Whipping up healthier Malay food

Whipping up healthier Malay food

When cooking instructor Normalis Selamat read reports of high obesity rates in the Malay community two years ago, she decided to step up efforts to cook healthily for her family.

The 55-year-old started roasting and steaming chicken and fish instead of deep-frying them.

She also traded her wok for an airfryer to cook with less oil, switched to using canola and olive oil from vegetable oil, and stirred low-fat yoghurt into her rendang instead of using coconut milk.

Madam Normalis, a volunteer with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) who promotes health messages at its community outreach events, says: "It took some time for my family to get used to the healthy versions of Malay dishes, as they can sometimes be on the bland side.

"However, with the rising cost of healthcare, it is easier not to have to deal with health problems, so prevention is better than cure."

The issues that prompted her to rethink her cooking have resurfaced.

Statistics released by the National Registry of Diseases last month show that Malays make up a disproportionate number of patients who suffer from chronic ailments such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes.

HPB believes that these diseases stem from obesity, which is on the rise in Singapore due to sedentary lifestyles and larger food portions.

Obesity is more pronounced among Malays.

The last National Health Survey in 2010 showed that the obesity rate in the community is 24 per cent, which is more than double the average obesity rate among Singaporeans.

Obesity is caused by caloric imbalance, the consumption of excessive calories that leads to unwanted weight gain.

Dr Annie Ling, HPB's director of obesity prevention and management, says obesity among Malays can be linked to what is served on the dining table.

She says: "This may be in part related to the celebrated Malay food culture: Delicious food but that which is high in sugar, fat and calories, involving the heavy use of ingredients such as coconut milk and oil, which increase the amount of saturated fat in the food."

Besides the types of food, eating habits also play a part. The National Health Survey showed that Malays consume more sweet beverages and deep-fried food and tend to include less whole grains, fruit and vegetables in their diets than the general population.

To counter this, HPB has introduced initiatives aimed at getting Malays to adopt healthier eating habits. Last month, it launched calendars which contain 12 healthy and low-cost recipes for Malay dishes, such as soto ayam madura (spicy chicken noodle soup), targeted at lowincome Malay families.

Almost all of its 30,000 print run has been distributed in social service centres.

To promote wholesome dining out options, the board also started a Healthier Dining Programme, which gives incentives to restaurants that offer 500-calorie meals.

More than 20 brands have come on board since June last year. Of these, Swensen's, Fish & Co and Pastamania are halal-certified.

Participating eateries are publicised on HPB's publicity platforms and can apply for grants of up to $15,000 to cover the cost of menu development and efforts to promote healthier menu options.

Cooking instructors have also seen an increase in requests from people who want to cook healthy Malay dishes.

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