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Portion Control, Malaysian Style

When you go to an all-you-can eat buffet, do you settle for one helping only? When it is durian season, do you have a durian feast and stop only when you are sick? Here in Malaysia, our favourite past time is eating. Our conversations are dominated by what-and where-is-the-best-food type questions. Debates will ensue because each one is passionate about their favourites. This article is not written by a kill-joy telling you to stop eating your favourite foods. Rather, it tells you how you can eat them without overdoing it.

What is the secret? Portion size, of course! We know eating nasi lemak is not good for you. But even eating too much of a ‘healthy’ food is not good. Take for example unsalted peanuts: it is rich in unsaturated fats. However, each handful (30g portion) gives you 190kcal, 16g fat (3 teaspoon of oil). If you do not stop at one handful of nuts at a time, then you are likely to take in excessive calories and fat. Let us look at how we can have our cake and eat it too.

Good things come in small packages

If you find it difficult to limit how much nuts you eat when you open a packet, pour out a ¼ cup portion and put the rest away. Alternatively, you can buy smaller pack sizes. It may cost just a fraction more, but think how much you actually save on medical bills!

Even the king of fruits can be incorporated into a healthy diet. For every 100g, it has 5g fat, 30g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fibre. During durian season, limit yourself to 2-3 seeds. Since you are limiting the amount you consume, indulge yourself in the best – the Musang King!

Half the portion

If you are eating out with your friends at a char kuay teow stall, just eat half the portion served. That way you will easily cut back on 50% of the calories. Still hungry? Then, munch on a slice of fruit and drink plenty of water. Don’t forget to eat slowly. Give yourself time to notice that you are starting to feel full. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for satiety to kick in.

Do not super-size me!

How tempting it is to go to a fast-food joint and the lady at the counter asks “Would you like the super-size for an additional RM0.99?” What a bargain! But wait, do you actually need it? Yes, it is value for money now but ‘one moment on your lips, forever on your hips!’

Stay away from ‘meal deals.‘ You are better off ordering a regular burger than a combo meal which comes with a large pack of fries and a large cup of soft drink which you cannot polish off anyway. Alternatively, choose from the kids meals where portions are smaller.

Understanding food labels

Find out how many servings are in a pack. Work out how much is one serving. Then check the calories per serving. Choose foods which have less fat and sodium. Observe the % daily value. The label below indicates that each serving contains 18% total fat of what an average person needs in a day. As a quick guide, if it contains 20% or more, it is high. Ideally, choose foods which will give you 5% or less of fat per serving.

As a general guide to calories, if each serving contains:

  • 40 Calories is low
  • 100 Calories is moderate
  • 400 Calories or more is high

How much should we be eating?

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 launched the new Malaysian Food Pyramid. You can use this as a guide to figure out your portion sizes.

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