The choices we make when we eat go a long way in determining how healthy we are. A lot of emphasis has been placed on making informed decisions when eating, not just to maintain a healthy weight, but also stave off illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
The Ministry of Health’s Health Hub Website defines a calorie as “a unit of measurement for the energy value of food”. And the Health Promotion Board’s daily recommended calorie intake, on average, is 2,200 calories for men and 1,800 calories for women.
Even though the food that delivers these calories help us have sufficient energy to tackle each day, consuming more than we need leads to weight gain and possibly other health issues later on. Being aware of the number of calories in the food you eat is one step towards better health. After all, calories can be hidden in all kinds of food, “healthful” or otherwise. Choose your food wisely.
1) Salads (with or without dressing)
Vegetables are full of nutrients and fibre, so a salad always seems an excellent meal option. But this isn’t always the case, depending on what other ingredients are in your salad.
If you wish to add meat, go for healthier options like grilled chicken or tuna, instead of bacon or fried chicken, for example. Go easy on the croutons too, as a quarter cup of plain ones can contain as many as 31 calories and flavored croutons pack even more.
Things get more complicated, and unhealthy, once you add dressing. Creamy dressing has a deserved bad rep – just two tablespoons of thousand islands or honey mustard dressing sack over 100 calories. But oily variations aren’t healthy either, as one tablespoon of olive oil has over 100 calories.
The best option is to skip the dressing or just squeeze some lemon juice or add a little bit of vinegar to add more flavor to your salad. Or order the dressing on the side and just drizzle a conservative amount over your salad.
2) Fruits and fruit juices
Take note of the sugar content in fruits, as some have a higher count than others. For example, even though avocados are highly recommended because they are loaded with healthy fats, they are high-calorie fruits – one cup of avocado slices has 235 calories. Other fruits high in calories include coconut, figs, and dates.
Drinking juice is a less-healthy way of consuming fruits because a lot of fibre and nutrients are removed in the juicing process. So eating an apple whole (50-70 calories) is a much healthier option than drinking a glass of apple juice. Eat more fruits fresh, instead of dried or preserved. Frozen fruits are also fine because the nutrients are locked in.
If you really love drinking fruit juices, try to stick to one glass of fruit juice a day, as a 200ml serving can contain 100 calories or more. Most importantly, don’t indulge in juices made from concentrate or smoothies from trendy juice bars, as those drinks are packed with both high sugar content and calories.
3) Local Delights
It’s not news that Nasi Lemak, Roti Prata and Chicken Rice aren’t exactly healthy options. But what about the so-called healthier choices?
Fish soup is a good option (less than 140 calories), but the overall benefits hinge on what you have with it – veggies like Chye Sim or Bittergourd are more nutrious than lettuce. A bowl of rice or noodles can add over 200 more calories.
The same goes for Yong Tau Foo (about 200 calories on average) – pick healthier items such as eggplant and okra, as opposed to crabsticks or anything fried.
Dosa (also known as Dosai or Thosai) is a healthier Indian dish compared to prata or mee goreng, as it’s lower in fat. Each plain dosa contains 100 calories and this number goes up, depending on the dosa variation and what you choose to dip it in. Don’t go for the coconut-based sambar (a vegetable stew). instead, choose the chana masalah (chickpea curry), as it contains a good amount of protein and fibre too.
4) Breakfast foods
It’s important to get the right kind of nutrition to kick start your day. Granola is often thought of as a perfect healthy breakfast food. However, it packs an average of 500 calories per cup and the calorie count increases drastically once you add milk or yogurt.
Yogurt is a good source of breakfast food as it has 150 calories. But don’t add honey or other sweet toppings as it will no longer be a healthy choice. You can add fresh fruits if you don’t like it plain.
Cereal bars are convenient grab-and-go options for breakfast, and while they’re usually filled with healthful grains, they also contain a lot of sugar, which is used to keep it together – literally. In fact, the average bar contains between 250 and 300 calories. So try to avoid it!
if you’re more of a toast sort of person, go easy on the spreads. Peanut butter, for example, is a healthy choice, being high in protein and low in cholesterol, but it has a high calorie count – about 100 calories per tablespoon.
5) Nuts and other snacks
Most people know that nuts are packed with nutrients and are healthy way to curb mid-afternoon hunger pangs. They’re good for heart health and other benefits.
However, even though they’re filled with “good” fats, nuts pack a high calorie count. The recommended serving size of a quarter cup (around a handful) of almonds has 207 calories, while this number 241 for macadamias, 164 for walnuts and 187 for cashews. So try to contain yourself because i know it’s easy to get carried away munching on them and also, have them unsalted.
Dark chocolate is also recommended as a healthy snack. However, despite it being high in antioxidants, it’s also rich in calories – about 600 calories in a 100g bar. So stick to around two squares, or about 70 calories, daily.
Popcorn is an excellent low-calorie, whole-grain snack – as long as you consume it the right way. No additional flavours such as caramel, salt or butter. It is best if you air-popped it! This version has just 30 calories per cup.