Dictionary.com defines nutrition as:
1. the act or process of nourishing or of being nourished.
2. the science or study of, or a course of study in, nutrition, esp. of humans.
3. the process by which organisms take in and utilize food material.
4. food; nutriment.
5. the pursuit of this science as an occupation or profession.
This article mainly concerns definition number 2 and aims to correct some of the common fallacies in the field of diet, health and nutrition.
Expect some controversial opinions and arguments as I explain what health and nutrition is really about as compared to the norm. This is no ‘Mind your Body’ issue no. XX or some Men’s Health nutrition advice. It is the product of my research and personal experience. (For the uninitiated, ‘Mind your Body’ is a weekly newspaper supplement for the The Straits Times, published every Thursday – you can read some of its past issues in the link below.
Along the way, I will also address common questions like “are fats bad for your body?” and “is meat bad?”.
Mention the word, ‘nutrition’ and everyone thinks of the healthy pyramid diet.
Tragically, it has been ingrained into our minds since young, during our first health education lesson in primary school that the healthy pyramid is the paradigm of a healthy diet.
The healthy pyramid diet was designed by the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) to be a nutrition guide for everyone to model their diet after. The purpose which, is to educate the population from young the importance of a healthy diet and introduce to them the different major food groups and recommended daily servings so they can plan and eat healthy meals.
This is an applaudable effort. I am sure part of the whole ‘healthy pyramid diet’ indoctrination process is because HPB does not want Singapore to turn into another obesity epidemic case-study like Huntington. Read below:
Cliff notes version: (Yea, figured you didn’t have a ST Digital account. Let me know if you want to read that article but cannot find a way to do so)
Huntington is among the unhealthiest cities in America. The survey found that 24.3% of adults 18 years-of-age or older reported themselves as in poor to fair health. In addition, the CDC reports that 45.5% of adults older than 20 years are obese. 21.6% of adults over 45 years of age reported a diagnosis of coronary heart disease while another 12.7% of adults aged 18 or older reported a diagnosis of diabetes. An Associated Press article describes local eating habits (the number of pizza shops in Huntington alone exceeding the total number of health clubs available in the entire state of West Virginia), the relatively sedentary culture, and poor education as causes for health issues described in the CDC report. Huntington was rated as the most unhealthy city in the United States.
In comes Jamie Oliver, who tackles the city’s obesity problem by initiating a change of canteen menus in the local primary and high schools. Anyone can benefit from reading (or watching) more about Jamie Oliver, arguably one of the world’s best chefs. Ever.
But I digress.
Back to the Healthy Pyramid Diet.
Its diet nutrition mantra goes along the lines of:
Minimise oil, salt, sugar and fat intake.
Eat meat lower in fat and cholesterol (red meats) and try soy for its healthy beenfits (low in fat, high in calcium)
Eat more vegetables, fruits, fish and rice. Aim to consume at least five servings.
Eat more whole-grain food as opposed to white bread and rice (probably kickstarted by the recent ‘eat wholegrain’ campaign involving the whole-grain ginger breadman)
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) and dietary advice it dispenses goes along the lines of:
Fats? Bad for health and nutrition as well as weight loss – you should not consume fat; aim for zero fat intake (mostly saturated, especially those derived from animals) in your diet.
Instead, HPB recommends plant oils (margarine, canola oil, soybean oil, olive oil) as a substitute for animal oils (butter) because they contain less saturated fat and are hence more heart healthy.
Sugar? No. Sugar/fructose is the devil that causes your teeth to decay and make you fat and ugly.
Nutrition supplements are not required and one should use the average caloric intake of 2000 kcal per day to plan his/her nutritional needs.
Therefore, a compliant dieter sources protein from fish, beans vegetables and white meat. Red meat such as beef contains unhealthy animal fat and artery-choking cholesterol which can result in strokes or cardiovascular ailments. (Of course I disagree, read my argument on this in later articles)
His/her diet can be generally classified as low in fat and protein but high in carbohydrates.
Most people would agree with me that this is an ideal diet one should aspire towards achieving.
However, I beg to differ. Protein and Fat have a big role to play in most people’s diet and they are severely neglected in the healthy pyramid diet.
While the Singapore healthy pyramid diet is a decent model diet for those trying to eat healthy, it still falls short in terms of providing the people with adequate protein nutrition and healthy fat.
The healthy pyramid diet may be sub-optimal because it is based on the following principles:
The lower the fat content in a diet, the less fat the dieter will get.
We do not need too much protein in our diet. 1g/lb (pound) is sufficient to meet our body’s requirememnt. Too much (red) meat contains artery-clogging cholesterol which creates cardiovascular diseases
Eat rice and pasta to increase satiety (the feeling of ‘fullness’) . Carbohydrates are good becaue they will not make you fat.
Limit one’s intake of dairy to reduce fat content. Butter and cheese contains saturated fat and should be replaced with plant-based oils. For example, margarine, canola oil etc
While the intention of encouraging people to eat more vegetables, fruits and fish is most welcome, many of the other tips and advice it provides is actually wrong and detrimental for anyone trying to eat healthily!
What exactly am I talking about? What is wrong with the healthy pyramid diet? Or is it me?
As you can imagine, this is one topic which cannot be covered in one article. (Not, no that part about me; I’m fine. Really. I just happen to like salt with my coffee. What, you don’t? Weirdo.)
I have no intention of bombing you with another junkload again. At least not yet.
Here is a sneak preview of what the upcoming articles will look like:
1) What you should know about: Protein
2) What you should know about: Fat
3) What you should know about: Carbohydrate
Till then, I hope you guys will think about what I have written. If there are any opinions/comments, feel free to voice them out.
To end this article, I would like to drop the following questions as food for thought: (What? You didn’t like that overused, poorly chosen and lousily placed idiom of mine? My bad)
1) Are all meat bad? (Are sausages the same as organic chicken breast?)
2) What is sugar? Why is it bad? What happens when you eat white rice? Are you actually eating white sugar?
3) Lastly, my favourite: Will eating fat make one more fat? An eskimo’s diet is one of the highest in fat intake in the world but yet they are not fat, or even unhealthy.
Stay tuned for my followup article!
On a sidenote: I apologise for the lack of updates! Haven’t had time to really type them out. I will do my best to write faster while not compromising the quality of my writing.