Let's face it, as Malaysians, we LOVE to eat and we have a VAST array of local delicacies from our many cultures to dive into. So what happens when you're trying to drop some pounds or just generally want to eat healthier? Do you abandon that resolve when you dine out instead of cook in?
Actually, you CAN ALWAYS opt for healthier choices. Here are some tips to help you along.
At hawker stalls or local restaurants:
1. For rice, ALWAYS go for plain steamed white or basmati rice. Although white rice has less nutrients and fiber, it is very low fat and is definitely better than fried or any other version that's cooked with oil/coconut milk (think nasi lemak).
2. When choosing various types of noodles, bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and koay teow (flat rice noodles) are definitely a better choice. Lower in sodium, higher in protein and lower in carb vs calorie ratio. Yellow egg noodles are higher in additives and sodium while thicker white noodles are heavier in carbs.
3. When choosing noodle dishes, opt for soup or the 'wet' version. Fried and 'dry' versions contain much more oil and fat which can hike up the calories.
4. When choosing noodle soup, go for clear soups, instead of oily or curry soups which also contain more fat and sodium that can make you very thirsty later on.
5. When choosing meat dishes to go with rice, avoid anything deep-fried, cooked in curries made from coconut milk or just generally cooked with a lot of oil. Choose meats that are grilled, stir-fried (always pick meat from the top as the oil will drain to the bottom of the dish), cooked in normal curries (watch out for too much oil) or cooked in soups. Remember to pick leaner meat such as chicken, fish and all types of seafood. Beef is fine too, but I find that it's usually cooked in curries thickened with coconut milk (think rendang) or oily sauces. If you're having it anyway, don't eat too much of it as it can really pack on the calories. Moderation is the key.
6. Stir-fried vegetables are good, but watch out for too much oil. Always scoop the vegetables from the top, as most of the oil will gather at the bottom of the dish or tray.
If you're having Indian or mamak food:
1. Avoid flooding your rice with curry. Also, choose healthier and less fattening options like dhal or less thick fish curries. Remember, curries are very flavorful. A little bit goes a long way.
2. Instead of rice, you can also have indian breads such as chapatti (usually made from wholemeal flour), idly or thosai. Chapatti is usually just reheated or slightly warmed over a flat pan with very little oil. Remember to ask for less oil when ordering thosai. Some places add more oil or 'ghee' when making thosai. To save calories, accompany them with dhal curry, instead of other heavier curries. Avoid oily and fried options like roti canai, puri, murtabak or roti pratha. Having them once in a while is fine. While naan bread is not fried or oily, the portion is usually large and it's made from white flour so it is not recommended.
3. Choose for healthier meat options such as cooked in normal curry or tandoori, instead getting deep-fried, cooked heavily in oil or coconut milk. You can ask if a thick curry is cooked in coconut milk or yogurt. Yogurt is obviously a better choice, as it's lower in fat and calories, without sacrificing the flavor and texture.
4. Portion control! Most Indian or mamak stalls can pack on A LOT of rice onto your plate. Politely ask to half the portion, or share the rice with a friend.
Local delicacies, drinks and desserts:
1. Most of our local cakes or 'kuih-muih' are either high in sugar, fat or starch. Consume in moderation if you are having it. Best alternative I can suggest is substitute for fruits or nuts instead!
2. When ordering dessert, go for fresh fruits, fruit tarts, sorbets, frozen yogurt or jellies. Much lower in calories than ice-creams, pastries, cakes etc.
3. Always follow-up your drink orders with 'kurang manis' or less sweet. However, there's no reason you should order a drink every time you dine out (although, I love my occasional teh tarik!). Water is always the best option!