Healthy eating: revising Malaysia’s dietary guidelines

Malaysia sees a worrying epidemic of obesity (about 45% of the population) and diabetes (about 15% of the population), resulting in an explosion in healthcare costs in the coming decade of preventable diet related diseases. Latest international research on nutrition, health and aging reveals that the Ministry of Health nutrition guidelines and the Malaysian Food Pyramid are outdated, have major flaws and even suggest dietary foundations that are unhealthy. Malaysia’s nutritional guidelines and the Malaysian Food Pyramid need urgent revision to get out this health crisis!

The Malaysian Food Pyramid incorrect assumes that: (1) the foundation of a healthy diet are carbohydrates; (2) fish, poultry, meat and legumes are similar and need to be eaten in moderation; (3) All fasts and oils are similar and are all evil. Let’s dive into this a little bit deeper.

1. Starchy carbohydrates are unhealthy and should not be the foundation of a healthy diet!

The Malaysian Food Pyramid suggest that the starchy carbohydrates such as white rice, potatoes, noodles, bread and cereals, are the foundation of a healthy diet. Research by the University of California show very differently. Starchy carbohydrates consists of long chains of glucose, better known as ‘sugar’. Sugar and starchy carbohydrates are unhealthy. Sugar and starchy carbohydrates are a fuel for weight increase, type-2 diabetes and cancer cells. Next to increasing weight and diabetes, it also increases aging process of the body. So if you want to look young, drastically reduce the intake of sugar and starchy carbohydrates. A healthy diet has as little as possible starchy carbohydrates and is one of the main reasons why Malaysia has one of the highest obesity and diabetes figures in the world. The suggestion by the Malaysian food pyramid of 4-8 services of this category is a serious flaw. Eating white rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner is evidently unhealthy! A far better alternative would be eating plain oats, brown rice and the German sourdough rye bread.

2. Reduce protein intake, in particular (red) meat – meat, poultry, fish and legumes are not equal!

Many research studies show that an excess of protein is not healthy. An overdoses of protein also creases aging as proteins causes more “growth”. Protein rich food from meat increases chances in cancer, heart and diabetes. Also protein plays a key role in diseases such as Alzheimer, Parkinson and decline of sight, hearing, heart, kidney and lever function. Interviews with people that reached the age of 100 years have all in common that they consumed little meat. There is a direct correlation between protein and old-age diseases like type 2 diabetes. However, instead of red meat, white meat such as poultry is much healthier. Even better would be to witch most meals to fish, cheese, soya, nuts and legumes. In fact, the Chinese and Indian kitchen offers a grand variety of healthy vegetarian dishes.

3. Certain fats are very healthy – should be the foundation of a healthy diet!

Most people know that trans fats found in margarine, deep-fried food and fats in cakes and candy are unhealthy. Animal fats should be consumed in low quantities. Omega-6 fatty acids, which can be found in products like palm oil, are less healthy. On the other hand there are also fats and oils that are very healthy, which have been proven to be beneficial for your health. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids, found in olive oil, and poly-unsaturated fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds (omega-3) are examples of these.

We would therefore like to propose a revised Malaysian Food Pyramid that incorporate the latest research available on nutrition, health and aging. Instead of carbohydrates, foremost vegetables are a key foundation of a healthy diet, which requires ideally at least 300 grams per day, of which half raw and the other half cooked. Fruits, mushrooms, legumes and whole grains are also part of this foundation.

Government policy

Government polies will be instrumental in turning away from the glooming healthcare crisis in Malaysia. Subsidies and taxes have proven to be an effective instrument in making healthy food cheaper and unhealthy food more expensive for the consumer, leading to more healthy food choice by the consumer. From a nutritional perspective, price support should move away from red meat to fish and poultry; from general cooking oil to olive oil; from white rice to brown rice; from wheat flour to whole grains; and from sugar to pure stevia. Given the epidemic nature of obesity and diabetes in Malaysia, drastic and painful measures will be needed to change our diets and avoid a total collapse of Malaysia’s healthcare system!

The following drastic policy measures are recommended:

  1. Amend Malaysia’s dietary guidelines and change the Malaysian Food Pyramid by the Ministry of health.
  2. Start a national campaign to communicate the new dietary guidelines and healthy cooking, supported by Malaysia’s leading chefs to improve the Malaysia’s kitchen from a dietary perspective point of view. Dietary guidelines should be incorporated as early as childhood education.
  3. Introduce sugar taxes in Malaysia; This makes unhealthy products more expenses and stimulates the industry to switch from sugar to pure stevia.
  4. Move subsidies from white rice to brown rice and bring the price of brown rice below that of white rice.
  5. New school & university canteen dietary guidelines: switch from white rice to brown rice in canteens; prohibition of the sales of any drinks containing sugar in schools; Stop premixing tea and coffee with sugar by public institutions.

Towards a more healthy population in Malaysia.

This article was published in the New Straits Times