By Associate Prof Dr Hazreen Abdul Majid / Darwish Asyraf / Sing Ean
Obesity is a crucial public health problem. Overweight and obesity are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. They are estimated to be responsible for at least 2.8 million deaths each year globally.
In Malaysia, the alarming trends of overweight and obesity continue to rise; NHMS 2011 (29.4%, 15.1%), NHMS 2015 (30%, 17.7%) and NHMS 2019 (30.4%, 19.7%).
In addition, obesity and overweight affect 29.8% of children aged 5 to 17 (15%, 14.8%) respectively.
Malaysia is now the fattest country in Asia according to World Population Review 2019 with 7.1 percent of children under the age of five being overweight, and the second highest child obesity prevalence in Asean among children aged 5 to 19 according to United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) survey, 2019.
Being an obese or overweight person (with increasing body fatness), you are more prone to have non-communicable diseases (NCD) that is currently at an alarming rate, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), cancers which include colorectal cancer and few more.
Furthermore, several digestive diseases are related to obesity. Digestive health is crucial to human health since it is responsible for delivering nutrients to our bodies.
In addition, several chronic illnesses are linked with imbalance/dysbiosis of the gut bacteria ecosystems that includes obesity, cancer or digestive disorder, for example irritable bowel syndrome.
The changes in gut bacteria composition can be due to antibiotic usage, sickness, stress, aging, poor eating habits and lifestyle.
You'll have all kinds of unpleasant symptoms if your digestive system isn't in good shape, including stomach pain, bloating, indigestion and more.
So far, studies have shown that a low fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and Polyols (FODMAP) diet improves IBS symptoms.
This diet is aimed to aid persons with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in determining which foods are causing discomfort and which meals can help to reduce symptoms.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, a lot of us are confined to our homes due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).
For many, it meant a 180-degree change from our usual routines; working adults are suddenly spending a lot more time indoors and less time commuting, kids are getting more "screen time" from distance learning but less chance of physical activity. It also meant more chances for families to be eating together at home, and we can cultivate healthy eating habits together as a family.
So how can we make our meals healthier for our digestive health? Here are some tips…
Tip 1: Now is the time to live that healthy and balanced lifestyle you always wanted.
Remember that new year resolution you made last year? If you have ever vowed to eat healthier or exercise more, now is the best time! Time to revisit those goals and work towards them.
With less time spent commuting, use that extra time to schedule a simple exercise routine every day. Stock your kitchen with healthier options for you and your family. Keep track of your fluid intake (about 2 liters/day) and try to get eight hours of quality sleep time. Have scheduled meal times and avoid snacking in between.
Tip 2: Healthy eating starts at home .
Whether you are cooking for one or the whole family, planning makes grocery shopping easier, faster and reduces the need to take that extra trip out to get a specific ingredient.
The Malaysian Healthy Plate can be an easy guide during the planning of meals. Include a variety of food and snacks of different food groups.
Here are some ingredients that you can add to your grocery list:
– Whole grains: brown rice/multigrain rice, whole wheat noodles/pasta/cereals/bread;
– Fruits and vegetables of any color or variety;
– Dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese;
– Nuts or legumes as a snack or incorporated into meals; and
– Fermented food such as tempeh, kimchi, or even kombucha (if you want something fancier).
Since you have more time at hand, now is the time to showcase your cooking skills.
For starters, try to mix and match fresh ingredients and instant food items. Consider cooking in a large batch, dividing into smaller portions and frozen, that can be easily reheated when needed.
Tip 3: Try healthier options even when you are ordering online!
Hold that thought before you reach for that bag of chips or before you place that order on your food delivery app.
Ready-to-eat meals or instant foods may sound convenient, but they might be higher in fat, salt or sugar.
When grocery shopping, focus on the things on your shopping list and try to avoid the snacks aisle.
Stock healthy snacks like fresh fruits or nuts instead of chips and sweets. Avoid energy-dense foods where possible.
When you are ordering your takeaway or food delivery, choose healthier preparation options like braised, steamed, grilled or stir-fried instead of deep-fried items.
Consider going for a la carte if that is already enough for you. Try to avoid up-sizing your meals and try to avoid sweetened drinks.
Let's look our health together by reflecting our gut health.
(Associate Prof Dr Hazreen Abdul Majid (Head of CePH, UM), Darwish Asyraf (Research Dietitian, UM) and Sing Ean (Clinical Dietitian, UM and HKL.)