 30 to encourage healthier eating.

Among the eight products that will be discounted by at least 10 per cent are brown and red rice, as well as organic rice.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline 'Eat less white rice, switch to brown or mixed rice, urges PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe