Malaysia is famous for its food, and no surprise; whether sizzling street food or gourmet buffets, we do it all and we do it well. But the fact is, the Malaysian mouth doesn’t have just one sweet tooth – from sambal to sago melaka (a type of rice pudding), our plates are often piled with sugar, dripping in oil and drowning in fat. Sounds dramatic? Sorry, but so is our obesity crisis. But don’t doom yourself to a salad diet; we’ve got some advice on how to make smarter choices and healthier decisions while still eating our favourite foods. This is SedapTV’s Healthy Eating 101:
It can seem impossible; hawker food beats healthy food hands down in the price wars, and cooking can seem a chore when there’s a mamak or a café on every corner. And our culture is all about cuisine – we’re always eating out. To start with, get used to making simple switches! At the mamak, make your teh tarik kurang manis (less sweet) or get your teh o ais kosong. Cut down on carbs by getting one less heaped spoonful of rice on your banana leaf. And try one (or two, or three …) less teaspoons of Milo in the morning! Breaking bread? Choose chapatti over roti; chapatti has 1/5 as many calories (68 vs. 302), ten times less fat (0.62g vs. 10.27g), and a third of the carbs (13g vs 45g).
Health-conscious Malaysians may have to face the fact that white rice first thing in the morning with our favourite nasi lemak breakfast is not too helpful for a healthy diet. Our beloved banana-leaf-wrapped breakfast is a good source of some nutrients (from the egg, meat and sides) but the coconut milk rice contributes a lot of calories – up to 1000, which is half a day’s allowance (on average) in one sitting! Try this vegetarian version at Simple Life; an all-natural nasi lemak with only organic ingredients. For your morning meal, opt for oats; wholemeal oats with banana and peanut butter (for example) is a perfect way to fuel your day, with slow-release carbohydrates for lasting energy and balanced blood sugar.
For full vegan vibes, check out Sala in Sri Hartamas: a Malaysian-meets-Mexican meat-free experience that will convince the most carnivorous customers. Tacos, tofu, chilli with beans and lentils, falafel wraps; you won’t miss meat while you’re here. While you’re in the area, try out Rubberduck for dessert; it’s ground zero for the city’s granola smoothie bowl hype, serving delicious, nutritious and very Insta-worthy bowls (think mixed fruits and berries, chia and flax seeds and granola).
Shop in local markets or pasar malams for fresh produce at a fraction of the cost in the supermarkets. And you don’t have to go crazy for kale or other expensive ‘superfoods’; local veggies such as kangkung (water spinach) are full of nutrients.
KL isn’t perfect for pedestrians but there are still plenty of parks and green spaces to get your steps for the day. You don’t have to run a 10k on your first try, but you should try to make time for a few more evening strolls to help with circulation and digestion.
At home, invest in a non-stick frying pan and use less (or no) oil. Also invest in Tupperware and be prepared: meal prepared. Boil a big batch of vegetables, rice, cook some chicken – divide between Tupperware containers and you have lunch and dinner for at least two days (and at less cost than eating out).
Think ‘brown’; rice, bread, pasta. The processed white stuff is full of starch and simple carbohydrates which spike our blood sugar. The whole grains in the brown varieties are full of fibre and other essential nutrients that can’t be found in the all-carb white. Brown rice is also packed with powerful antioxidants which help prevent heart disease. Bottom line: brown rice helps manage blood sugar levels and may decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, while white may actually increase that risk. It’s a risk Malaysia can’t afford to take, with diabetes on the rice – sorry, rise.
You don’t have to go cold-turkey on carbs and swear off sugar forever, just be more conscious of calories and try cooking a little more. Makan in moderation!