Don’t skip greens, meat, find cheaper food alternatives as rising costs impact eating habits

Health experts warn that rising food costs will impact the eating habits of Malaysians, resulting in health issues in the long run.

Prices of certain vegetables, namely tomatoes, kailan, and ladies’ fingers have skyrocketed in recent times, and most consumers are left with fewer choices to put on their plates.

Eggs and meat continue to be a talking point in Malaysia, even as the government looks at removing the price caps on these items in June. The ceiling price for a standard chicken in Malaysia is RM9.40 per kg, while the ceiling price of a Grade A egg is 45 sen.

The hikes in prices, also due to the wet season, have forced consumers to shy away from buying such raw food, resulting in them skipping greens and other proteins. Instead, they are opting for cheaper, processed food.

General practitioner Dr V. Thiruyanasambanthar stressed that there’s no substitute for vegetables and eggs.

“Rising prices is forcing people to find alternatives. Sadly, these alternatives are either unhealthy or do not provide sufficient nutrition,” said Dr Thiruyanasambanthar, who runs a private practice in Ampang, Selangor.

“What’s a cheaper option these days? Instant noodles and processed food. When people don’t eat right, we are going to see a spike in non-communicable diseases.”

He added that the prices of supplements had gone up too and that eating leafy vegetables and fruits remained the best option.

Dr Thiruyanasambanthar said the biggest fear is that poor eating habits would also impact children and young adults.

“These children will grow up thinking that eating instant, or processed food, is normal. This will create bad eating habits and will cause health issues among our children fairly early on.

“I’ve come across instances where parents make their children drink cheap formula milk to make them full, instead of feeding them food. The sugar content in processed milk is high.

“As a parent or guardian, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children get proper food. I know that the cost of living is high but health, and ensuring that your children get proper meals at least three times a week, must be a priority,” he added.

Veteran nutritional consultant, Dr Tee E Siong, said the rising prices of food was a concern for nutritionists, adding that it was imperative for the government to keep the prices in check.

“Try and go for cheaper vegetables or local fruits. Having said that, local fruits aren’t cheap, either. Price is of course a concern… my advice is to continue looking for cheaper alternatives,” said Dr Tee.
“Eating healthy need not be expensive. It’s about eating the right portions.”

Dr Tee is president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia and chairman of the National Steering Committee of Nutrition Month Malaysia.

He said consumers can refer to the Nutrition Month Malaysia’s website to learn more about good eating habits.

“Always remember the ‘quarter-quarter-half’ concept. A quarter of your plate needs to be filled with meat or fish, the other quarter with rice or noodles, and the remaining half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits. This is the ideal diet.”

He added that parents played an important role in educating their children on the need for quality meals. Many fear that due to strapped budgets, consuming instant, or processed food, will be normalised in many households.

“If parents allow their children to consume processed food, the children will grow up thinking that, ‘My parents or grandparents fed me such food, so it should be okay for me to consume them’.

“This short window (in a child’s formative years) is critical, so parents must pay more attention to their food intake, and provide healthier meals.

“Instant noodles and burgers, taken once in awhile, is okay, but one should add other food items. If instant noodles are consumed with some vegetables and chicken slices, then it’s okay. Proteins and vegetables must be there. This goes back to the ‘quarter-quarter-half’ concept mentioned earlier.

“It’s about making meals more balanced and well-rounded,” he added.

Tagged with: