Charlotte Mei is a nutritionist, but she doesn’t remember the last time she ate a salad.
“I like warm food, so I don't really eat salads,” she said.
That’s an odd thing to say when your official job title says “certified nutritionist” but Charlotte Mei insists that there are many ways to be healthy.
“People always ask: "What else is healthy, if it's not a salad?” You can be healthy even if you don’t have salads and lemon water in your diet," says the 27-year old, who also appears regularly on TV and radio talk shows.
Four years into being a certified nutritionist, Charlotte has made a career out of teaching people how to eat healthily.
Now, she runs her own YouTube channel called “TheCharlotteMei”, where she teaches her audience healthy 10-minute home recipes and lifestyle tips. Started in mid-2018, the channel is slowly gaining traction with 300 subscribers.
“I really wanted to show people that cooking a healthy and delicious meal can be easy,” said the bubbly girl during our one-hour interview. “It’s a place where I can share nutrition nuggets in an entertaining way without sounding too preachy.”
Charlotte's channel where she shares advice and tips on healthy eating
Becoming a nutritionist
Charlotte didn’t grow up dreaming to be a nutritionist. It was only in the early 2000s when a range of fad diets including Atkins, high protein diets, and blood type diets were starting to becoming popular, that she decided to study nutrition in university.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Nutrition) from the UK, she returned to Singapore to work as a full-time nutritionist at nutrition company MyKenzen, where she gave corporate talks on healthy eating and curated recipes for companies.
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Along the way, her love for public speaking led her to a range of hosting roles on TV and radio. She was talent-spotted while competing in a Mediacorp cooking competition called Eat List Star, and went on to appear in food shows Crave and The Food Detectives. She even hosted the New Year’s Eve countdown celebration in 2018.
A foodie at heart, Charlotte indulges by spending a lot of time cooking at home. She often cooks most of her meals and changes up the ingredients to keep things interesting. According to Charlotte, cooking at home is still the cheapest option, with each basic meal costing around $2-$3.
The struggles of eating well
Many people struggle with eating healthily because they lack knowledge about food, explains Charlotte. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, sugar, salt, and fat intake among Singaporeans has increased in the last eight years.
So much so PM Lee singled out diabetes as one of 3 key long-term issues Singapore had to face during the 2017 National Day Rally. The Singapore government has since doubled down on healthier eating options such as brown rice and even potentially introducing a sugar tax and ban on high-sugar drinks.
Random Fact: Charlotte did the box green nutrition labels when they first launched. Photo Credit: Charlotte's Facebook Page.
Charlotte explains that many people make decisions on price and marketing messaging but don’t know how to look at an ingredients list or read a basic nutrition table. A common notion too, is that having quality ingredients mean you need a bigger budget.
“Cooking at home is always cheaper. Always. We may not have the time to, but whenever you do, it's always good to.”
"Another thing that people waste money on, which they can really save on, is to skip that sugary drink during your meal. They don't just save on their money but on their health too. It can cost from $1 to $3 to $6 even if you go for a coffee. A lot of these drinks tend to be very sugary. So that's something we don't need, that we can remove from our diets. And the money adds up when you go for these drinks on the side," she says.
Photo Credit: Charlotte's Facebook Page.
And if your schedules are too packed to prepare your own meals, Charlotte has an alternative suggestion.
“We all think that the hawker center is the cheaper option, right? I know it’s the cheaper option, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's unhealthy. You are the master of your meal. There are creative ways to order something and make it healthier. Ask for more vegetables for example. Or, you can always ask for half the noodles for bak chor mee”, she offered.
“I mean, when you really look at what kind of ingredients they use, and whether they use MSG, that's something we can't control. But, in the grand scheme of things, you can at least make sure that half your plate is filled with vegetables, a quarter with protein, a quarter of carbohydrates. That's what I call a balanced meal. And if you order fish soup, for example, you can ask for more fish or less noodles so you can curate your dish. You don't have to buy it the way it is.”
Nutritionist with many hats
While working as a radio or TV host, Charlotte continued to take on private consultations. Being a self-employed entrepreneur meant having to balance her own account books herself. Despite calling herself a “saver” when it comes to personal finance, she found managing money as an entrepreneur a challenge. Luckily, she was already a fan of Excel, so she managed to pick up the basics of accounting fairly quickly.
Photo Credit: Charlotte's Facebook Page.
Another challenge she had was representing herself in media work. New to the industry and without an agent, she had to learn how to negotiate rates with clients.
“I need to think about overtime pay, I need to really tick all the boxes,” she says.
Despite all the demands, she stuck to her guns and realised her true passion– educating people about food, all while juggling her TV and radio career.
What’s next for Charlotte Mei?
Charlotte’s passion for talking about food shines through during the interview. She’s full of fun tips, like how buying fruits from the supermarket is cheaper than the wet market, and skipping that sugary drink can help save you lots of money.
What gives her the biggest satisfaction? When someone feels they have learnt valuable information that helps them improve the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families.
"It's incredibly empowering for someone to have agency over the choices they make regarding food on an everyday scale – from how they eat and perceive food, to how they shop and cook."
A recent series Charlotte worked on about reducing food wastage
And the girl is on a roll.
“I’m working on growing my online platform "TheCharlotteMei" where I share fuss-free recipes. I’ll be adding more lifestyle content (mainly on food and sustainability) and I have a few exciting collaborations in the works too! ” adds a cheerful Charlotte with a smile.
Her biggest “vice” as a nutritionist?
“People think I eat ‘healthy’ and that we have to go for a salad all the time,” she laughs. “I actually love my ice cream!”
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