Over 50% here watch what they eat, survey finds

Many restrict fats, sugar or carbohydrates; MSG, artificial preservatives also a no-no

People eating at the hawker centre at Ci Yuan Community Club.
People eating at the hawker centre at Ci Yuan Community Club. PHOTO: ST FILE

If you look around to see what your colleagues are eating at lunchtime, it is probably not unusual to find someone who is on a diet.

In fact, a survey has found that about one in two, or 57 per cent, of Singaporeans follow diets that limit or omit certain ingredients, such as fats, sugar or meat.

The Nielsen Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey released yesterday polled more than 30,000 people online in 63 countries, including 514 people from Singapore.

It also found that a smaller ratio of Singaporeans go on diets compared with the average of 64 per cent globally and 72 per cent in Asia-Pacific.

Dietitian Derrick Ong of Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy told The Straits Times this could reflect higher nutrition literacy in some Asian countries, especially Japan and South Korea. "They're more savvy about nutrition information, which is also given more readily by food manufacturers there," he said.

The top three diets Singaporeans stick to are: low/no fat (28 per cent); low/no sugar (25 per cent) and low/no carbohydrate diets (20 per cent).

Said Ms Joan Koh, managing director of Nielsen Singapore and Malaysia: "The rising obesity rates, increasing number of adults living with diabetes, and progressively less active lifestyles are critical motivations which nudged Singaporeans to relook their eating options and habits."

But Mr Ong also warned that not all special diets are beneficial. For instance, paleo diets - which are high in protein, low in carbohydrates and feature unprocessed foods - aim to return to a way of eating that mimics how early humans ate, in the belief that our bodies are better adapted for this diet. But this has not been scientifically proven, he noted.

"Public education is important. Many people are still clueless about what to look out for in food labels," he said. "People also need to be discerning of what is just a fad, and what is sound advice."

The survey also found that what most Singapore respondents try to avoid are monosodium glutamate or MSG, and artificial preservatives.

More than half of the respondents said they were willing to pay more for food and drinks that did not have undesirable ingredients.

Ms Koh said more food retailers should offer healthier options.

"Adopting the right strategies in this growing health and wellness space will increase the chance for both food manufacturers and retailers to build a loyal shopper base and drive profits for their businesses."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Over 50% here watch what they eat, survey finds'. Print Edition | Subscribe