Question:

The food pyramid (image below) tells us to focus on rice, noodles, breads, and other carbohydrates, but I’ve read a lot of articles both online and in newspapers explaining how too much carbohydrate intake is bad for me. Should I still follow the guidelines of the Malaysian food pyramid?

Malaysian Food Pyramid
Credits: Ministry of Health

Answer:

While there’s strong scientific evidence showing that excessive carbohydrate intake leads to excess energy intake and insulin resistance etc, carbohydrates should still form the main energy source of Malaysian diets.

However, the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines specifies that carbs must be eaten adequately, and not excessively. Different energy requirements differ according to age and activity levels, and thus, the serving sizes of carbohydrates should correspond with that. On top of that, the dietary guidelines also recommends that 50% of grain consumption should come from wholegrains.

Base your carbs and calorie intake on how much energy you expend

As the Malaysian food pyramid was designed with a wide spectrum of the population in mind (from highly physical people like athletes and labourers who require more energy intake, to those who sit at their desk the entire day and expend very little energy), you should measure how much you eat based on how active you are in a day.

The recommendation of 8 servings of grains a day refers to people who need 2,500 kcal per day. These are for men who are moderately active and in the younger age group of 20-30 years old. Someone who is sedentary should not eat this much. This is also explained in the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines.

Portion sizes, calories of foods, and physical activity should be focused on more than the actual intake of carbs. Choose adequate portion sizes and take in calories that fit your age and energy expenditure, and make sure you exercise often.

Is the Food Pyramid still relevant?

Yes, if taken in proper context. It promotes variety, balance and moderation.

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Ask the Expert is where we answer questions on all aspects of your health and wellness. Send in your health-related questions to expert@healthworks.my.

 

Contributed by: Prof. Dr. Winnie Chee, President of Malaysian Dietitians’ Association; who is also part of HealthWorks Expert Network.
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