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It is Not Impossible for Malaysians to Eat Healthily

June 7, 2024 | Campus News

The notion that Malaysians are in the high-risk group for various illness has become so common, and what is worse is that it is an issue still taken very lightly. Recently, there have been a number of media reports stating Malaysians are at higher risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes. This is due to unhealthy diets, lifestyle choices and low health literacy.

This is why choosing to eat healthily is an important decision we need to make every day. According to Assoc Prof Dr Koo Hui Chin, a Registered Dietitian and Programme Leader of the Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Nutrition at Tunku Abdul Rahman University of Management and Technology (TAR UMT), it is still possible to enjoy the diverse Malaysian cuisines while prioritising health. “We just need to be mindful, practice moderation, balanced proportion and variety and intentionally choose healthier alternatives. It's all about finding a sustainable approach that works for the individual, considering their preferences, cultural backgrounds, and financial situation,” she said.

Dr Koo also highlighted two practical guides produced by the Ministry of Health to help Malaysians maintain a healthy eating lifestyle which are the Food Pyramid 2020 and the Malaysian Healthy Plate.

The Food Pyramid 2020

The Malaysian Food Pyramid comprises four levels. Fruits and vegetables are given greater emphasis for their vital role in health, particularly in enhancing immunity and preventing non-communicable diseases. The recommendation advises consuming more than three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits daily to ensure an adequate intake of these essential food groups. In the new food pyramid, carbohydrates have been moved to level 2, indicating a recommendation for reduced consumption. The daily recommended servings have also been decreased to three to five servings. Furthermore, there is an increased emphasis on the consumption of whole grains in the new food pyramid. The top level includes fats, oils, sugars and salts, which are recommended to be consumed sparingly. 

The Malaysian Healthy Plate

The Malaysian 'Healthy Plate' or Pinggan Sihat Malaysia is an easy method to visualise how much and what we should eat in our daily meals. The concept, using the tagline 'Suku-Suku-Separuh' or 'Quarter-Quarter-Half,' is a simple and practical guide to assist the public in making healthy food choices. The recommended portions for a healthy meal are a quarter for grains such as rice or other cereals, preferably whole grains; another quarter for proteins like, meat, seafood, and bean products; and half the plate for fruits and vegetables.

“The description of each guide is quite clear and they complement each other. The main distinction lies in their respective functions: The Malaysian Food Pyramid serves as a guide for daily food selection and serving size; while the Malaysian Healthy Plate serves as a guide for the amount and types of foods for each meal,” Dr Koo further elaborated.

Although it takes effort to incorporate a healthy lifestyle, but it is sustainable in the long run, including financially. This is so as a substantial part of the continued rise in cost of living includes health care expenses. This means the cost of falling ill will only increase with time and in this case, prevention is definitely better than cure. 

“Eating healthily will require adjustments to one’s lifestyle, especially for those who are just starting to practise it. The beginning will be challenging but the more we consciously practise it, eating healthily will soon become a routine for us. It all boils down to one’s will to eat healthily and what they want to achieve when it comes to their health.” 

“Looking at the current trend, it would not be surprising that the demand for nutritionist will increase over time. Nutritionists play a crucial role in helping individuals maintain healthy weight, boost their immune system, and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases. Good literacy in nutrition plays an important role, leading to the increasing demand for good and qualified nutritionists. A career in nutrition is ideal for those seeking to promote a balanced lifestyle and improve people’s diets,” she continued. 

“This is why TAR UMT students who are studying their degree in nutrition will spend their first year learning about theories. The second and third year will focus more on practical approaches such community-based research activities to produce suitable and practical nutritional plans for the communities and learning how to provide professional consultation on nutrition. These are in addition to the customary industrial training.”

“All in all, the programme aims to develop a wide range of skills in students to empower them in providing evidence-based nutritional guidelines and recommendations in nutrition and food-related industries. Other career prospects include community nutritionist, corporate wellness nutritionist, food industry nutritionist and private practice nutritionist. The degree programme also aims to prepare technically competent graduates to venture into entrepreneurship” Dr Koo concluded. 

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