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Dietitian makes healthy food yummy by adding colour

Hedy Khoo on 22 Apr 2018

The Straits Times


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Senior dietitian Wong Yuefen made the Rainbow Brown Rice Salad colourful to appeal to people who dislike the grain


She created the wholegrain dish to encourage her patients to eat healthier, but Rainbow Brown Rice Salad has since become a favourite with this dietitian's family.


Ms Wong Yuefen, 36, a senior dietitian at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP), developed the recipe in 2009, a year after she joined the healthcare group.


The mother of a seven-year-old boy tested out the recipe on her husband, who loved it. Since then, she cooks the dish for him at least once a month and also eats it herself. Her son enjoys the dish too.


"I understand how people can have the misconception that healthier food is boring. I deliberately made my Rainbow Brown Rice Salad colourful, so that it looks appealing. Hopefully, it will help people who do not like brown rice be more open to trying the dish," she says.


The colourful one-dish meal looks attractive and is packed with antioxidants from the pineapple and capsicums. Instead of canned pineapple chunks in syrup, use canned pineapple chunks in juice as a healthier option, says Ms Wong.


The pan-fried chicken is a source of protein and brown rice is high in fibre. Ms Wong suggests steaming or boiling the chicken for a more guilt-free version. Remove the chicken skin and trim off any visible fat before cooking.


For variation, substitute chicken breast with cooked tau kwa (firm beancurd) or tuna canned in water. Other vegetables, such as sweet peas, celery, cherry tomatoes or salad leaves, can also be added.


Ms Wong, who has a bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics, says her love of food and cooking was sparked at age 10 when she started watching cooking shows on television.


As she grew older, she developed an interest in the role diet has in maintaining good health after learning more about nutrition during home economics classes in secondary school.


She says: "Having a healthy diet reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. It also helps to keep weight in check."


At home, she walks the talk by cooking food using healthier methods such as steaming or pan-frying. She also makes sure to have a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and fruit for each meal. Deep-frying is a big no.


When eating out, she limits her intake of deep-fried foods and coconut milk-based curry dishes, picking out healthier options such as mixed rice with two choices of vegetables and one protein, such as chicken, pork, fish, tofu or egg.


Moderation is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, she says, adding that it is easier to introduce dietary changes gradually.


"Set realistic goals that you can achieve," she says. For instance, if the goal is to make a complete switch from white rice to brown rice, ease yourself in at the start by substituting half of your white rice with brown rice. Then, gradually increase the proportion to 75 per cent brown rice.


"It is easier this way for patients to accept eating brown rice because the change is not drastic and they have more time to adapt," says Ms Wong, who also encourages her patients to add oats, quinoa or buckwheat to white rice.


"It is common to encounter initial resistance from patients when I suggest they include wholegrains in their diet. People tend to think wholegrains are bland or hard in texture," she says, adding that this is untrue.


Oftentimes, she says, such grains are harder in texture because insufficient water has been added during the cooking process. A cup of long-grained white rice, for instance, needs one cup of water to cook sufficiently. A cup of brown rice, on the other hand, needs at least 1 3/4 cups to two cups of water.


Diet has an important role when it comes to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, she says, adding that a number of her patients suffer from such ailments. Such patients are referred to her by doctors and nurses at the polyclinic to get dietary advice, education and assessment to better manage or change their dietary habits.


But a dietitian's job, she says, is not about simply telling patients what to eat.


Instead, a good dietitian should educate patients on how and why their diet is exacerbating their health condition, advise them on the type of diet to follow, help them set goals to better manage their condition, and empower them to maintain the change.


"I feel a sense of achievement when I see my patients make the effort to cultivate healthier eating habits and they make progress in improving their health."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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