To eat healthier, start small

To eat healthier, start small

Small steps are the way forward if you’re determined to build healthier eating habits

How to eat healthier
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HPB Healthy Eating

Ask any Singaporean to name one thing they love and the unanimous answer will be food. And who can blame us? From hawker centres, hipster cafes and Michelin-starred eateries, there is no shortage of food options. However this gives rise to an issue: that of eating in moderation. As the popular saying goes “you cannot out run a bad diet”. When the years of greasy suppers and comfort food binges eventually catches up, a bad eating habit would have been formed.


Ever tried to start a new year with the resolve to overhaul your diet, only to give up in defeat a month later? Anyone who has tried to kick an unhealthy habit would agree – and this could apply just as much to quitting smoking or giving up a social media addiction - trying to break a habit by going cold turkey is an uphill battle. But there is another way.

Rather than surrendering to the food demons and giving up, choosing to adopt a healthier eating habit does not need to be torturous or even involve a crash diet. It lies in committing to effecting small changes over a period of time, eventually growing healthier eating into a way of life.

How to eat healthy
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According to Stanford University behavioural scientist B.J. Fogg, creating real lifelong habits lies in training your brain to succeed at small adjustments. On his website he illustrates the Fogg Behavior Model as B=MAP which he explains as "Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment."

In practice, as illustrated in a Quartz report, this involves finding something you already do as a habit and building upon it. For instance if you want to develop a better flossing habit with your daily brushing, start by aiming to floss just one tooth every time you brush your teeth. Slowly this will build into better dental habits.


It is a similar approach to eating healthier. Rather than try to eat only the healthiest every day, aim small and celebrate progressive wins. For instance, rather than go completely fat-free, how about working in more balanced meals? Vary the types of proteins by incorporating seafood, poultry or plant protein sources. Or mindfully go for the reduced sugar drink or dessert after lunch. It could also be as simple as ensuring greens are present at every meal. Over time, incremental change is built and more importantly, a healthier eating habit is formed.

Choosing to eat healthier is only one part of the equation to success; the availability of options is another. The good news is, Singaporeans do not have an excuse not to choose healthier options, whether it is at the hawker centre or the supermarket.

How to live healthier
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Supermarkets like NTUC FairPrice have incorporated a dizzyingly wide array of close to 1,500 food products, including over 160 house brand products, that carry the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS). The latter is an easy and visible way to know that a particular item fulfils nutrition guidelines set out by the government agency that promotes healthy living in Singapore.


Seen everywhere from hawker centres to the grocery aisles and even in schools, the HCS symbols help make healthier eating more convenient, whether one is shopping to cook at home or dining out. Applied to more than 2,600 different food products and across 60 food categories, the symbol indicates food and ingredients that are lower in calories, contain less total fat, reduced sugar and sodium content, contain wholegrains, or use healthier oil or even cooking methods. In short, you can trust that by choosing them you are making a healthier choice.


Here is a quick primer on how to use the HCS symbols as a guide to healthier choices.

While grocery shopping: Too rushed to read food labels? Just look out for HCS options. At NTUC FairPrice for example, its house brand Thai Rice Blend carries the HCS symbol as it is higher in wholegrain and contains five times more fibre, as well as twice the iron compared to typical white rice. Similarly, its FairPrice Premium Oyster Sauce is not only lower in sodium, but also free of trans-fat and cholesterol. 

Healthy living
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Healthier options are not limited to just ingredients. An expanding range of HCS beverages means great options for healthier drinks anytime that do not compromise in flavour. Magnolia Lo-Fat Hi-Cal Milk with Oats, for instance, has less than half the fat and more than half the calcium in regular milk, which means it is a perfect complement to your usual breakfast. F&N NutriSoy High Calcium Fresh Soya Milk is a natural source of plant protein that is lower in sugar, low in glycaemic index and enriched with Calcium and Vitamin D3, making it a tasty in-between meal alternative to your usual sweetened beverages.

At hawker centres: Sounds like an oxymoron, but you can choose to eat healthier and still have your favourite hawker meal. Stall owners under Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Dining Programme display decals that indicate they offer lower-calorie, wholegrain or lower sugar options.

For instance, the well-regarded Tiong Bahru Lor Mee at Tiong Bahru Market offers wholegrain kway teow (flat rice noodle) to accompany your hearty bowl of lor mee, a small way towards healthier eating without sacrificing on taste. Over at Berseh Food Centre, Dapur Bonda offers brown rice to accompany dishes like beef rendang and sambal goreng for a healthier plate of nasi padang that can be enjoyed with less guilt.

With the plethora of healthier choices, it has never been a better time than now to kickstart a better eating habit. Turn your healthy habits into guaranteed rewards at over 3,000 participating outlets when you join the Eat, Drink, Shop Healthy Challenge from now till 26 October 2018. For more information, go to