Aside from the typical culprits like chicken rice and nasi lemak, seemingly "healthier" dishes like vegetarian fried bee hoon and hokkien mee can be packed with fat and calories too.
Many may consider vegetarian fried bee hoon healthier than its cousin, economic fried bee hoon.
However, both options actually contain more than 500 calories - placing them on a par with a Big Mac burger, said Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
A plate of vegetarian fried bee hoon with green onions and beansprouts, served with mock meat, has about 548 calories.
"Top that with curry vegetables and one might add on another 150 calories and 12g of fat, while adding a fried egg adds another 104 calories and 8.5g of fat," she said.
Ms Chia shares some good habits to follow when you head down to the hawker centre or kopitiam.
PICK SOUPY NOODLES
Such dishes are better than fried versions or those covered in thick, rich sauces, such as laksa or horfun.
However, try not to slurp up all the soup to reduce your sodium intake. Ask for more veggies. Also, taste before adding extra salt or sauces.
ASK FOR PLAIN OR BROWN RICE
Rice that is fried or cooked with fat (chicken rice) or coconut milk tend to contain more saturated fat, which can increase the amount of bad cholesterol in the body.
Ask for brown rice if possible, as it is richer in fibre and vitamins.
PICK FOOD WITH LESS OIL
Try not to eat deep-fried food more than twice a week and, even so, do not eat too much of it. The same goes for dishes made with coconut milk.
Lastly, remove visible fat and skin from meat and skim away any visible oil floating on the dish.
FINISH WITH FRUIT
If you have a sweet tooth, try buying fruit for dessert, instead of calorie-laden items like bubble tea.
A cup of bubble milk tea with pearls contains a whopping 334 calories. Of this, 13.5g is made of fat, mostly of the saturated kind.
Saturated fat can raise one's levels of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol.
ASK FOR LESS SUGAR
If you are getting a drink or dessert, ask the stallholder to add less sugar, sweetened condensed milk or sugar syrup - in hawker lingo, opt for "siew dai".
If you are used to eating food that has plenty of sugar or salt, take your time to adjust your palate.
"Some people acquire a taste for sweeter and saltier foods when they are used to it. When this is abruptly reduced, they might find that the food tastes bland," said Ms Chia.
"By gradually reducing the amount of salt or sugar in the diet, a person can slowly acquire a taste for less salty or sweetened foods."
This article was first published on June 4, 2015.
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