Singaporeans are starting to improve their diets and cut back the calories after alarming rises in recent years.
Intake had gone up from 2,110 calories a day in 1998 to 2,600 by 2010, raising worries of an obesity epidemic.
The National Nutrition Survey 2018 shows a small reversal in this trend, with a mean intake of 2,470 calories a day. The recommendation for people with sedentary lifestyles is 2,200 calories a day for men and 1,800 for women.
Mr Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive officer of the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which carried out the survey, said: “The trend of worsening diet has been arrested.”
The survey was carried out every six years between 1998 and 2010, but will now be done annually, with reports produced every two years to provide more up-to-date information.
The latest survey found that people here are eating more wholegrain, fruit and vegetables, but their high consumption of sugar and salt has caused the authorities concern.
Nine in 10 people here are eating more than the recommended 5g of salt a day. The average amount of salt eaten here is almost double that, at 9g. High salt intake raises blood pressure, which in turn puts people at risk of heart problems and stroke, said Mr Zee.
Much of the salt is added when cooking food. Sauces, seasoning and stock in cooked food make up 75 per cent of salt in the diet.
Sugar intake went up from 59g a day in 2010 to 60g, or about 12 teaspoons, this year. The World Health Organisation’s recommendation is 25g a day.
The HPB said: “Singaporeans are consuming less sugar from drinks, but more from food, for example, confectionery and desserts. Nonetheless, pre-packaged sugar-sweetened drinks remain the single largest source of sugar in the diet, and more needs to be done to reduce sugar consumption from this source.”
Singapore is considering imposing a tax on soda drinks, which about 30 countries – including Thailand – have done.
But for carbohydrates, there has been a positive shift to healthier ones. Unrefined carbohydrates now make up 17 per cent of all carbohydrates eaten, up from 14 per cent in 2010. The HPB said: “This was largely the result of increased consumption of wholegrain, as well as fruit and vegetables.”
It added that the trend was corroborated by an increase in sales of wholegrain rice and bread, fruit and vegetables. The wholegrain variety now accounts for 15 per cent of rice and bread sold here. In 2011, they accounted for 7 per cent.
Total fat has increased from 28 per cent of food intake in 2004 to 35 per cent today, which is at the upper range of the recommended amount. Dr Rani Sarmugam, the survey’s principal investigator, said the bulk of fat comes from cooking oil, coconut milk and creamers.
Mr Zee said: “Many things have improved. The increase in complex carbohydrates is a major shift in diet. But there are some things we will still need to work on.”
This includes getting people to shift to “a lighter palette” when it comes to salt and sugar.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said he was pleased to hear people here are eating more fruit and vegetables, but was not surprised by the high salt intake.
He said: “Although many of us don’t add salt per se, we are typically unaware of the amount of salt that is added to many of our common foods when we eat out, and also in snacks.”
By Salma Khalik