CHRONIC non-communicable diseases (NCDs) pose one of the greatest threats to public health and economic growth at national and global levels. In addition to healthcare costs, NCDs contribute substantially to costs associated with lost productivity.
According to a report from our Health Ministry, 73% of deaths among Malaysians are caused by NCDs. Such diseases are also being detected among young people every year.
Diseases categorised as NCDs are hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. NCDs are directly associated with people’s unhealthy lifestyle such as smoking, being sedentary and bad eating habits .
Choosing healthier foods is easier than many people think. By changing just a few eating habits, we can make a big difference to our diet.
Return to slow food from fast food. Fast food means that the food has travelled several thousand kilometres to reach our plate. These foods are highly processed and contain large amounts of carbohydrates, high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats and sodium that can have serious adverse effects on our metabolism.
On the other hand, slow food means food is fresh, locally produced and consumed, should be free of chemicals and also tastes better. These foods are more nutritious and beneficial to both producers and consumers.
Replace white food. Avoid refined sugar and white flour as these have been stripped of their nutritional benefits (empty calories) and contain simple carbohydrates that are very harmful to the human body. Simple carbohydrates will quickly enter the blood stream and spike our blood sugar level. Replace refined sugar with jaggery (gula merah) which is nothing but sugar cane juice evaporated to dryness without adding any chemical or additive.
Jaggery is a complex carbohydrate that is a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorous, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
For refined white flour, all the good nutrients (bran and germ) have been removed from the grain, leaving only the endosperm which has little nutritional value and empty calories.
White flour is also a high glycaemic food that can cause quick spikes in blood sugar levels and produce obvious problems for diabetics.
The glycaemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrate foods based on how quickly the body turns them into glucose (blood sugar), provoking an insulin response. It is usually interpreted in the glycaemic index scale to check how good or bad they are:
> 55 or less – Low (good)
> 56- 69 – Medium
> 70 or higher – High (bad).
Unfortunately, most of the food we eat today, like bread, white pasta, cookies, pizza and other baked goods, are made mainly with white flour. Food made of whole wheat flour are good alternatives.
Reduce salt, red meat and dairy products. Commonly cited guidelines suggest that excess salt causes our body to retain water. This, in turn, causes pressure on our heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure is the most troublesome result.
Three-fourths of our salt intake comes from processed foods while 5% is added in cooking and 6% at the table. Another 12% occurs naturally in food. Managing our salt intake is actually very difficult and the only alternative is to cook all our food from scratch.
Reduce dairy products together with red meat as they are high in saturated fat and have been convincingly linked to NCDs. There is some evidence suggesting that milk probably protects people against some cancers but processed cheese and diets high in calcium have been shown to increase risk of disease.
Revive the good old past. In olden times, vegetables and fruits were the main components of people’s diet. Increase the consumption of grains such as wild rice, barley, brown rice and millet and legumes in their natural state. Researchers have found that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day can reduce the risk of certain cancers.
The World Health Organization recommends eating 400g of fruits and vegetables daily and up to 10 portions per day.
However, there is no one food that can give all nutrients our body needs. Three important keys to healthy eating are variety, balance and moderation.
DR SIVAKUMAR KALIYAMOORTHY
Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism
Lincoln University College