SINGAPORE - Each week, before Cabinet ministers get down to the business of Government, they come together for lunch.
Brown rice is always on the menu of this PreCab lunch, after 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 recently, I have found out that some Ministers don't like brown rice. So they don't eat the brown rice at the PreCab lunches, and they go home to eat white rice for dinner," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 20) to laughter.
The example illustrates how it can be difficult to switch to healthier options, he said, quipping: "As a compromise, I am thinking of trying white rice mixed together with brown rice. It's not quite as healthy, but it's better tasting than all brown rice and it's healthier than all-white rice."
Brown rice is unpolished wholegrain rice that has its bran layer and germ intact, so that the grains are 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.
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 added that he needed to hold "another serious Cabinet discussion" on what to serve at the PreCab lunches.
The Prime Minister related this anecdote at the National Day Rally (NDR) 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.
Besides eating healthier, Singaporeans also need to eat less, said PM Lee. He pointed out that 20 years ago, Singaporeans were eating on average 2,100 calories each day.
But the average calorie intake had risen steadily to 2,600 calories in 2010.
This is an increase equivalent to four extra scoops of ice cream, "plus toppings", said PM Lee, adding that the key was to be disciplined and make the right dietary choices.
Relating a story that Punggol East MP Charles Chong told him about a lunch he had with founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee said: "When the main course was served, the plate came out, (Mr Chong) looked at the place - one and half pieces of steak."
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!''' said PM Lee.
He added that Singaporeans could follow the late Mr Lee's example and make healthier choices.
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.
He urged Singaporeans to choose healthier dishes such as yong tau foo or 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.