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Discussion: Nutrition Should Be A Necessity Not A Luxury

As part of the discussion on nutrition being a necessity and not a luxury, the weekly Womentum live show hosted by Niney Chong and Sazzy Falak, joined by Dr Siti Fairuz Che Othman, Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and Angeline Choo, Co-founder of Biotree Biotechnology and Wiki Impact as the data provider – we discussed the issue of undernourishment among Malaysians, particularly among the B40 community and the factors perpetuating this issue. 

The ladies were shocked to find out that over 900,000 Malaysians were undernourished[1] and were determined to work out why. 

Source: Today Online

Dr. Siti the expert on the show with a Doctorate in Food Science & Nutrition stated that she was relieved to hear that the numbers reflected those undernourished instead of malnourished. It is her belief that many are under incorrect impressions of what it takes to actually get the correct nutrients in their diet. 

Many give up on the sense of a healthy lifestyle as they are under the impression that if you want to have a healthy lifestyle you have to have money. Which is not the case. I believe there is no bad food, but bad choices. – Dr. Siti Fairuz Che Othman, Assistant Professor at IIUM

The corresponding expert Angeline Choo, Co-founder of Biotree Biotechnology, immediately identified contrasting habits of communities.

From one point of view, we see a lot of undernourished people, but in the industrial sector, we see a lot of wastage. Truckloads of unsold fresh fruits/ fresh vegetables are just thrown away into landfills. Just imagine what it could do for the community. – Angeline Choo, Co-founder of Biotree Biotechnology.

She wasn’t wrong about the food wastage.

SW Corp identified that 16,688 tonnes of food are wasted every day in Malaysia. 3,000 tonnes of this food waste is actually still edible and If rationed well and properly channeled, it could be used to feed 12 million people, three meals a day[2].

Source: Mole.my

The fact of the matter is here in Malaysia, we are spoiled for choice. There is no limit to what we can eat, or when we have to eat it. We can get everything at all times of the day. We can eat our breakfast foods for dinner, and dessert foods as snacks! Because of this, we overlook the nutrients that we actually need at different times of the day. – Angeline Choo, Co-founder of Biotree Biotechnology.

Other Reasons Why Malaysians Are Undernourished

Other factors that could have lead to the undernourishment of a large fraction of Malaysia’s population, were financial restraints.

Malaysia’s B40 spends roughly RM763 per month, per household on food and drinks. On average, that comes to RM25 a day, shared between an entire family. M40s have RM44 a day, and T20s have RM76 a day to spend on food alone[3]

In order to accommodate such a tight budget, the panel discussed similar eating trends among the B40 community that were to save money. Since the B40s had a lower budget, they could not afford luxury or high-cost items. The first items dropped are usually healthier foods such as high-quality proteins (eg. meats), whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are all very costly. Instead, these communities will invest in rice (eg. low-cost energy-rich starches), a lot of sugar (for longer energy), and processed food (eg.canned food, instant noodles). 

Source: Free Malaysia Today

While most people may think that it is impossible to feed a household healthy and nourishing food for RM25 a day, Dr. Siti begs to differ. 

With RM25 you can afford a healthy lifestyle. You don’t need to buy expensive products, but you do need to take into account how you prepare the food. Sources of protein do not necessarily have to come from meat, you could get it from tempeh or eggs which are both highly nutritious.Dr. Siti Fairuz Che Othman, Assistant Professor at IIUM

Dr. Siti went on to explain healthier alternatives for a lower diet. For example, a common food selection is canned sardines in tomato sauce. However, there might be high levels of salt and preservatives found in canned food. Instead, a healthier option maybe tuna or mackerel in brine and to make the tomato sauce from scratch. She added that there are many options of local vegetables that are inexpensive and should be added to the dish.  

The Wiki Impact team shared that while B40 families try to skim on grocery expenses, these savings may eventually be used to pay for medical bills because poor food choices lead to poor health. High sodium, salt, sugar, preservatives and addictive may lead to long-term health issues. Contrary to popular belief, many of these health problems are not hereditary. It’s the habits that are passed on. 

What you eat, and how you eat it, are most likely going to be passed on to your children, and from there the chain of diseases continues. – Sazzy Falak

In order to break the cycle, the panel agreed that early education is one of the key ways to combat this problem. The general public needs to be taught what is good and what is bad for them, and the reality is that not everyone knows what to avoid. 

We teach them to look at labels and identify the undesirable ingredients in food and beverages, as well as ask them to advocate for similar practices among their circles. Consumers need to remember that most products are hiding behind their marketing. A product that states it is high in Vitamin C, does not reveal that it is also high in sugar. – Angeline Choo, Co-founder of Biotree Biotechnology.

Source: Food Navigator Asia

When it comes down to it, people want to see fast results, and often turn to alternatives such as “pil cepat kurus” or “supplement”. The reality is that there is no miracle cure. A healthy lifestyle is a long-term journey. Nutrition is not just in the supplement that you take but in the foods and daily eating habits. 

If you look good and feel good, you have to make the right choices. You have to have the right lifestyle. – Dr. Siti Fairuz Che Othman, Assistant Professor at IIUM 

To this we would add – a healthy lifestyle and good nourishment start with being informed, making the right choices, and good healthy daily habits. 

Explore Our Sources:

  1. FAO. (2019). Number of People Undernourished. Hunger and Food Insecurity. Link.
  2. Poverty, Pollution, Persecution. (2019). Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) deputy chief executive officer Mohammad Diah Wahari. Link.
  3. DOSM. (2020). Household Expenditure Survey Report 2019. Link
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