PETALING JAYA: Malaysians must avoid picking up unhealthy eating habits although many are staying at home during the lockdown, say dietitians and nutritionists.
Malaysian Dietitians’ Association president Prof Dr Winnie Chee said although many were more mindful about having a diet to build up their immune system, there were still some who were not practising healthy dietary habits.
“Some people may cook more at home but they may resort to buying food with longer shelf life like canned or frozen food, so that they can reduce trips to grocery shops,” she said.
“Some may have dietary habits driven by stress due to changes in their environment and personal lives, so they may choose to order meals online to compensate for not being able to eat out or go to the fridge more often to look for comfort food or snacks.”
Dr Chee said as work-from-home can sometimes lead to no clear break from work, people may resort to more frequent snacking which can lead to overeating.
“There is also food insecurity, especially among the vulnerable groups, due to loss of income.
“Cheaper food tends to be high in fat, salt and sugar, so it may lead to unhealthy food choices and a higher risk of obesity,” she said.
Dr Chee urged people to plan their meal times to avoid snacking throughout the day and to keep a food journal or an app to track their calorie intake.
“Whenever you have an urge to eat, stock the fridge or pantry with healthy options such as fresh fruits, corn, boiled chickpeas, rice crackers, dark chocolate, toasted seaweed, nuts, dried fruits or raisins.
“Before you stand in front of the fridge, ask yourself if you are hungry or just feeling bored or tired,” she said.
She added that people could incorporate exercise into their daily routines, move around and avoid sitting for long hours, and consider setting up a standing desk.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia nutritionist and senior lecturer Dr Wong Jyh Eiin urged people to plan their weekly menus and grocery shopping ahead of time.
“They should purchase fresh local fruits and vegetables which are in season and cheaper too.
“Cook fresh produce with a shorter shelf life first.
“Divide fresh meat into smaller portions (with dates and labels) before freezing so that it is available for the entire week.
“They can also stock up on healthier snacks such as yoghurt, probiotic drinks and wholegrain biscuits,” she said.
Dr Wong said people could consider preparing their meals ahead of time, by cooking more over the weekend, so that they would not be driven by hunger to make poor food choices.
“Try online recipes or ideas for simple, quick, healthy meals,” she said, adding that they should ensure a variety of food and food groups be included in a day’s diet.
“Drink from a water bottle, instead of cups, so that it’s easier to keep track of water intake,” she said.
Dr Wong added that Malaysians should practise mindful eating and set up a regular eating routine at home.
“Use a scheduled lunch break to prepare meals and enjoy them without distraction. Eat at the dinner table, not at the work desk, bedroom or in front of the television,” she said.