Adopt healthy eating habits at restos

National 5 minutes, 12 seconds


IT’S the weekend. For most in the country, this entails taking a well-deserved trip to your favourite eatery or trying that new restaurant your friends and family were talking about.

For those wanting to lose weight, or managing existing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, such trips can prove daunting, leaving judgement calls on what to eat and drink to combinations of the latest fad everyone is eating too much of or avoiding altogether, and the last snippet of healthy eating advice you read on the Internet.

Earlier in February, the Health Promotion Centre (HPC) teamed up with six restaurants and cafes in an attempt to remedy this problem and make healthy eating a more simple, customisable experience for Bruneians.

The Brunei Times recently sat down with Siti Munawwarah Awg Tarif, head of the Healthy Restaurant Programme, to get the lowdown on the programme’s progress, where it’s heading in 2015 and find out how you can still healthy in most restaurants across the country.

Portions and ingredients

Eating healthy while eating out comes down to the size of the meal and the ingredients, while also taking into account the method used in preparing food.

“Right of the bat, the best cooking methods are steamed, boiled, baked and grilled as they require the least amount of oil, thereby reducing the overall amount of fat in the dish.

“Soups, steamboat, grilled chicken all fall into this category, but we cannot look just look solely at the cooking method, because the ingredients used and the overall portion size are equally important,” said Siti Munawwarah.

For example, baked rice that uses a lot of butter and cheese could potentially have the same fat content and overall calories as a serving of fried rice.

Calories, she informed, are a measure of the total energy in food deriving primarily from three macro nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.

One gramme of protein and carbohydrate contains four calories while a gramme of fat contains nine.

Sugar as a simple form of carbohydrate also contains four calories per gramme. For those seeking weight loss, the fundamental rule is consuming less energy than you expend in a day.

Aside from high calorie meals – the other culprits are excessive sugar and salt, which people with diabetes and high blood pressure should pay close attention too.

“When eating out, don’t be afraid to ask for less sugar in your drinks and less salt in your food. With the case of sugar in drinks, it’s even better to request for exact amounts so you can keep track of your overall intake – like half to one teaspoon,” she said.

From a survey done by HPC across eateries in the country, the most universal problem was high sodium, which the World Health Organisation recommends keeping below 2,000mg a day.

“Many dishes we saw were prepared in a more healthy way and did have less calories - which meets our targets, through keeping fat and sugar levels in check. The issue was that they were too high in salt,” she added.

Sodium itself has no calories – thereby having minimal affect to weight loss – but can raise blood pressure and cause kidney problems when consumed in excess, she informed.

Lack of vitamins and fibre

While a combination of overconsumption and sedentary lifestyle is the main contributor behind 60.6 per cent of the population being either overweight or obese according to 2011 statistics - a deficiency in vitamins, minerals and fibre can also cause health problems and prevent one from achieving weight loss goals.

“Increasing foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre do not directly ‘burn’ fat, but they contribute to overall well-being and the good digestion of food.

“High fibre foods (such as vegetables, wholegrain/wholemeal carbohydrates, and certain fruits) can help you main fullness levels on less calories. A heavy serving of vegetables containing the same amount of calories as a can of soda will keep you full for hours, while the soda will have no affect (on satiety) at all,” she said.

Other benefits of a high fibre intake include maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, good bowel movement and proper regulation of blood sugar.

“Whether eating out or at home, try to ensure every meal has a good amount of vegetables with some fruit.”

Healthy restaurants

The criteria for the programme is simple – less fat, less sugar and less salt in 25 per cent of all dishes on the menu, and add more vegetables and fruit options to the menu.

Restaraunts interested in joining programme need to submit their existing or proposed menus, along with portion sizes of all the ingredients and method of cooking to HPC for calculations.

The calculations target macro nutrients (break down and amount of total calories), micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and fibre content of each dish and drink.

“After calculations, we pay a visit to the restaurants and meet their management. We also sample their dishes one more time to make sure the portion sizes and the ingredients used match the details they submitted to us,” she said.

Once the 25 per cent criteria is met – which consumers can see through the healthy choice logo next to healthy items on the menu – restaurants are then approved to be affiliated with the programme, with HPC routinely visiting the eateries for feedback to ensure the criteria continue to be met.

Nur Wanita in Kiarong, Saffron, Chill V, Dynasty, Mr Bakers and Aneka Rasa as the six restaurants under the programme are also required to oblige to any other customer requests for less salt, fat and sugar.

Direction in 2015 and beyond

Response from both customers and retailers had been positive, the programme head said, with several restaurants – including the recently opened The Energy Kitchen – set to be affiliated with the programme in 2015 after expressing interest.

When asked about the major challenges facing the programme, she listed logistical considerations, such as total staff directly involved in its review and implementation as the main issue.

“For eateries coming to us expressing interest, we’re looking at a time frame of six to 12 months before they can be part of the programme, because the calculations and assessments take quite a bit of time with a limited amount of staff involved.”

The Brunei Times