There’s an unspoken rule about food – the tastier the dish, the more unhealthy it probably is. This definitely holds true for a place like Singapore where local food gets a bad reputation of being oily, fatty and downright unhealthy. The age old self-rationalization we do by convincing ourselves that eating at a hawker centre is healthier than a fast food joint (you know exactly what we’re talking about) is now a myth that has been long busted. Ironically, some fast food burgers have half the calorie count of local favorites such as laksa or chicken rice.
Fear not my fellow foodies, there is hope for us yet. Food, like everything else, simply requires the right balance to be the most fruitful (see what we did there?). It’s a simple solution of reducing certain unhealthy items and finding nutritional alternatives to them. Or, we could just simply find ONE healthy thing in a slew of oily food and psychologically convince ourselves that we are eating healthy. If this just described your entire justification process during your meals, then we’re here to help.
Here’s a list of 5 surprisingly healthy items you can find in your favorite local dishes in Singapore.
1 | Basmati Rice
Rice is a staple with indian cuisine, providing the foundation for signature dishes such as biryani. Thankfully, most Indian dishes in Singapore make use of Basmati rice instead – a long-grain variety that has slightly more flavor and aroma than the traditional white rice. More flavor and healthier than white rice? Yes, you read right.
Some of the health benefits include being gluten-free and low in fat. It contains all eight essential amino acids, folic acid, and is very low in sodium and cholesterol. Also, it’s delicious with dhal or Indian butter chicken.
2 | Ikan Bilis
Anchovies, or more commonly known here as Ikan Bilis, is one of the most versatile items used in all forms of cooking across multiple cultures. Do not be fooled by their miniature size, these tiny little fish pack quite the punch. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease of up to a whopping 36 percent. They are also a rich source of iron along with plenty of other significant minerals and vitamins such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and Vitamin B. As Ikan Bilis is quite salty due to the brine they’re preserved in, try soaking them in cold water for 30 minutes before cooking to remove the excess sodium.
3 | Tofu
Tofu is a crowd favorite with majority of Singaporeans because of it versatility. We love our tahu goreng and hotplate beancurd, but hate the guilt that follows right after. Fret not, as tofu has fantastic health benefits if cooked right (read as ‘no more tahu goreng for a while’). In addition to being gluten-free and low calorie, tofu also contains no cholesterol and is an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium.
Tofu has been linked with reducing the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
4) Sambal (Chili)
Sambal, or chili paste, is probably the most used condiment with any Asian food. We take great pride in our tolerance for all things spicy and it’s become somewhat of a bragging right more than anything else.
Sambal belacan is an acquired taste for many, due to its pungent smell of shrimp and chili paste. If you have been avoiding Sambal, perhaps now might be a good to add some spice to your life. Shrimp is a good source of protein and Vitamins D and B, and is low in saturated fat while red chilies are a good source of Vitamins A, K and C. Another reason to eat Sambal is that the spicy chili raises the body’s core temperature, helping you burn calories and increase your metabolism while at it which has a number of benefits for your organs and general body performance.
5 | Soy Sauce
For Asians, soy sauce is a way of life. In short, we need it. If it were possible to add soy sauce to everything we eat, we’d do it in a heartbeat. The perfect meal for many of us would be a simple stir-fry of meat, vegetables and soy sauce. How many of us now find food tasteless and bland if it’s without soy sauce? Luckily, soy sauce is an amazing source of protein and antioxidants, including all 8 essential amino acids. It has been linked with anti-allergenic and antioxidant properties as well as helping to regulate blood pressure due to its sodium content.
Note that you should go for organic, fermented soy sauce instead of commercialized ones due to their high salt and MSG content. Remember though, just because something has healthy benefits does not mean we should overdo it. Everything in moderation (yes even the good stuff).