Eating out has become inevitable for many since we are working long hours. As such, we are also foregoing exercising and eating home-cooked food. So how can we eat healthily and still eat out?
BY: Lauren Ho
Singaporeans are turning into workaholics, according to Robert Half Workplace Survey 2011 detailed by Channel News Asia. Many spend long hours at work, five or more days a week. This leaves very little time and energy for anything else, let alone exercise and home-cooking.
So, it is no surprise that more and more Singaporeans are eating out more often than before. In fact, the 2010 National Nutrition Survey by the Health Promotion Board revealed that a whopping six in 10 Singaporeans ate out four times a week in 2010. This figure could be higher now.
The above factors contribute to the rising rates of obesity in Singapore – a growing health concern, as obesity is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Watch what you order
We all know that outside food is less healthy than home-cooked food, as the former is generally higher in total saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium, and lower in dietary fibre, compared to home-cooked food. Eating out thus becomes a daily dilemma, especially for people with medical conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, who need to eat healthily. At the same time, eating out is also inevitable for most people.
- Limit yourself to only ONE meal eaten out daily, if possible – this is usually lunch for people who work. Have breakfast at home or pack a breakfast to the workplace (e.g. a wholemeal sandwich or wholegrain cereals with low-fat milk), and a home-cooked meal for dinner.
- For those who are unable to have a home-cooked meal for dinner on weekdays, they should try to do so on weekends.
- When eating out, choose wisely, using these guidelines:
a) Limit deep-fried foods to twice a week, or less.
b) When eating economy rice meals, choose non-fried and less oily fares – have two or more vegetable dishes and one lean protein dish (fish (steamed if possible), chicken (no skin), meat (lean), tofu or beans), and ask for “NO” or “LESS” gravy, to reduce intake of calories, fat and sodium.
c) Choose plain rice rather than flavoured ones, such as chicken rice, nasi lemak and fried rice. Go for brown rice if it is available.
d) Opt for soupy noodles, rather than fried, curry or dry noodles. Do not drink all the soup, and say “NO” to fried garnishes and additional oil. This reduces intake of calories, fat and sodium.
e) Healthier desserts include fresh fruits, bean soups (less sugar if possible, and without or with less coconut milk), and soybean curd (with less sugar).
f) When ordering drinks, have them “KOSONG” or if that’s too difficult, ask for “LESS SWEET” (less sugar and/or less sweetened condensed milk).
Some healthier food choices
- Sliced fish (non-fried) soup with noodles or rice.
- Fish or chicken porridge – without additional fried garnishes and oil.
- Yong tau foo (non-fried pieces and more vegetables) with noodles or rice; if eating it dry, have sauces on the side to minimise sodium intake.
- Chicken macaroni soup – ask for more vegetables and omit fried garnishes.
- Chicken rice – with plain rice, steamed chicken breast (remove skin) and a side dish of vegetables.
- Double-boiled chicken soup with rice (remove visible fat and skin) with a side dish of vegetables, if possible.
- Fish cooked in assam pedas or steamed fish.
- Chapati or thosai with dhal or onion chutney or tandoori chicken.
- Wholewheat sandwiches with roasted chicken breast/tuna/boiled egg with salad vegetables (hold the dressings or opt for mustard rather than mayonnaise or thousand island dressing).
Eating out need not be unhealthy and can most certainly not be at the expense of our health. Fortunately, making healthier food choices when eating out is now easier than before, with the HPB’s efforts in making healthier options more accessible to the public through initiatives such as the Healthier Hawker Programme and the Healthier Coffeeshop Initiative. On our part, we should be choosy when eating out, because after all, our health is in our hands.
Lauren Ho is a dietitian/nutritionist for the Singapore Heart Foundation. With over 20 years of experience in the field of dietetics and nutrition, she is regularly called upon to conduct nutrition talks and seminars as well as execute and manage nutrition education and marketing projects for several corporate clients.
(** PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SINGAPORE HEART FOUNDATION)