A deeply passionate plant-based nutritionist and advocate, Yuliana is currently a nutritionist at Greendot Singapore. True to her passion, her work at Greendot includes developing tasty and nutritious recipes that are accessible to the masses! But, what exactly does healthy eating entail and how important is it?
Q: Before we get into the details, let’s get to know each other a little more! As a young nutritionist, what sparked your passion for public health nutrition and healthy ageing?
Yuliana: Since young, I have observed many people around me suffer due to ill health. It does not only affect the person, but it also places tremendous financial stress and pressure on their caregivers. My dad is diabetic which also makes my family more health-conscious. These experiences sparked my passion for public health.
Moreover, nowadays, people live longer due to better healthcare facilities. But, those extra years might not be healthy. The good news is, with a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition habits, we can spend our golden years doing activities that we enjoy! The deeper I delve into nutrition research, the more convinced I am about that. Therefore, I am very committed to using my knowledge and expertise on food and nutrition to increase the community’s awareness of healthy eating and encourage them to cultivate healthy eating habits as a proactive lifestyle towards healthy ageing.
Q: In your opinion, how important is healthy eating for older adults?
Yuliana: As part of natural ageing, older adults experience slowing metabolism and declining function of different organs. Healthy eating can help to slow down these ageing processes and prevent/delay the onset and progression of chronic diseases.
For example, 1 in 3 women over 50 years old experiences hip fracture. According to the Ministry of Health, 20% of older adults who had hip fractures due to osteoporosis die within a year. While the statistics are shocking, it can be largely prevented by consuming a high-calcium diet. Hence, it is undeniable that healthy eating is extremely important for older adults!
According to various studies, 30-52% of Singaporean older adults are not getting enough nutrients. The consequences are well-documented. They include an impaired immune system, prolonged hospital stay, increased risk of infections and even death. A study conducted by the National University of Singapore suggested that frail older adults are twice as likely to die earlier compared to their peers, and malnutrition is one of the contributing factors for frailty. With lifestyle interventions such as more nutritious meals, these symptoms could be mitigated.
Healthy ageing looks like a topic for older adults; but, in reality, ageing starts from the moment we are alive. Our health is even partly determined by our mothers’ nutritional state around her pregnancy period. Some diseases (e.g., heart disease, cancer, diabetes) are called “chronic” because they accumulate throughout the years. Thus, developing healthy eating habits as early as possible could make a real difference to your health. Therefore, it is important to eat healthy during our old age, but it is even wiser to adopt healthy eating as early as possible!
Q: Do you have any tips on healthy eating for our friends and families?
Yuliana: Start with the basic principle to get balanced nutrition: Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate.
Aim for quarter-quarter-half in one plate in your meal: a quarter of carb, a quarter of protein, and half of fruits and vegetable. If there’s any component missing, include them during snack time.
Also, you could eat plant-based foods, such as tofu, beans, peas, fruits, and vegetables, more regularly. They may help to improve blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar profile, which lead to lower risk of chronic diseases.
It is important to focus on your whole dietary pattern instead of overemphasizing on a single nutrient or type of food. No single food can provide all the nutrients you need. In fact, balanced meals are essential for healthy eating.
Make this journey enjoyable too! Healthy eating is only sustainable when you enjoy the food. If you find it difficult, make one small change at a time. You can start by eating more of the healthier ingredients that you already like, then add on new ingredients slowly. You could also expose yourself to different cuisines for more variety and more nutrients.
Try guacamole from Mexican cuisines or dhal from Indian cuisines!
Q: On a similar note, what are some things that Greendot does that we can do at home to prepare healthier meals for our families?
Add more vegetables! At Greendot, we provide a generous amount of vegetables which is awesome because most of us are not eating enough vegetables. (2 servings a day, 1 serving = ¾ cup of vegetables or 100g). Besides that, you could get creative around the texture, and color of your meals to make it more appetizing. The best part is, you don’t have to rely on oil, salt or sugar to achieve that.
For instance, our dried noodle series uses less oil and mixture of cooked and raw ingredient to deliver a contrast in food texture. To do that, we use cooked tofu for softness and raw shredded carrot and cucumber for some added crunchiness. For the soup, we add with veggies of contrasting colors and goji berries for colorful garnishing and an extra boost of vitamin C.
We also continuously add new dishes by exploring new vegetables and cooking techniques. Novelty adds excitement, so do give it a try at home! Just make sure it is within your family’s acceptability range.
Q: We’ve talked about how many of us are not eating enough vegetables and not getting enough nutrients through our meals! How can we ensure that the older adults in our families are getting enough nutrients?
Yuliana: For older adults, a slower metabolism means that they require fewer calories as compared to before. But, they still need as much or even more nutrients from their meals! As such, older adults can eat a smaller portion of their usual foods but focus on nutrient-dense options such as whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Make sure they are soft enough for chewability.
Also, pay more attention to protein, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3, and fiber. To achieve that, be creative with your meal prep! For instance, you can add skimmed milk powder to your soup for extra protein and calcium! Since the elderly also tend to lose their appetites, make the meal more flavourful by using herbs, spices, and lemon juice to make their meals more appealing.
Do take note if they have any eating barriers such as denture issues or even loneliness. Dining together as a family can have an enormous impact on making sure older adults eat full meals, especially if they have lost their spouse. Lastly, go for regular check-ups to diagnose and manage any health conditions. In some cases, supplements may be required. For that, seek advice from your doctor.
Q: Could you recommend a dish from your menu that contains nutrients that are especially important for older adults?
Yuliana: Our bento set is an excellent example of a balanced meal. Whole grains, like brown rice, provide more vitamin Bs and vitamin Es than white rice. The tofu-based main is also a rich source of protein which is vital to prevent muscle loss (sarcopenia) that is common among older adults. Kailan provides calcium that is crucial to maintaining healthy bones and pumpkin provides vitamin A that supports your immune system. Furthermore, the soup serves as a flavourful hydration source. Most importantly, as the menu is plant-based, it gives fiber (to help address constipation issue) and blends of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to address nutrition gap among older adults.
Eat Green, Feel Good: Greendot Singapore was founded with the intention of making healthy meat-free meals convenient, accessible and affordable to the masses. Greendot seeks to revolutionize the vegetarian industry by offering a casual dining concept similar to conventional fast-food restaurants; only with extremely healthy and tasty food options!