SINGAPORE - Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason. Get it right and you will jump-start your day with energy. Get it wrong and you will achieve very little, apart from an expanded waistline.
"Some of our local dishes are the worst foods you can eat, especially the first thing in the morning," says Jab Wan, nutrition advisor and managing director of Integrated Training Institute. But you don't have to trade your nasi lemak for bland oatmeal.
These five choices - one or two may even surprise you - will kick-start your day without leaving your taste buds out in the cold.
Don't be put off by the amount of calories (694kcal) and carbohydrates (91g) this dish contains. Rice vermicelli (bee hoon) - the noodle used in mee siam - is considered a medium GI food with a glycemic index of 58, meaning it won't drastically spike your blood sugar levels.
Another way to make this Malay dish healthier is to leave half the noodles unfinished, and slurp up less of the oily and sodium-laden gravy, which will help bring the calorie count to below 450kcal, advises clinical dietician Jaclyn Reutens.
In terms of Malay cuisine, mee siam is also healthier than its more robust sibling, mee rebus.
The good news: You don't have to pass up on the hard-boiled egg and tofu.
Together, they may provide up to 20g of protein. Coupled with the carb content, this may make an ideal choice for a post-workout meal, as you'll replenish your glycogen stores as well, adds Jab.
• Time you'll need to run to burn off this dish: 57 minutes (694 calories).
Sliced fish bee hoon
An obvious choice for health-conscious men, this breakfast dish nevertheless requires a few tweaks for a winning formula.
The soup - which is usually made from boiled fish heads, ginger, coriander and tomatoes - has a sodium content that's greater than half your daily recommended intake, so consider leaving half the soup in the bowl, advises Sarah Sinaram, senior dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
And to complete your order, tell the stallholder to leave out the fried onions in favour of more spring onions. The latter contains flavonoid compounds that may help prevent cancer, according to The American Journal Of Clinical Nutritrion.
If there's the option of adding more vegetables, do that as well.
If you're a fan of drinking the soup with added evaporated milk, remember that you're adding an extra 50 calories, says Jaclyn.
"Steer clear of fried fish slices as well, which would otherwise double the calorie count because of the oil used to fry the fish," she warns.
• Time you'll need to run to burn off this dish: 25 minutes (349 calories).
A combination of rice steamed with coconut milk and paired with fried anchovies, egg and chicken wing doesn't sound like the healthiest breakfast. But hold that thought.
First counterpoint: A study of two Polynesian communities found no evidence linking the intake of high saturated fat from coconut products to vascular disease, which is virtually non-existent in both populations. (A serving of rice contains about a quarter-cup of coconut milk.)
Secondly, the serving of fried anchovies, or ikan bilis, is chock-full of nutrients.
"It contains a good dose of iron, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and calcium," says nutritionist Sheeba Majmudar.
The size of the fish also means it's less likely to be contaminated, she adds. But there's a catch after all: This side dish is sky-high in sodium content, so your nasi lemak meal should best be eaten as a reward after your morning run.
• Time you'll need to run to burn off this dish: 47 minutes (657 calories)
Kaya toast with two soft-boiled eggs
Sorry folks, the straight-up advice here is to leave out the coconut jam (high in sugar) and margarine (high in fat) in your toast. But grumble not: The plain toasts still taste good dipped in soft-boiled eggs.
Sacrifice the spreads and you'll save 150 calories, says Jaclyn.
She adds that a thinner spread of kaya is a good compromise. When you do this and leave out the dark soya sauce for the eggs, you can shave off about 20 per cent of the calories and minimise your sodium intake.
What about the cholesterol in eggs? Latest research shows that foods high in cholesterol play only a very small role in raising blood cholesterol levels, and this with the nutritious egg yolks included.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting cholesterol intake to 300mg daily, or 200mg if you have heart disease or if your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is greater than 100.
• Time you'll need to run to burn off this dish: 21 minutes (288 calories).
Made from fermented rice, lentils and chickpea flour batter, this Indian pancake is the healthier alternative to roti prata, which has up to 18 times more fat.
On its own, it is low in calories and fat (one thosai contains only 1g of ghee) but the plain pancake is usually served with curry or dhal. Another popular variation, masala thosai, comes filled with potatoes and cheese or egg.
Eating this triples your calorie count to 363kcal.
To make this dish healthier, go easy on the curry. Limit yourself to four tablespoons, advises Jaclyn, who is from Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants.
This gives you 60 extra calories and 2g of fat. Or substitute with dhal (mashed lentils) as a side instead - it contains an extra 5g of protein and 3g of fibre.
• Time you'll need to run to burn off this dish: 7 minutes (97 calories), 14 minutes with curry.
Drink yourself slim
Bolster your healthier breakfast with these waistline-friendly beverage tips.
• Reduce sweetness
Making a request of siu dai (less sugar or condensed milk) with your kopi or teh will save you about 50 calories, states clinical dietician Jaclyn Reutens.
• Pick the right milk
Going for evaporated milk instead of the condensed stuff (for example, kopi-c instead of kopi) will shave off one-third the calories, although saturated fat levels may still be high, warns senior dietitian Sarah Sinaram.
• Go for homemade
"Such beverages are slightly better because you can ask for less milk and sugar than pre-made or canned drinks.
But avoid non-dairy creamers, which are high in saturated fat and may increase cholesterol levels," advises Sarah.
• Don't finish it
Leave a third of your kopi or teh unfinished. Or order the smaller cup if the stall offers it. Some degree of self-discipline is needed.
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