In many places around the world, healthy eating is typically done at home, where people can plan and create their own meals. But it can be challenging here in Singapore, where eating out and buying takeaway food are the social norms. In fact, a recent National Health Survey suggests that the rise in obesity rates in Singapore could be attributed to the increasing regularity of eating out.
While the number of healthier food options in Singapore have been on the rise, such options tend to cost more. The same goes for dining in cafes or fancy restaurants. Inadvertently, most of us rely on our popular local hawker fare for cheap regular meals.
Hawker food, however, can be unhealthy at times. For instance, opting for stir-fried vegetables (instead of deep-fried food) may help you cut down on your fat intake, but not on your sodium consumption, thanks to the use of flavour-enhancing sauces and condiments. Even your favourite bowl of kway chap with braised pork and intestines, which contains 348mg of cholesterol on average, could easily exceed your daily recommended cholesterol allowance thanks to its high amount of saturated fat.
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*Based on the guidelines by the Health Promotion Board, our daily intake of cholesterol should not exceed 300 mg per day.
When you eat out, you basically have little control over what goes into your meals, or how they are prepared by other people. In fast food restaurants especially, food is prepared with minimal regard for nutritional value. Fast food typically contains large amounts of unhealthy saturated fat. For example, a double cheeseburger may easily contain over 600 calories and 200mg of cholesterol.
Cholesterol is essentially a substance produced by our body. But it can also be acquired from the food we eat. Because it is fat-based and insoluble in water, cholesterol must be transported through the bloodstream by two types of lipoprotein: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). In layman terms, we call them “good” and “bad” cholesterol. As a chemical compound, cholesterol is essential for cellular growth and development and for various biochemical processes, such as the production of important hormones and necessary bile fluids that process and digest fats. However, excess cholesterol will do more harm than good to our body.
Nonetheless, with smart food and lifestyle choices, eating out healthily is still possible, and should not be entirely avoided.
In addition to HPB’s existing and upcoming efforts to introduce healthier hawker dishes, here are some tips to stay healthy even while eating out:
• Avoid eating the gravy/sauce that comes with your dishes
• Request for less salt, sugar and soy sauce
• In restaurants that serve bread baskets for appetizers, choose or ask for whole grain breads
• Instead of fried food, opt for dishes that are baked, steamed, poached, boiled or broiled
Of course, don’t forget that exercising is another way to reduce your cholesterol levels!