Healthy Tips at Hawker Centres

Singapore is a food paradise. Eating chicken rice, mee pok, nasi lemak, mee soto, prawn mee, and ban mian just to name a few is like second nature to us. Like it or not many of our favourites are high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and salt! Dependence on these delicious food impacts our health negatively and we know it!

Some of us eat at hawker stalls because we have to - that is the way we live our lives! We eat at hawker stalls because it is also cheap and convenient. For many of us there is no other alternative.

The challenge really is - can we live in this hawker paradise and still stay in the pink of health? Are there healthier options? Here are some tips to navigate the hawker stalls and stay well nourished.

Related: Healthy Hawker Eats

Survey Your Options

Hawker stalls present a host of delicious options that tempt your eye and palate. So, before you make the quick habitual decision or join the longest queue, walk around to survey the options. Pick out the stalls that sell healthier options. With this mental shortlist completed, make your decision.

Related: 5 Healthier CBD Lunchtime Dining Options

Pick the Healthier Items

By rule of thumb, healthier options are lower in fat, especially saturated fat. They are also lower in salt and sugar. To make them count for more nourishment, they should have more ingredients such as vegetables, and other, protein-rich ingredients such as tofu, beans/lentils, lean meat, fish or egg.

Now for those who want a quick and easy way to make your decisions, look for the stalls that have a Healthier Choice logo displayed on their storefront.

These hawkers have replaced key ingredients in their signature dishes e.g. using wholegrains vermicelli instead of those made with refined flour, and using healthier cooking oils which are lower in saturated fat.

Now for those who want absolute numbers to make objective choices regarding their hawker food choice, check out our Energy and Nutrient Composition of Food which offers nutritional information such as energy, fat, cholesterol, dietary fibre and salt content of many hawker food items.

If all else fails, look at the food closely and use your observational powers. If you see a layer of oil floating over the dish, if the product is deep-fried, or has a lot of coconut milk in it, you will know that it is high in fat.

Here are some additional tips to help you survive the hawker paradise:

1. Pick Soupy Noodles

If you enjoy noodles, pick soupy versions more often that the fried dishes or those covered with thick rich sauces. If you do pick a soupy noodle and it tastes very salty, try to eat the ingredients and skip as much of the soup you can, as much of the salt leeches into it. Ask for more vegetables to be added to the noodle during preparation. And taste the dish first before adding more sauces or pickled chillies.

2. Ask for Plain Rice

Rice is a staple in Asian diets. Plain steamed rice is the best bet in the hawker stall. And you may be pleasantly surprised to know that a few hawker stalls also serve brown rice a healthier choice, as it is richer in fibre and many B vitamins and minerals than white rice. Remember that rice cooked with fat (e.g chicken rice) and coconut milk will be higher in calories than the plainer version. Accompany your plate of plain white or brown rice with vegetables and lean protein dishes.

3. Pick Food Prepared with Less Oil

Many popular accompaniments and popular snacks are either deep-fried or often cooked with a lot of fat. So, limit deep fried food to no more than twice a week and even then, eat only a small portion. Dishes made with coconut milk are usually higher in calories, so eat them only occasionally. If you are faced with a dish that has a lot of visible oil floating on it, skip the gravy and just eat the ingredients. Remove the skin of chicken and do not eat it. If there is fat on the portion of meat on your plate, discard the fat.

If your dish is being prepared a la carte, ask the hawker to cook it up with less oil. At the same time, you can ask for it to be cooked with more vegetables and less salt or sauce.

4. End Your Meal with Fruit

Most hawker centres serve fresh cut fruits. Eating a slice of fruit to end your meal not only gives it a sweet ending, but it also adds much nourishment to the meal.

5. Ask for Less Syrup and Sugar

Many of us enjoy having a beverage with our meal or end it with dessert. Most beverages and desserts contain a lot of sugar. Make water your drink of choice, it does not contain any calories. If you are ordering drink or dessert, ask for lesser sugar, sweetened condensed milk and syrup.

Related: Eating Light At A Hawker Centre Is Possible

Buy Just Enough

In every hawker centre you are surrounded by food and even if you have enough money to buy a lot, buy just enough for each person. If you buy a lot, you will be tempted to finish all of it. If the portion is large, share it with friends. If there are extras, ask for it to be packed. Take it home, store it in the refrigerator, reheat and eat it another day. Ask for less rice when you are not very hungry.

One simple way to make sure you don't buy too much, is to ask for less rice when you are not very hungry. Once you have the whole portion in front of you, you may feel like eating it all up.

Related: How Much to Eat? Perfecting Portions

So Remember

  • Survey your choices at the hawker stall before you make your choice. Identify the healthier choices, and use the shortlist to pick items that are healthier.

  • Healthier food choices are lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar. To know more about the nutritional content of your choice, log into Energy and Nutrient Composition of Food. Minimise the portion and frequency of items that are deep fried, oily, cooked with coconut milk, or with added sugar.

  • Buy just enough. If you are not hungry, ask for a smaller portion or share with friends. If there's extra, ask for it to be packed. Store in the refrigerator, reheat and eat on another day.

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