SINGAPORE - The Chinese have a tradition of eating a variety of vermicelli made of wheat flour, called mee sua, on one's birthday, in the hope that it will help lengthen one's life.
This is probably because they believe the long strands symbolise longevity, rather than wheat vermicelli being exceptionally nutritious.
Nonetheless, vermicelli is often thought of as healthy fare, as it makes a light meal.
It can be made more nutritious, though.
For instance, rice vermicelli contains more goodness if it is made from a mix of white rice flour and brown rice flour. The usual type is made from only white rice flour.
Only the husks are peeled off from brown rice and other whole grains, so flour milled from them contains more vitamins, minerals and fibre than flour milled from refined grains.
A refined grain is the carbohydrate-rich endosperm left after the husk, the next layer of bran and the germ (the embryo of the seed) have been removed.
As wholegrain products contain more fibre than refined ones, they take longer to be digested. This reduces a person's tendency to overeat and keeps his blood sugar level steady, which is beneficial to diabetics.
Eating wholegrain products has also been shown to reduce a person's risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease.
Wang Jiao Vegetarian Food at Haig Road Market and Cooked Food Centre has made its beehoon (rice vermicelli) soup and Sin Chew beehoon (Singapore rice vermicelli) healthier by replacing the usual rice vermicelli with vermicelli containing brown rice flour.
Both dishes are also whipped up using low-sodium salt and oil containing less saturated fat.
Consuming too much sodium has been linked to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and strokes.
When consumed, saturated fat is converted into low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, which is distributed through the blood to tissue to make hormones.
When in excess, it is deposited on artery walls, narrowing the arteries and raising a person's risk of developing heart disease and strokes.
The vermicelli containing brown rice flour looked and tasted just like regular rice vermicelli, in both the beehoon soup and the Sin Chew beehoon, which cost $3 each.
The Sin Chew beehoon, which was stir-fried, was moist but not oily.
Despite the use of low-sodium salt, both dishes were still quite savoury.
In both dishes, the mock meat and mock fish cake were salty and chewy, adding more flavour and texture.
Vegetables - cabbage and bean sprouts in the Sin Chew beehoon, and carrots in the beehoon soup - also added crunchiness.
Ms Xue Yuhua, 43, who runs the stall, switched to the healthier ingredients after joining the Healthier Hawker Programme, launched at the food centre at Block 14, Haig Road, by the Health Promotion Board in April last year.
It is one of five hawker centres enlisted to whip up healthier hawker fare since the programme was officially launched in April 2011 at Yuhua Market and Hawker Centre.
The other food centres are Eunos Crescent Market and Food Centre, Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre and Marine Terrace Market and Food Centre.
Ms Xue said: "Some customers say the food is better now because it is healthier. Business is also a bit better now."
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