Fresh fruit, yogurt and nuts are healthy snacks. Picture from

THE new year has arrived. It’s time to make improvements in our health and diet.

It’s never too late to take that first step to eat healthily and make time to exercise more. Your consistent effort will lead to a lighter, more energetic you.

Studies show that even a weight loss of 5 to 10 per cent of your current weight will already set the ball rolling in helping you to lower high lipid levels, high blood pressure and high glucose levels if you are affected by non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Here are some calorie-cutting tips to help you get on the right road to eating well this year:


A person’s calorie intake has a lot to do with his/her activity level. If you are more active, you can get away with eating more food as you will require it for the additional energy you expend. For example, an office executive who doesn’t exercise regularly is considered sedentary.

Just because a restaurant serves you a plateful of food doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s a suitable portion for your calorie intake.

In fact, research shows that people get used to eating a portion of food served to them, so much so that it shapes their perception of fullness. Meaning to say, unless they eat such a portion, they do not feel full and satisfied with the meal.

Use the Healthy Plate portioning, recommended by our Ministry of Health to help you determine the right portion of food the next time you have your meal: Fill 1/4 of your plate with a carbohydrate such as rice, noodles or bread, 1/4 with a protein such as meat, eggs or beans and the remaining half of the plate with vegetables and some fruit.

The size of your plate makes a difference too. Research shows that using a 10-inch diameter plate, instead of a 12-inch one can help you lessen your food consumption without compromising your satisfying feeling of fullness.

If you are eating at an Indian restaurant, you can always request for a plate and then choose your dishes, instead of having the banana leaf meal which usually comes in a much larger portion.


Buffets may seem like value for money, since the key word is “all you can eat” for a set amount of money.

Set meals may seem like a good deal but once you tally up the calories of every item in the set, it is just way too much calories for one meal.

It’s going to be rather difficult for you to summon your self-control when all that food is all you see. I suggest, for this new year of change, to make it a habit to just order a la carte from the menu.


There’s no doubt that oils and fat add flavour and moistness to our foods. But too much of it makes your food high in calories and fat.

When you consume too much calories and fat than what your body needs, it will inevitably be stored as body fat which is why you gain weight.

You can cut down on calories just by making some small changes to your usual food choices. Take a look at these examples:


Health experts warn of sugar as empty calories because it adds calories to your food but does not contribute any important nutrients to your diet.

Consuming too much sugary foods and drinks causes weight gain, especially if you are sedentary as well.

The World Health Organisation recommends your sugar intake be less than 10 per cent of your total calories for the day.

This works out to about 10 teaspoons a day for an average person who needs 2,000 calories per day. One teaspoon of sugar contributes 16 calories to your diet intake.

Sweetened drinks and desserts are obviously laden with sugar because of their sweet taste. But be aware of foods that may not outwardly taste too sweet but have a lot of hidden sugar in them such as certain breads, buns, ready-made sauces, breakfast cereals, energy drinks, energy cereal bars.

Look at your overall consumption of these foods as they may be contributing too much sugar to your diet without you realising it.

Break the habit of ordering sweet drinks. Picture from

Here are some small changes you can do to lessen your sugar intake:

* Read the ingredient list of the packaged foods you buy.

* Words like sucrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, caramel, molasses, treacle, maple syrup, honey and gula Melaka to name a few, are other forms of sugar too.

* Break the habit of ordering sweet drinks such as air batu campur, cordials and carbonated sodas with your meals. Drink plain water instead. Add slices of lemon or a squeeze of fruit juice to your water if you want a little flavour.

* Order your hot beverages without added sugar or “kosong”. If you need some sugar, request for the sugar to be served on the side so you are in control of how much to add.

* Use liquid milk or powdered milk in your drinks, instead of sweetened condensed milk.

* Make your own carbonated soda by mixing soda water (available in supermarkets) with freshly squeezed fruit juice


If you don’t want to eat rubbish food, then don’t buy or keep any types of high calorie foods in your home or office to tempt you. Instead get value for your money by buying more nutritious foods.

Consider these simple ideas for a snack or a quick light meal for busy days at the office — fresh fruit, yogurt, nuts, sandwiches with fillings of your choices; wholegrain cereal with low fat milk topped with fruit and nuts. Or consider packing your left-over dinner as your lunch at work for the next day.

*Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at`

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