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The Flavours of Singapore. Managing Type 2 Diabetes with Diet, Taste and Tradition.

Updated: Mar 2

Singapore diabetes diet

The Singaporean diet and eating practices, rooted in diverse flavours and culinary tradition, have a well-deserved reputation for taste - but not always for health. However, when we look at traditional eating practices in the modern metropolis, there is health to be found. The city's multi-ethnic cuisine is abundant in aromatic herbs and spices, nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, wholesome grains, and can be low in animal products and saturated fat. Despite modern lifestyles, there are healthy Singaporean eating practices that can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and contribute to cardiovascular health, weight management and longevity.

Please note: If you have pre-diabetes or diabetes, discuss this article with your own doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your unique medical history before taking any action that might affect your treatment programme. Links to supporting studies are at the end of page.


A recent study from the American Heart Association (July 2023), looked at diabetes, heart disease, stroke (and their causes) for Asian Americans from diverse national backgrounds. In many respects these populations - their diets, their health issues, their lifestyles - mirror those of Singapore's multi-ethnic population.

A key issue addressed in the study was to look at traditional eating practices, suited to the tastes of of different ethnicities, and their relation to health. Eating practices were split into three geographic groups; reviewed on their strengths and weaknesses. Importantly - suggestions provided on how to improve them, to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The findings were as follows:

Southeast Asian Diet (Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, and Singapore)

Regional diet highlights

  • Strong emphasis on aroma and incorporates the balance of grilling, stir-frying, braising, and deep-frying in palm and coconut oil

  • Use of discrete herbs and spices, including lemongrass, tamarind, cilantro, basil, mint leaves, and citrus juice

  • Dishes often call for coconut milk, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and meat broth

  • Animal protein, including beef, lamb, pork, and poultry

  • Staple foods include rice (glutinous sticky rice, rice vermicelli), fish (fresh and salted fish), vegetables, and animal protein

Diet weaknesses

  • Low intake of dietary fiber from refined grains such as white rice and products made from refined-grain flour

  • High intake of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol intake from animal protein and animal fat

  • Unhealthy fat from cooking oils such palm oil and coconut oil

  • High intake of saturated fat from high use of coconut milk and other coconut-containing products

  • High sodium intake from high-sodium condiments such as fish sauce, soy sauce, and sambal

  • Low intake of fresh fruits

  • Low intake of calcium and vitamin D

Dietary suggestions

  • Increase the use of whole-grain products, including brown rice and whole-grain flour

  • Increase the use of lean and plant-based proteins

  • Use low-fat coconut milk or substitute with other nondairy alternatives

  • Replace cooking oil from high-saturated-fat options to those with lower saturated fat and higher polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats

  • Cut down on sodium by using low-sodium alternatives or less per serving

  • Maintain the use of fresh herbs and spices

  • Increase the use of dairy or fortified nondairy products for calcium and vitamin D

South Asian Diet (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma)

Northeastern Asian diet (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea)


Weight loss can be a real challenge in Singapore, for many reasons. Dietary related chronic illness, especially type 2 diabetes driven by weight gain, needs to be addressed by appropriate eating practices, in the home kitchen, when eating out or ordering food in. This means finding eating practices and tastes that you enjoy and can fit into your lifestyle. What steps can you take, at home or at the office, to meet the dietary suggestions made in the report? Our coaching based programmes support sustainable weight loss and long-term health, addressing other pillars of health that include exercise, sleep, work-life balance and stress. These are all common areas that our clients choose to focus on as part of their own self-care practices for the promotion of health and longevity.

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Related Studies

Kwan TW, Wong SS, Hong Y, Kanaya AM, Khan SS, Hayman LL, Shah SH, Welty FK, Deedwania PC, Khaliq A, Palaniappan LP; American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention; Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; and Council on Genomic and Precision Medicine. Epidemiology of Diabetes and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Among Asian American Adults: Implications, Management, and Future Directions: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2023 Jul 4;148(1):74-94. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001145. Epub 2023 May 8. PMID: 37154053.


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