The Great Malaysian Diet: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Can we live in this food paradise and still be healthy? Can we enjoy our food without killing ourselves?
Malaysia is a food haven. However, Malaysian foods are notorious for helping us put on the extra weight and clog our arteries. Here are some corresponding statistics in Malaysia – obesity rates have doubled in the last decade. The National Health and Morbidity survey in 2006 reported 2 out of 5 Malaysians are either overweight/obese. This also correlates with increasing diabetes rates. 15% of Malaysians are believed to have diabetes. This represents an increase of about 80% in the number of people with diabetes in Malaysia in the last 10 years.
Food is relatively cheap in Malaysia. Thus, it is not uncommon for people to eat out at least once a day. Making the right food choices when you eat out has a great effect on improving your health.
We have local favourites like nasi lemak, curry laksa, roti canai or char kway teow easily available at most food courts or hawker centres. Like it or not, these foods are high in fat, high in saturated fat, high in salt and low in fibre. Eating these foods regularly has a negative impact on our health – It can lead to obesity, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and some cancers.
Here are some ideas how we can enjoy our great Malaysian food and still be healthy.
1. Eat regular meals
Be regular with your meal times. Often those who want to lose weight will skip a meal or two. However, this leads to hunger, lack of concentration and loss of control when making food choices. The tendency to overeat occurs to satisfy the hunger when skipping meals.
2. Anticipate your hunger
If you normally have lunch at 1.00pm, start scouting around for places to eat 15 minutes ahead. Do not wait until you are famished before you start deciding on where to eat. Chances are you will settle for the first hawker stall which sells you fried char kway teow!
3. Choose healthier options
If you are having a meal at a food court, there is a great variety to choose from. As a general guide, healthier options are lower in fat, especially saturated fat and lower in salt and sugar. For added nourishment, they should have more vegetables, and lean protein-rich ingredients such as tofu, fish ball, lean meat, or egg.
Choose soupy noodles as oppose to a coconut cream-laden curry laksa. You can choose to have mee soto, wanton noodles, fishball noodles, or even assam laksa. When having soupy noodles, leave out the soup as this is usually high in salt or MSG (monosodium glutamate). Ask for more vegetables to be added into your noodles.
When ordering economical rice, choose plain boiled rice. Leave your nasi briyani, nasi dagang or nasi lemak for special occasions. These rice dishes have a lot more fat and saturated fat in them compared to the plain variety. Choose at least 2 portions of vegetables and a portion of lean protein source. If you like adding gravies to your rice, choose a clear soup-based gravy and avoid the gravies which have a thick layer of oil over it.
Pick food choices cooked in less oil. If you are having yong tau foo, choose more of the vegetables and boiled tofu instead of the fried wantons or other fried ingredients. When choosing dishes to accompany your rice, choose braised, grilled, steamed or soup dishes instead of deep fried or dishes cooked in coconut cream. Remove the chicken skin and eat the lean meat.
If you choose a salad or fruit rojak, ask for the dressing/sauce to be put at the side. This way you can have more control of how much dressing/sauce you need.
4. Finish off with a healthy dessert
Buy a slice of fruit or freshly squeezed juice for your dessert. Fruits are a good source of fibre and antioxidants. It is better to choose cut fruits rather than juice as the juice will have less fibre.
5. Take less sugar
Most drinks sold in hawker centres are sweetened drinks. Some drinks may contain up to 9 teaspoon of sugar per can!
Sugar does not provide any nutrient. Ask for plain water, Chinese tea or teh ‘O’ kosong. If you have any of the sweetened drinks, ask for less sugar, condensed milk or syrup.
6. Order just enough
Do not over-order food. Extra food on the table means temptation to eat more than you need.
7. Avoid buffet lines
It is difficult to control how much you eat when you are at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Most will have the mentality of getting your money’s worth. So you are most likely to continue eating even though you are already full.
If you don’t have a choice but to join in a buffet line, then pace yourself. Use a small plate so that you would have to get up more often to take your food. Start off by filling yourself up with salads and fruits. Choose no more than a tablespoon of a couple of food varieties and try to keep to your regular food portion. Stop eating when you are three quarters full. If you feel pressured to eat more, learn to eat slowly. Steer the conversation away from how much you are eating.
Malaysia is blessed with cultural diversity and this is evidenced by the huge choice of food when eating out. Its comforting to know that not all Malaysian foods are bad. In a nutshell, choose your food wisely and enjoy good health.