Eating your way out of obesity

National 4 minutes, 15 seconds


TO FIGHT obesity, don’t starve yourself. This is because obesity is influenced less by how much we eat but more by what we eat on a daily basis.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has repeatedly said the main cause of obesity in Brunei is due to unhealthy eating as well as being sedentary and physically inactive. In simple terms, we eat too much unhealthy food but do too little to burn it off.

In the Global Nutrition Report 2016, Brunei took the top spot for obesity prevalence among ASEAN countries. The report, which quoted 2015 figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), put obesity prevalence among Bruneian adults at 18.1 per cent.

During World Obesity Day, which is observed every October 11th, Health Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Zulkarnain Hj Hanafi said that one in every two children from the age of five is either overweight or obese in Brunei, adding that obesity among schoolchildren in the sultanate had increased to 18 per cent in 2014 from 12 per cent in 2008.

Counting calories

Figure watchers are definitely into counting calories to determine the amount of energy in food. Knowing how many calories are in the food can help us balance the energy we introduce into our bodies with the energy we use. And voila! That’s the key to a healthy weight.

An individual needs roughly 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day, depending on factors such as their age, metabolism, gender and level of physical activity, according to a dietitian and a nutritionist from the Nutrition and Dietetic Service from the MoH.

Among the 2,000 calories, 50 to 60 per cent of our energy should come from carbohydrates, while less than 30 per cent should come from fats and less than 10 per cent from free sugar.

To reach a generally balanced diet, the nutritionist suggests having your meals consist of half a plate of fruits and vegetables, a quarter plate of carbohydrates such as rice, noodles or potatoes and a quarter of protein such as chicken, fish or beef.

The nutritionist added that not only does this guideline help reduce overeating calorie-packed foods but also helps evenly distribute the energy we need throughout the day.

According to the dietitian, watching the amount of calories we eat is important because when we have more than the necessary amount needed for the day, our body converts and stores this extra energy in our body as fats which can lead to obesity.

“If you take in all 1,500 to 2,000 calories in one sitting, you’ll be full during that time of the day, but what happens (later is) you get hungry and you eat more,” said the nutritionist, adding that this increases the tendency to take in more calories than necessary.

Overcoming the bulge

To overcome the problem, the dietitian recommends the public to practise eating more fruits and vegetables in their meals.

“Fruits and vegetables are not only naturally low in calories and fats but are full of nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins and fibre which our body needs, and because of their naturally low calories, it’s ideal to have half a plate, especially for lunch and dinner,” said the dietitian.

According to the National Health and Nutritional Status Survey conducted by the MoH in 2014, only 8.2 per cent of the respondents met the daily national recommendation of servings of fruits and vegetables, which is 400g.

Instead, statistics from the MoH’s National Health and Nutritional Status Survey showed that 53.3 per cent of males and 54.6 per cent of females in the country receive more than 30 per cent of their total food energy from fat.

Although fat is a nutrient that is essential to our body, not all fats that we eat in our meals are healthy, while consuming too much could also lead to weight gain.

Fats can be divided into three categories: unsaturated fats found in fish, avocados, nuts and sunflower, canola and olive oils; saturated fat found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream and cheese and industrial trans fats found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, cookies and margarines.

The WHO recommends that among the less than 30 per cent fats we should take daily, less than 10 per cent should come from saturated fats and less than one per cent should come from industrial trans fats.

And here lies the problem. Statistics from the MoH found that 55.4 per cent of men and 58.5 per cent of women in Brunei received more than 10 per cent of their energy from saturated fat.

Moreover, 40 per cent of children aged five to nine drink sugar-sweetened beverages or soft drinks every day while eating a lot of fast food at the same time, according to the health minister.

“(Instead of soft drinks,) plain water is the best thing to drink when you’re thirsty, as it contains zero calories. Drinking water also helps with healthy eating, as the tendency for you to drink other things becomes less,” said the nutritionist.

The Nutrition and Dietetic Service said that although many factors are involved with obesity, practising a healthy diet can go a long way to being fit and healthy.

The Brunei Times