You are what you eat

Effectiveness in a workplace campaign for a healthy lifestyle would be substantially limited if exercise were the only programme implemented for employees. The benefits of 150 weekly minutes of physical activity from Zumba, groceries, retail therapy, laundry, dog-walking, and plant-watering would be curtailed if not accompanied by a healthy diet.

World Health Organization dietary guidelines for the Asian region recommend a balanced diet, which includes wholegrain cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, other vegetables and fruits, a variety of foods to ensure the consumption of micronutrients such as vitamins, selenium, and zinc, and a moderate intake of sugar and fat.

More specific recommendations are that vegetables and fruit add up to half the meal, while wholegrains make up a quarter, with lean protein in the remaining quarter. As illustrated by the the healthy plate in the Harvard School of Public Health’s guide to eating, vegetables should be red, green, yellow, and orange (maybe purple as well), with whole grains prioritized over refined grains, which contain neither bran nor germ (Mayo Clinic offers a useful guide).

An A to Z by the Whole Grains Council lists barley, oats, wild rice, brown rice, and quinoa as whole grains (but read this article about quinoa); wholegrain foods include bread made with rye or spelt, as well as pasta, soba, and pancakes made with buckwheat. Although whole grains are desirable, changing even half the grains in your meal to whole grains, is a step in the right direction (see tips by the US Department of Agriculture). Local healthy lifestyle advocate, the Health Promotion Board, also recommends a daily serving of whole grains and lists places with whole grain food choices.

Fruit in the staff pantry or communal staff canteen enables healthy eating choices at work. As part of a larger workplace wellness programme, it’s a simple and straightforward way to encourage a healthy lifestyle at the workplace, as the recipients of the 2008 and 2010 Platinum Singapore Health Award, BP and Hotel Grand Pacific demonstrate. Others take it a step further.

Presented at the 17th International Conference on Health Promoting Hospitals and Health Services in Crete, Greece, Wong and Wong (2009) cite around-the-clock fresh fruit and brown rice options at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital staff cafeteria (then known as Alexandra Hospital) as effective ways to prod hospital staff into healthy eating. With unpolished rice being 50 cents cheaper than its urbane refined cousin or available at no additional cost (at KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital), there’s no doubt that this environmental innovation will be making inroads into employees’ eating habits at meal times.


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