WHEN it comes to eating, it's definitely a case of Malaysia Boleh ! Malaysians now top the list as the most overweight in the Asian region.
Obesity may one day reach "epidemic" proportions in the country. And the food-loving Malaysians are set to succumb to a host of diseases if they refuse to change their eating habits for the better.
"It just seems that people are really not concerned about their health, or they take it for granted that they can do damage control work on their health later. The problem is that if Malaysians continue eating the way they do now, there will be no time left to do anything," laments Mary Easaw-John, senior manager and chief dietician at the National Heart Institute's Dietetics and Food Services division.
She says it is puzzling to note the people's indifference when it comes to taking charge of eating habits.
"Malaysians seem to have this cool attitude that they can eat anything they want and get away with it. Well, they are very wrong," she cautions.
Eat in moderation
Mary says while enjoying the roti canai and nasi lemak is not an unpardonable sin, it can however become a threat to life if indulgences become a way of life for the people.
"The revelation that Malaysians are today the most overweight people around is very worrying partly because this unhealthy trend has led to a rise in lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease. People are eating more fatty food, consuming more calories, dining out more often and are exercising less," she tells Bernama.
Mary adds the increase in calorie intake was more from fatty food than from complex carbohydrates (which is the main source of dietary fibre). This resulted in the prevalence of diseases like diabetes and cancer.
"In our country, we often select food based on taste and not on its nutritional value. This is apparent from the use of coconut milk in recipes and the penchant for fried foods. This is one of the reasons that has led to Malaysians becoming obese."
Eating a 'culture' with Malaysians
The fact that more and more Malaysians are putting on the pounds shows that the country has been stricken with the food "culture".
Says Mary: "It does appear that way, that food has become a `culture' with Malaysians. Otherwise how else can you explain the fact that Malaysians have taken the lead as being overweight in the Asian region?".
She says many Malaysians enjoy patronising mamak stalls and attribute this to the fact that eating habits of Malaysians corresponded with their attitude towards value for money.
"Our people eat food that falls under the value for money category and they find that mamak stalls offer meals that are worth the money spent. But what the people fail to realise is that in terms of nutritional value, the food eaten might be over and above what the body needs.
"So, the other issue that comes up is the need to educate people on eating healthy which is a challenge because in Malaysia, food is available at every nook and corner," she says.
Know what you put in your mouth
Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek early this year cautioned that "affluent" disease such as diabetes and hypertension were affecting more and more Malaysians and that obesity was the root cause of these diseases. Chua warned that if the trend continued, 12 percent of Malaysians would end up having diabetes by year 2020.
Speaking of diabetes, it was reported in the newspaper recently that about 1,000 canned drinks are consumed every minute in Malaysia. If people continue to entertain their sweet tooth, then there is no way the country can prevent obesity from bursting into an epidemic.
Says Mary: "If people continue to entertain their sweet tooth, then I am afraid that diabetes will be here to stay. At present 2.1 million Malaysians have diabetes, a major risk factor for stroke. And each day 110 Malaysians suffer a stroke, which stands as the country's third killer after cancer and heart attack."
Eat healthy to stay healthy
There really is no such thing as good or bad food but rather the need to eat correctly, keeping in mind the body's calorie requirements and activity level.
"It is alright to have the occasional burger provided you do away with the mayonnaise. Likewise instead of making nasi lemak as a staple meal for breakfast, try healthier alternatives like thosai or chappati. And instead of adding sodium via sour plum powder or soy sauce to our fruits, eat them in their natural state."
Keeping the Malaysian eating habits in mind, Mary says no less than a revolution is needed to change their mindset and encourage them to eat healthy.
"It seems the statistics on diseases do not affect the people that much. They think someone else will become a diabetic but not them.
"Well, then they should keep the proverb 'prevention is better cure' in mind and take stock of their health. What you put in your mouth will determine how many more years you add or subtract from your life," she added.
- Reproduced with permission from Bernama