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Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures and every Singaporean has a favourite food, be it chili crab, beef rendang, or fish head curry, to name but a few. Not many of us are willing to forgo these pleasures even for our health.


Frankly, you don't have to. Eating healthier doesn't mean you can't eat your favourite food. You can continue to enjoy your favourite dishes but in moderation, by incorporating more plant-based foods which can improve your health and play a role in protecting the environment as well.


A national nutrition survey conducted in Singapore in 2010 found that almost 75% of Singapore residents were not eating enough fruits and vegetables.


"Choosing a variety of healthy food options from the different food groups and preparing them using healthy cooking methods are key to eating healthy," shares SKH dietitian Tan Shi-Ning.


"You can plan your meals by following the Health Promotion Board's My Healthy Plate guidelines by filling half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with lean meat, and the remaining quarter with wholegrains."


You can also make the meal more colourful by adding green vegetables, red tomatoes, yellow capsicum, orange carrots or purple eggplants. Don't forget to include a fruit, choosing from the rainbow spectrum of fruits available. Eating a variety of colours increases your intake of different nutrients that benefit your health.


How eating more plant-based foods keeps you healthy

Studies have revealed that plant-based foods contain no cholesterol and a lot less saturated fat compared to animal-based products which can raise your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.


What's more, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts tend to be lower in calories when cooked using healthier methods such as steaming, grilling or pan-frying than meat and poultry for a similar-sized serving.


How you incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet is up to you. But the advice is to start slow and take it one step at a time. One good way is to increase the quantity and frequency of plant-based food that you have always enjoyed, suggests Ms Tan.


Another way is to skip having fried chicken drumsticks and have a serving of grilled chicken (without skin), baked potato, with half a plate of fresh salad. Or, swop fatty beef rendang with tofu sambal, and add some of your favourite stir-fried vegetables. "A plant-based diet encourages a greater intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts which provide fibre, vitamins and minerals."


Protein is good and where to get it

Protein plays an integral role in any diet. It is a building block for the daily growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues.

Meat provides protein but plant-based foods such as soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk), peas, beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein, too. Just imagine: a 3/4 cup of cooked beans (120g) provides just as much protein as a palm-sized piece of meat (90g). For your information, four pieces of nuggets weigh approximately 100g.


Not all food is made equal

If you like food, then why not get to know it better and discover some startling facts? For instance, processed meat like sausages and luncheon meat are low in protein and high in saturated fat and salt – these increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer.


The World Health Organization also warns that every 50g of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. So it's healthier for you to select plant-based protein options like tau kwa and tempeh, or change to lean, fresh meat.


Don't swallow everything you see on media

There have been documentaries on the low-carb high-fat Ketogenic diet and even raw food diet. There was also Netflix's 'The Game Changers', which highlighted how elite athletes and special forces soldiers became faster and stronger by turning vegetarian.


Doctors and dietitians were quick to point out that the producers of the documentary are vegan and biased as there was no mention of the many successful athletes who are not vegan or even following a plant-based diet. They advise viewers to watch such documentaries just for entertainment value, and not for nutritional information. These shows rely only on examples that suit the storylines.


Bon appetit!

When enjoying a meal, always remember these key points of healthier eating — balance, variety, and moderation — and one way you can do this is by making your meals more colourful.

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