Diet & Chronic Diseases talks @ Tata Consultancy Services

Author: Singaram
Sector: Lifestyle
Industry: Health

Diet & Chronic Diseases talks @ Tata Consultancy Services by Suzanne Khor, Principal Dietitian

(Note: Please feel free to contact Ms Suzanne Khor, principal dietitian at dietmattersz@gmail.com or her Linkedin for any diet-related consultations or queries! All information in this article is from her talks. Our greatest thank you to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for approving the publication of this article!)

On Apr 24 and 25 2019, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Singapore organized a series of wellness talks, followed by a one-to-one consultation for employees in both their Anson and Changi office. This initiative was part of the TCS Maitree program, where the HR team regularly organizes fun and meaningful activities to engage employees as well as create a platform for employees to interact with each other.

The invited speaker, Ms Suzanne Khor, Principal Dietitian educated the employees on how to maintain a healthy diet and how to choose our food wisely. After all, a healthy employee produces the best output for the company, is it not?

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Ms Suzanne Khor started off by asking “What is the link between diet and chronic disease?”

She shared the findings of the 2019 Lancet study of the health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, as below:

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Sub-ideal diets are leading risk factors for mortality. Ms Khor shared that trials have indicated that high blood pressure (HBP), pre-diabetes, dyslipidaemia, bone degeneration and coronary artery disease can be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes, which are preferred to medicine that may have side effects.

In Singapore, many people have unhealthy diets because they give into stimuli too easily. It is easy but unhealthy to eat fast food daily. There is even a hidden danger in healthy foods like Yong Tau Foo, which may have high salt (1675mg per serving including soup). Economical rice may be high in total fat, fried fish soup high in fat, bee hoon soto high in salt (avoid drinking the soup to cut down in sodium) and gravy high in sodium and fat.

Link between diet and cancer

Thirty percent of deaths from cancer, the 2nd leading cause of death globally, are due to 5 of the poorest diet and lifestyle habits - high body mass index, low fruit and vegetables consumption, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol use.

Low fibre diet contributes a heightened risk of stomach cancer, the 4th most frequent cause of cancer death in Singapore. Polyps can be detected early by colonoscopy and gastroenterology.

Prostate cancer (the most common cancer among men) can be prevented and treated by intake of tomatoes and selenium. Cooked tomatoes are better than raw ones due to added fats. Brazil nuts are also high in selenium - 1 Brazil nut a day is good.

Food contamination can cause gastroenteritis and increase risks of getting cancer. Hence, food safety standards need to be adhered to in terms of training, temperature and equipment. Travel time in food delivery is also an issue, especially if it takes a couple of hours for the food to arrive after cooking.

Ageing and chronic infections are also fundamental factors for the development of cancer, H.Pylori - risk for liver and stomach cancer,  Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses cause liver cancer, Epstein-Barr virus - stomach cancer and HIV - Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus and lymphoma. More than 40% of cancer in women is breast cancer.

Colorectal cancer is most commonly diagnosed in those above the age of 50 years old, though it can occur at any age. Singapore is at an alarming No.12 in frequency of colorectal cancer occurrence worldwide as of 2018. Diets low in fibre or wholegrains are associated with an increase in colorectal cancer. Studies show that the diet high in red processed meat or high temperature meat increase the risk of cancer.

Lung cancer too is very preventable - smoking second-hand and polluted environments are risk factors. Lung cancer does not affect only men or heavy smokers - in recent years, there has been a slight increase in lung cancer and mortality rates among women as well. Survival of lung cancer is also the lowest of all cancers. Hence, a suggestion is to go to a park with clean air occasionally.

Skin cancer may be caused by ionizing and UV radiation when suntanning as well as urban air pollution and indoor smoke from use of solid fuels.

Improving Diet

One should reduce weight if overweight and reduce fat intake. Women of all ages and men older than the age of 65 should limit alcohol intake to <1 drink or 300ml per day while men under the age of 65 should not take up more than the 2 drinks a day of any alcohol. Sugar-sweetened beverages have also increased the risk of cardiovascular diseases and to a lesser extent, cancer. There is potentially increased risk of stroke due to Diet Coke.

High BMI caused by accumulated subcutaneous fat around the tummy and hips for men and women respectively heightens risk of heart diseases, stroke and diabetes. Coronary heart disease, hypertension, and stroke can all be caused by low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. High-DL (HDL) cholesterol is healthy and increases when exercising. Late night meals can cause some to get a tummy over time.

A Mediterranean diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains & healthy oils and low in processed food is healthy. Half a plate of vegetables, wholegrains like basmati rice, bread like chapati, a quarter plate of healthy protein and, transfat-free oil like canola or olive oil will be desirable, as opposed to palm oil, which is high in saturated fat. Water is also needed to prevent kidney issues.

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Oats, beans, lentils, chickpeas, barley, flax seeds and dahl, which contain soluble fibre are healthy. Avocado is high in calories so contributes to weight gain. One should limit processed meat like bacons and sausages. Slightly charred food like satay is also linked to cancer.  

Omega 3 fats are high in salmons, but recent reports indicate salmon contains many chemicals. Some fish contain higher levels of mercury too. Vegetarians can consider omega 3 supplements or DHA. Processed nitrates contain lots of salts. Sodium should be limited to 2300mg per day or the equivalent of 1tsp of salt. For HBP, the limit is 1500 mg per day.

One should also look at the labels for processed food. For instance, 277mg of sodium for Lemnos Regular 12 cheese slices jumps up to 317mg for Lemnos Reduced Fat 12 cheese slices. So if you have HBP, watch that as they may have added sodium to make it taste better!

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Image Credits to Ms Suzanne Khor: Sodium amounts in Lemnos Cheese Slices

1000mg per calcium is the recommended daily intake. 2 slices of cheese are equivalent to 1 cup of milk in calcium, but sodium is also high then, hence it is recommended to take yoghurt that has good bacteria too. High calcium foods include milk products, fish and dark green vegetables.

Ageing also brings with it potential osteoporosis and therefore easy fractures, especially in high risk sports - hence Vitamin D is important. Losing a lot of weight suddenly or having excessive thirst or visiting toilet often in a day may indicate the presence of diabetes. Breastfeeding is good for both the baby and mum, as it lessens the risk of developing or dying from heart disease.

The Need For Exercise

WHO recommends adults aged 18-64 should exercise about half an hour 5 times a week or engage in aerobic physical activity throughout the week – at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity.

For more health benefits, adults should increase to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity. Moderate intensity activities include walking, cycling, yoga and dog walking while vigorous activity includes jogging, wheeling a wheelchair, cycling fast, water jogging, karate and martial arts. Muscle strengthening activities should be done for major muscle groups on at least 2 days a week.


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